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

Deborah LUPTON, Gavin Smith

    Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMetric Culture
    Subtitle of host publicationOntologies of Self-Tracking Practices
    EditorsBtihaj Ajana
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherEmerald Publishing Limited
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Electronic)9781787432895
    ISBN (Print)9781787432901
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2018


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