RG: What does data selves mean in a more-than-human perspective?
DL: A more-than-human
perspective acknowledges that humans are always already part of nonhuman
relations. Humans and nonhumans come together in assemblages that are
constantly changing as humans move through their worlds. From this perspective,
digital devices and software assemble with humans, and personal data are
generated in and with these enactments. These data assemblages are
more-than-human things. People live with and co-evolve with their personal data
– they learn from data and data learn from them in a continually changing
RG: How can feminist materialism theory and the anthropology of material culture help us understand datafication
DL: In previous work, I
have suggested the digital devices can be considered to lively, as can digital
data. Building on this approach, I use feminist new materialism and the
anthropology of material culture to investigate these dimensions of
datafication and dataveillance further. The feminist new materialism
scholars I draw on in the Data Selves book are Donna Haraway,
Rosi Braidotti, Jane Bennett and Karen Barad. These scholars share an interest
in the affective forces, vitality and distributed nature of agencies as they
are generated with and through more-than-human assemblages. Scholars in the
anthropology of material culture such as Tim Ingold and Elizabeth Hallam have
also called attention to the lively agencies of humans and nonhumans when they
gather together. They focus on how humans respond to, learn about and make
sense of their worlds when engaging in embodied and sensory encounters with
nonhumans. Ingold describes this as ‘being alive to the world’.
In developing my
theoretical approach in Data Selves, I found these perspectives
helpful in thinking through what Barad calls the ‘onto-ethico-epistemological’
dimensions of datafication and dataveillance. These perspectives have not yet
been taken up to any great extent in thinking about datafication and
dataveillance. This is the project I am pursuing. It allows for a non-normative
ethical approach to datafication and dataveillance that acknowledges the
constantly emergent and dynamic nature of lively data selves and the embodied,
multisensory and affective dimensions of how humans live with and learn from
RG: In your forthcoming book, do you talk about data selves and quantified self in world of work?
DL: I don’t discuss the
workplace to any great extent in Data Selves. In in my previous
book The Quantified Self there was quite a bit of discussion
of self-tracking in the workplace. Data Selves differs
from The Quantified Self in including a lot of discussion of
my empirical research projects that I have conducted over the past few years –
indeed, since writing The Quantified Self – which involves
people discussing their self-tracking practices and their understandings and
use of personal data. My research participants didn’t talk much about their
data practices in the context of the workplace, apart from some references on
the part of some people to using productivity tools. Those who were active
self-trackers were predominantly tracking their body weight, fitness, food or
calorie intake, sleep and finances.
RG: In the last year, many books on the same subject have been published, such as David Beer, Shoshana Zuboff, Taina Bucher, Tarleton Gillespie, José van Dijck and Thomas Poell. What is the difference of your book, in theoretical and conceptual terms?
DL: My book differs in several ways: 1) in using more-than-human
theory to analyse datafication and dataveillance; 2) in discussing findings
from my own empirical research into self-tracking and people’s understandings
and practices related to their personal data; and 3) including a greater focus
on the multisensory dimensions of data materialisations and sense-making,
including how artists and critical designers have sought represent personal
data or critique datafication and dataveillance in novel ways.
RG: After a few years since your book Digital Sociology, for you, what is the future research agenda of digital sociology?
DL: I have become
increasingly interested in more-than-human theory since writing Digital
Sociology and also in postqualitative research as well as innovative
methods for social inquiry, including experimenting with design- and arts-based
methods. Taking these perspectives and methods into new directions for me
constitutes the future agenda of digital sociology.
This article has been re-posted on the Polity website by courtesy of the author, Deborah Lupton. The original article can be found at This Sociological Life.