Call for Papers: Laboring Bodies and the Quantified Self

University of Mannheim, Oct 5-6, 2018

The body has become central to practices of self-tracking and self-improvement. Quantifying the self, for example by counting steps, calories, tracking sleep patterns, heart rate, blood pressure etc., aims at optimizing the body. Moreover, new technologies have made it easier and thus more pervasive to monitor, analyze, and control the body as a project. Although self-improvement through quantification can serve to enhance physical performance and well-being, many users are unaware of the economic value of their data. While providing access to a deeper knowledge of the self, our own data and by extension, our bodies, are turned into a commodity, particularly when data is correlated to create specific marketing profiles or when quantification is used to adjust bodies to normative standards. This quantified data of the self is instrumental in unlocking the body’s potential as a laboring body, and in turn, disciplining the individual according to market demands and biopolitical agendas. In this conference, we want to draw critical attention to the role that the laboring body plays in practices, discourses, and literary as well as other cultural representations of the quantified self. Moreover, we want to shed light on the ways that data collection and production redefine what passes as labor, including notions of immaterial and free labor in an increasingly virtual work environment. We invite abstracts that address but are not limited to the following questions:

What function does quantification have in conceptualizing the body as a laboring body?

How does quantification contribute to disciplining the body?

How have practices of self-tracking, self-monitoring, and self-optimization evolved historically?

How does literature contribute to the redefinition of the laboring body in the context of self-quantification?

What are the specific benefits of literature in imagining, reflecting on, and negotiating the implications of self-tracking practices on the individual and society?

What can an American Studies perspective contribute to the discourse on the quantified self as a laboring body?

Please send abstracts of no more than 350 words to by May 15, 2018.

This conference is part of the DFG project ‘Probing the Limits of the Quantified Self: Human Agency and Knowledge in Literature and Culture of the Information Age’

Conference organizers: Prof. Dr. Ulfried Reichardt, Dr. Regina Schober, Stefan Danter, Juliane Strätz


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