Uncovering Everyday Rhythms and Patterns: Food tracking and new forms of visibility and temporality in health care

Stud Health Technol Inform. 2015;215:28-40.


This chapter demonstrates how ethnographically-oriented research on emergent technologies, in this case self-tracking technologies, adds to Techno-Anthropology's aims of understanding techno-engagements and solving problems that deal with human-technology relations within and beyond health informatics. Everyday techno-relations have been a long-standing research interest in anthropology, underlining the necessity of empirical engagement with the ways in which people and technologies co-construct their daily conditions. By focusing on the uses of a food tracking application, MealLogger, designed for photographing meals and visualizing eating rhythms to share with health care professionals, the chapter details how personal data streams support and challenge health care practices. The interviewed professionals, from doctors to nutritionists, have used food tracking for treating patients with eating disorders, weight problems, and mental health issues. In general terms, self-tracking advances the practices of visually and temporally documenting, retrieving, communicating, and understanding physical and mental processes and, by doing so, it offers a new kind of visual mediation. The professionals point out how a visual food journal opens a window onto everyday life, bypassing customary ways of seeing and treating patients, thereby highlighting how self-tracking practices can aid in escaping the clinical gaze by promoting a new kind of communication through visualization and narration. Health care professionals are also, however, acutely aware of the barriers to adopting self-tracking practices as part of existing patient care. The health care system is neither used to, nor comfortable with, personal data that originates outside the system; it is not seen as evidence and its institutional position remains insecure.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Diet Records*
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Processes
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Photography*
  • Self Care