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. 2019 Oct;41 Suppl 1:1-15.
doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12898.

Understanding Digital Health: Productive Tensions at the Intersection of Sociology of Health and Science and Technology Studies


Understanding Digital Health: Productive Tensions at the Intersection of Sociology of Health and Science and Technology Studies

Flis Henwood et al. Sociol Health Illn. .


In this editorial introduction, we explore how digital health is being explored at the intersection of sociology of health and science and technology studies (STS). We suggest that socio-material approaches and practice theories provide a shared space within which productive tensions between sociology of health and STS can continue. These tensions emerge around the long-standing challenges of avoiding technological determinism while maintaining a clear focus on the materiality and agency of technologies and recognising enduring sets of relations that emerge in new digital health practices while avoiding social determinism. The papers in this Special Issue explore diverse fields of healthcare (e.g. reproductive health, primary care, diabetes management, mental health) within which heterogenous technologies (e.g. health apps, mobile platforms, smart textiles, time-lapse imaging) are becoming increasingly embedded. By synthesising the main arguments and contributions in each paper, we elaborate on four key dimensions within which digital technologies create ambivalence and (re)configure health practices. First, promissory digital health highlights contradictory virtues within discourses that configure digital health. Second, (re)configuring knowledge outlines ambivalences of navigating new information environments and handling quantified data. Third, (re)configuring connectivity explores the relationships that evolve through digital networks. Fourth, (re)configuring control explores how new forms of power are inscribed and handled within algorithmic decision-making in health. We argue that these dimensions offer fruitful perspectives along which digital health can be explored across a range of technologies and health practices. We conclude by highlighting applications, methods and dimensions of digital health that require further research.

Keywords: Digital health; care; digital sociology; e-health; science and technology studies (STS); socio-materiality; sociotechnical practices; telemedicine.

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