The thing-power of the human-app health assemblage: thinking with vital materialism

Abstract

Hundreds of thousands of apps are now available that have been designed to monitor, manage or improve users’ health. In this article, I draw on feminist new materialist perspectives, and particularly the vital materialism offered by Jane Bennett, to consider the affordances, relational connections, affective forces and agential capacities that contribute to the thing-power of the human-app health assemblage. The discussion is underpinned by the assumption that digital technologies such as health apps are part of a more-than-human world, in which they generate forces and capacities only with and through their associations and relations with the humans who create and use them—or in some cases, relinquish or resist their use. To demonstrate how this approach can be applied to the analysis of empirical material, I discuss the findings of several of my recent projects involving people talking about their use of health apps. Drawing on these materials, I show that the vibrancy of the thing-power of the human-app assemblage is a complex admixture of affective forces, personal biographies and life trajectories, human and nonhuman affordances and cultural imaginaries. All of these elements contribute to a greater or lesser degree to the agential capacities generated by this assemblage.

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Correspondence to Deborah Lupton.

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Lupton, D. The thing-power of the human-app health assemblage: thinking with vital materialism. Soc Theory Health 17, 125–139 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41285-019-00096-y

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Keywords

  • Digital health
  • Feminist new materialism
  • Vital materialism
  • Mobile apps
  • Embodiment
  • Affect