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Step-counting in the “health-society”: phenomenological reflections on walking in the era of the Fitbit

  • Mary Louise Adams
Original Article

Abstract

Step-counting turns walking into a health intervention. In the era of the Fitbit, physical activity tracking is commonplace, and a growing body of literature investigates the implications of digitally mediated human movement. This paper grows out of concern with the proliferation of tracking technologies; however, the focus here is not on the technology itself, but on the activity of step-counting that the technology has popularized. I look at step-counting to think about the ramifications of the promotion of physical activity in what Ilona Kickbusch (J Epidemiol Community Health 60(7):561, 2006) has called “the health society”. As a theoretical reflection, the paper contributes to discussions about the reach of health promotion discourses into daily life. Drawing on Foucauldian analyses of neoliberal approaches to health, I argue that the instrumental understandings of physical activity that surface in health promotion efforts around walking constrain meanings people can make of their bodies. I extend Foucauldian critique with materialist perspectives from the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Drew Leder. Adopting Leder’s notion of the “absent body”, I argue that in the health society, strategies like step-counting make life smaller and narrow our ability to imagine life differently, with all the political consequences that might entail.

Keywords

Walking Pedometers Healthism Self-tracking Phenomenology Merleau-Ponty 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers, and to Sarah Barnes, Dia Da Costa, Samantha King, Eleanor MacDonald, and Eric Mykhalovskiy for useful feedback on earlier versions of this article.

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Kinesiology and Health StudiesQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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