PhD Studentship: Gender, Bodies and Technology, Engendered bodily practices and self-monitoring in the digital age

Title: Gender, Bodies and Technology, Engendered bodily practices and self-monitoring in the digital age

There has been a significant uptake in the use of ‘body tracking’, m-health and e-health devices in recent years. There are many body tracking apps available on the Apple, Android and Windows app stores and many more in development. An increasing range of facets of human existence are being monitored and quantified by devices which enable digital manipulation and analysis. Like many other forms of digital data, self-tracking data have a vitality and social life of their own, circulating across and between a multitude of sites. These devices are, however, not used by individuals in isolation, rather, they enable the online sharing and comparison of data which present new dimensions of embodied and gendered practices to examine for sociologists. Furthermore, corporations who manufacture such devices draw on aggregated, accumulated data for commercial purposes. These data, and their analysis, are reconstituting how people relate to their bodies and selves and those of others. So far these developments have not been considered in relation to how they constitute, and are constituted by, ‘gendered logics’.

Thus it is timely to pursue questions of how and why people choose to engage with their health through quantification and tracking and what meanings they attach to them in relation to their gender. Body tracking’ devices and their users are of increasing interest to academic and sociological researchers although so far little empirical research has been conducted. Yet the shifting forms of selfhood configured via these digital data assemblages are of huge interest to contemporary social life. The theoretical implications of the use of such methods of digital self-analysis has only just started to be explored in relation to issues of surveillance and self-surveillance (Bossewitch and Sinnreich, 2012; Lupton, 2012) and notions of ‘gamification’ (Whitson, 2013) and this scholarship provides an opportunity to contribute and work in an exciting new field.

The study will involve a mixed methods approach which will enable the researcher to generate data which give a broad but detailed picture of how data and technologies intersect with the social and embodied experience of gender through two approaches.

First, analysis of the offline aspects of this topic is to be conducted through in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus groups with users of self-monitoring techniques (both digital and analogue) and particularly those which are closest to the experience of gender and bodies (eg. exercise, fitness, menstrual cycle, food). Visual and haptic methods will be central to this aspect of the research with participants asked/encouraged to discuss their methods of monitoring, and those of others, in relation to how they look and feel. This will be achieved through direct interaction with devices and representations and some respondents creating visual and written logs of their experience.

Second, digital methods will be used in order to analyse the topic on the data level. For instance the researcher will perform a hyperlink network analysis which can help to determine who are the powerful actors in networks and the role they play in the formation of cultural capital (Beer, 2011: 4.14). They will also conduct a sentiment analysis of different kinds of online posts which can be mapped in order to determine positive, neutral or negative sentiment. Such analysis can help to ascertain broad sentiment towards, and connection between, particular topics.

However, it is imagined that the student will contribute to the final and more detailed research methodology for the project and take a decisive part in further developing the proposal.
Please contact Dr Natalia Gerodetti for further details: n.gerodetti@leedsbeckett.ac.uk


Categories: Digital Sociology

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