Big Data, Big Questions| This One Does Not Go Up To 11: The Quantified Self Movement as an Alternative Big Data Practice

Dawn Nafus, Jamie Sherman


Big data is often seen in terms of powerful institutions managing the actions of populations through data. This ethnography of the Quantified Self movement, where participants collect extensive data about their own bodies, identifies practices that go beyond simply internalizing predetermined frameworks. The QS movement attracts the most hungrily panoptical of the data aggregation businesses in addition to people who have developed their own notions of analytics that are separate from, and in relation to, dominant practices of firms and institutionalized scientific production. Their practices constitute an important modality of resistance to dominant modes of living with data, an approach that we call “soft resistance.” Soft resistance happens when participants assume multiple roles as project designers, data collectors, and critical sense-makers who rapidly shift priorities. This constant shifting keeps data sets fragmented and thus creates material resistance to traditional modes of data aggregation. It also breaks the categories that make traditional aggregations appear authoritative. This enables participants to partially yet significantly escape the frames created by the biopolitics of the health technology industry.

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