Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RN16_01a: Health Technologies and Biomedicine
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Ana Patrícia Hilário, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa
Location: UP.4.204
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Fourth Floor Oxford Road

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Quantification of Life, Digital Health and the “Endoptikon”: Are We Entering an Era of Algorithmic Discrimination?

Antonio Maturo

Bologna University, Italy

It is not a news anymore that several health insurances both in the US and in Europe require their members to share their health data via apps or fitbit. Indeed, by apps and other new technologies it is easy to collect the most intimate information about ourselves. Self-tracking may involve behavioral aspects (the steps we take or the hours of sleep, for example), physiological data (heart rate) and also data related to our mood. Even our pattern of consumption may be tracked through our credit card (and we can receive a warning if we spend too much on liquors being overweight). These technological advances call for some reflections related to social justice.

Stemming from an heterogenous set of theories - Rose (molecular glance) Desrosiers (quantification of life), Morozov (technological solutionism), Rosa (acceleration of life), Clarke and Conrad (bio/medicalization of life) and Zuboff (surveillance capitalism) - I argue that new forms of discrimination can take place in the health sector based on the access to our most intimate data (endoptikon), then processed by algorithms based on predictive medicine.

The virtual objectivity of numbers can act as a “legitimate” barrier to access to care where the denial of a treatment can be justified by a missed score. In this new contest, the agency of individuals will be emphasized and the role of social determinants underestimated.

Self-tracking And Health Promotion: Individual Versus Social Practices.

Erling Jelsoe

Roskilde University, Denmark

Self-tracking by means of digital and other devices is a way to obtain information about one’s own body through measurement. There may be different incentives for self-tracking, but generally they are aiming at self-improvement and self-reflection (Lupton, 2016). One important incentive is to improve healthy living. As such self-tracking can be understood as a particular approach to practicing health promotion. Self-tracking is practiced in a number of different contexts from the purely individual self-monitoring and measuring among healthy people to self-monitoring in institutionalized settings in the healthcare sector, in private companies’ health promotion programs or on private data sharing platforms. However, common to all these different contexts and ways to practice self-tracking is an emphasis on individual responsibility and self-management. This seems to be in agreement with a prevailing tendency in health promotion to focus on individual responsibility. Even more social forms of data management through data sharing on social platforms is very often characterized by individualized features such as self-presentation and gamification or profit oriented data sharing on private platforms. Alternative forms of community orientation connected with a more social concept of health promotion seem to be much less common. This presentation will provide an analysis of prevailing forms of self-tracking, based on a number of case studies, and the extent to which they resonate with more social and community oriented approaches to health promotion and identify barriers and contradictions associated with the present individualizing contexts for these activities.

Robotic Surgery: Staying with the trouble between STS and Sociology of Health

Maria Carmela Agodi, Ilenia Picardi

Università di Napoli Federico II, Italy

Choosing to stay – with the inherent trouble - at the intersection between Sociology of Health and Science & Technology Studies, this presentation focuses on the meanings framing technoscientific processes in robotic surgery research and innovation. The empirical grounding of the contribution is in ongoing ethnographic research at the ICAROS Center on Robotic Surgery, located at the University of Naples, where engineers and surgeons are working together. The embeddedness of research at ICAROS in global technoscientific networks, on the one hand, and the belonging of surgical professionals working there within the local (and national Italian) Public Health System on the other, define a sort of double bind in the framing of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in that Lab.

Two sensitizing concepts – drawn from U. Felt’s inspiring contributions to a critical consideration of RRI - have been guiding the research design: a) narrative frameworks, structuring narratives about research & innovation in a definite field; and b) researchers’ epistemic living spaces, bounded by those narrative infrastructures.

Identifying key elements in narrative frameworks within which the aims and the stakes of research in robotic surgery are defined is a key contribution to the understanding of convergences but also of apparent gaps and contradictions between health policy declared aims and research and innovation driving forces.

Bacterial vaccine development in Benin, West Africa and Helsinki, Finland: anticipating the post-antibiotic world

Salla Sariola

University of Helsinki, Finland

Antibiotics have made it possible for people to live longer, healthier lives. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), however, is an increasing problem, and the World Health Organization has described it as the next big global health disaster. This concern has generated a quest for alternatives to antibiotics in order to survive the world where antibiotics are no longer available to cure common infections and prevent contamination during everyday operations.

The ethnographic focus of this paper is a clinical trial of a bacterial vaccine conducted in Benin, West-Africa, and Helsinki, Finland, with multi-sited fieldwork during 2017-2019. The vaccine is presented as innovative technology that would circumvent the use of antibiotics in the treatment of diarrhea in the future. The case study demonstrates how the quest for alternatives to antibiotics not only pushes global health researchers towards new scientific discoveries, it also forces scientific communities to restructure their core practices regarding collaboration, research tools, ideas of evidence, efficacy, and expertise.

Studying the vaccine as an emerging technology necessitates a post-human analysis that foregrounds the objects of the vaccine – the microbes. Therefore, for social scientists, the changes urge us to conceptualize microbes despite their metaphorical and methodological invisibility. Such analysis shows how microbes are vital and malleable, rather than stable and contained, and this liveliness captures the gist of the problem – given the magnitude of the changes ahead, a post-antibiotic world is nearly impossible to imagine.

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