‘A Much Better Person’: The Agential Capacities of Self-tracking Practices

Metric Culture

ISBN: 978-1-78743-290-1, eISBN: 978-1-78743-289-5

Publication date: 24 September 2018


In this chapter, we draw on our study involving interviews with Australians who identify as current self-trackers to discuss why and how they monitor themselves. Our approach for analysing self-tracking practices is based on a sociomaterial perspective, viewing enactments of voluntary self-tracking as shifting heterogeneous assemblages, bringing together diverse actors who are both human and non-human. We use vignettes to illustrate the ways in which our participants enacted self-tracking and to identify some of the diverse meanings and motivations that mediate decisions to self-track and resultant uses of the information thus generated. We found that a varied range of self-tracking practices were taken up by our interviewees, including not only digital devices and methods, but also recording their details using pen-and-paper, or simply maintaining mental awareness and using memory. We identified several agential capacities in our participants’ accounts of why and how they monitor themselves. These capacities are interrelated, but can be loosely grouped under the headings of ‘self-improvement’, ‘exerting control’ and ‘identifying patterns and achieving goals’. They are motivators and facilitators of monitoring practices. The broader sociocultural contexts in which monitoring of the body/self is undertaken were also revealed in the participants’ accounts. These include ideas about the moral virtues of self-responsibility and the individual management of life circumstances to avoid chaos and risk, and the notion that monitoring practices can successfully achieve these virtues.



Deborah Lupton and Gavin J. D. Smith (2018). '‘A Much Better Person’: The Agential Capacities of Self-tracking Practices', in Btihaj Ajana (ed.) Metric Culture. Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 57-75

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: https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78743-289-520181004



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