Datafying the bodily experience: The case of fertility apps

Martina Skrubbeltrang Mahnke, Mikka Nielsen, Matilde Lykkebo Petersen

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Abstract

The topic of fertility and achieving pregnancy often attracts media attention in Denmark and worldwide, e.g. stories such as the alarming decrease in fertility, or the surge of women choosing to become pregnant without a co-parent. National campaigns have reminded citizens to “count their eggs” (Kragh, 2020), as fertility industries flourish. (In)fertility is an agenda-setting topic, especially as more and more women share their experiences on social media, and the practice of digitally self-tracking menstruation cycles has become a popular way of managing, monitoring and dealing with issues of fertility. Fertility apps aim to leverage self-awareness and self-knowledge and therewith to promote personal choices of their users; as such personal health data can be traced and tracked anytime and anywhere. The traditional clinical space has started to dissolve and new “medical-domestic spaces” (Mahnke & Nielsen, forthcoming) afforded by digital health applications are on the rise. This research takes starting point in such medical-domestic spaces as transformative of traditional doctor-patient relationships. It further engages in questions how the newly emerging user-data relationship affects how patients relate to their treatment through digitally available health data as well as self-produced/tracked data. Looking at the specific case of fertility apps this research focuses on women undergoing fertility treatment while at the same time using fertility apps. Based on qualitative interviews and the analysis of recorded data via user diaries this research explores how the bodily experience of fertility is translated into and out of data and how that affects and transforms users’ experiences of their bodies and health, as well as how the doctor-patient relationship is experienced in fertility treatment when apps become a third actor in this relationship. The interviews and recorded data will be analysed based on thematic coding and a primarily data-driven principle, letting the empirical data guide the analysis (Kvale and Brinkman 2009; Gibbs 2007). Theoretically, we understand the process of datafying the bodily experience as a communicative one constituted through human-data assemblages (Lupton 2017, 2018). This means that different sense making processes are at play when bodily experiences are captured by these apps e.g. users need to decide which boxes to tick in an app and what kind of data they want to record. At the same time fertility apps can be seen as co-constitutive actors (Haraway 2004) in users’ personal and intimate production of a datafied fertile (or infertile) body. This research contributes towards the combination of studies of the quantification of the body and research on reproduction by shedding light on the communicative processes that guide and shape such processes. It further raises questions with regards to what role these fertility apps play in the medical sphere and how women’s everyday awareness of and attention towards bodily symptoms and sensations change when sharing intimate details of their personal lifes. This study looks, therewith, at how digital health technologies may transform and affect bodily experience, through an exploration of the human-data relation in patients’ use of fertility apps.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
Publikationsdatoaug. 2021
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2021
BegivenhedNordmedia 2021: Crisis and Resilience: Nordic Media Research on the Frontline - University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Island
Varighed: 18 aug. 202120 aug. 2021

Konference

KonferenceNordmedia 2021
LokationUniversity of Iceland
Land/OmrådeIsland
ByReykjavik
Periode18/08/202120/08/2021

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