series event

Jeannette Pols - Making sense with numbers: Unraveling practices of self-quantification

Anthropology and Sociology Hub Lecture

Speaker: Jeannette Pols

One of the conceptual tools for policy makers in the west to imagine a retreating welfare state is the notion of self management. Individuals should manage their own health and the health of those near and dear in order to alleviate the pressure on professional caregivers. This would make care more efficient and of higher quality, as, so the policy makers argue, self management is what people want.

In this presentation I will discuss a particular branch on the self management tree: self tracking, or self quantification, using an empirical ethics approach that studies values and their workings in practice. By using health apps to measure and analyse data about ‘what we do’ and to what end, the optimistic idea is that individuals can –and will- change their life styles. Health is an offer one simply cannot refuse.

But what kind of ‘ethico-psychological subjects’ emerge in actual practices of self-tracking? The ethico-psychological subject gets a description in terms of how it how it acts as well as made to act. It is a ‘subject explained through outer factors (as an object of the life sciences), but also an object actively shaping itself (as in the humanities). How do people make sense of numbers, and how do numbers make sense of them? The dream of the prevention optimists will not hold, but vistas are opened up on the variety of ways in which people may live with self-quantifications.

Biographical note:

Jeannette Pols is Socrates professor ‘Social Theory, Humanism and Materialities’ at the Department of Anthropology, program ‘Health, Care and the Body’, at the University of Amsterdam.  She works as Associate Professor and Principal investigator at the section of Medical Ethics, department of General practice of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam. She is appointed as a member of the Raad voor Volksgezondheid en Samenleving, the advisory Board for the Ministery of Health in the Netherlands.


Free and open to all. All welcome.