Pedagogy as possibility: Health interventions as digital openness

Vaike Fors, Sarah Pink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


In this article we propose an approach to digital health tracking technologies that draws on design anthropology. This entails re-thinking the pedagogical importance of personal data as lying in how they participate in the constitution of new possibilities that enable people to learn about, and configure, their everyday health in new ways. There have been two dominant strands in traditional debates in the field of pedagogy: one that refers to processes of teaching people to do things in particular ways; and another that seeks to enable learning. The first of these corresponds with existing understandings of self-tracking technologies as either unsuccessful behavioural change devices, or as providing solutions to problems that do not necessarily exist. When seen as such, self-tracking technologies inevitably fail as forms of intervention towards better health. In this article we investigate what happens when we take the second strand-the notion of enabling learning as an incremental and emergent process-seriously as a mode of intervention towards health through self-tracking technologies. We show how such a shift in pedagogical understanding of the routes to knowing these technologies offer creates opportunities to move beyond simplistic ideas of behavioural change as the main application of digital body monitoring in everyday life. In what follows, we first demonstrate how the disjunctures that arise from this context emerge. We then outline a critical response to how learning through life-tracking has been conceptualised in research in health and human-computer interaction research. We offer an alternative response by drawing on a processual theory of learning and recent and emerging research in sociology, media studies, anthropology, and cognate disciplines. Then, drawing on ethnographic research, we argue for understanding learning through the production of personal data as involving emplaced and non-representational routes to knowing. This, we propose, requires a corresponding rethinking of the epistemological status of personal data and what kind of knowledge it can be claimed to produce. Finally, we take up the implications of this and advance the discussion through a design anthropological approach, through which we refigure the interventional potential of such technologies as lying in their capacity to create possibilities for experiential, and often unspoken, ways of embodied and emplaced knowing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number59
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Data epistemology
  • Design ethnography
  • Embodied learning
  • Health technology
  • Pedagogy

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