Stepping into self-tracking culture: understanding consumer behaviour around self-tracking technologies in everyday life

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Wearables, also known as health and fitness devices, are examples of self-tracking technologies (STT) that collect bodily data from daily activities, aimed at helping consumers to improve their wellbeing and lifestyle. Despite the ubiquity of these technologies, research to date has been limited to sociology and information system. This thesis aims to improve our understanding of consumer behaviour around STT, in particular how consumers integrate STT into their everyday life. This study adopts a Foucauldian perspective of self-surveillance to explore self-tracking practices and draws on Miller’s works to explore the role of material objects in these practices. Two key questions are explored: How do consumers integrate STT into their everyday lives? What are the subjectivities that emerge from consumers interacting with STT? Inspired by the methodologies of material culture, these questions are addressed via an ethnographic research design, comprising of talking, walking, shopping, cycling, jogging, eating, and socialising with a sample of 20 self-trackers around London. Data consisted of fieldnotes and interview transcripts, analysed using thematic analysis. The theoretical contributions are demonstrated in the development of Foucault’s technologies of the self through Miller’s notion of materiality. Findings highlight the ubiquity of STT and material objects of everyday life in materialising self-tracking goals, practices, and consumer self- formation. This research challenges the framework of self-surveillance and how it operates in everyday practices through dichotomies in consumer interaction with STT: health, indulgence, labour, and leisure. Through these dichotomies, four subjectivities emerge: redemptive self, awardee, loyal, and innovator. This research further demonstrates how consumers stride from one dichotomy to another, creating hybrid subjectivities in self-tracking: honest and savvy self- trackers as consumers find themselves belonging in one set of dichotomy or characteristics of one subjectivity, but later drawn into another end of the dichotomy. Findings show how existing structures of everyday routine are redefined as producers of self-tracking data, thus continuously reshaping the way consumers are thinking and doing everyday practices. Overall, this study provides a granular theorisation of consumer self in a data-driven environment which considers subjectivities as a continuous process of (re)configuration of the self, rather than a process with a clear end; thus, positioning self-tracking practices as a process of becoming that is continuous and unstable.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hosany, Sameer, Supervisor
  • Cappellini, Benedetta, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Oct 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • self-tracking technology
  • marketing
  • surveillance
  • subjectivity
  • body

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