Hello Vassilis Charitsis, new PhD in Business Administration…2018-05-20
… you have defended your doctoral thesis: “Self-tracking, datafication and the biopolitical prosumption of life”. What is your thesis about?
- The thesis focuses on and examines the popular consumption phenomenon of self-tracking, which allows and enables consumers to track, quantify and datafy diverse facets of their lives. Drawing on data from two empirical studies, which were based on interviews and observational netnography, the thesis engages with the notion of biopolitical marketing to analyse the extraction and appropriation of value from consumers’ lives.
Can you tell us about the results?
- The empirical findings in my thesis suggest that marketing interventions foster the development of marketing environments that seek to contain consumers while allowing them to act freely, albeit in ways that augment the value that can be extracted and appropriated. Based on the empirical findings the thesis introduces the notion of the “biopolitical prosumption of life” to emphasize that contemporary marketing aims to foster the production of subjectivities, social relations and forms of life that are inextricably linked to consumption and the creation of value. The “biopolitical prosumption of life” entails the creation of worlds that allow and enable the development of market-aligned subjectivities, which can generate value for corporate interests. The notions of the “prosumed self” and the “prosuming self” are introduced to frame and elucidate these subjectivities.
In addition, the empirical findings indicate that consumer ambivalence is common among active users of self-tracking devices as self-trackers may exhibit simultaneously both positive and negative aspects towards self-tracking.
Why is this important? How can these findings be useful?
- In recent decades, the advent of the internet and its mass universal adoption has completely altered people’s personal, social and professional lives as well as their consumption habits and behaviours. Web 2.0 technologies have again transformed the way we, as consumers, interact with the technology itself and with each other. More recently, the emergence of smart technologies and their widespread adoption from large and diverse segments of the population have rendered them an integral part of people’s everyday lives. Many smart tools and devices in the market are developed especially for that reason, to help people track their lives. Based on these technological advances, a whole culture of self-tracking and self-quantification has developed which is getting increasingly popular. These devices allow users to track many different aspects of their lives, like physical as well as mental and emotional states, somatic activities, consumption habits, financial behaviours, and social conducts. But while consumers use these devices in order to collect data and get a better understanding of their own selves, companies are also able to collect vast amounts of detailed and accurate data about people’s lives. The appropriation and (mis)use of user generated data has become a pressing social issue.
The recent Facebook scandal, where users’ data were obtained and used for political purposes, also brought public attention to online consumer surveillance and the misappropriation of consumer generated data. In fact, self-tracking provides an unprecedented opportunity for corporate consumer surveillance, that surpasses even surveillance conducted through social media platforms, leading to the datafication of everyday life. Thus, the thesis adds to current debates on the datafication of life by examining its implications for a number of diverse social settings (workplace, healthcare, education etc.). It also examines and critically analyse recents attempts to develop personal data markets that aim to enhance users’ control of data by offering financial compensation.
For whom could your thesis be useful?
- Although primarily geared towards an academic audience, the thesis could appeal to anyone with an interest in self-tracking or more generally an interest in critical analyses of digital culture.
What are you going to do next?
- I will continue exploring the social ramifications of datafication as a postdoctoral researcher at the Consumer Society Research Centre of the University of Helsinki.
Vassilis Charitsis defended his doctoral thesis Self-tracking, datafication and the biopolitical prosumption of life” on March 23rd at Karlstad Business School at Karlstad University. He conducted his doctoral studies in Business Administration at CTF, Service Research Center at Karlstad University, with the support of the Swedish Research School of Management (MIT).