Call for Papers: Life Writing in the Digital Age: Quantification, Optimization and the Self

Postgraduate Conference in Mannheim, September 29-30 2017

Deadline: June 30, 2017

The research project “Probing the Limits of the Quantified Self – Human Agency and Knowledge in Literature & Culture of the Information Age,” funded by the German research association (DFG), invites scholars to submit proposals for its postgraduate conference – Life Writing in the Digital Age: Quantification, Optimization and the Self. The conference will be held at the University of Mannheim on September 29-30, 2017.

Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity and proliferation of life writing, both in terms of academic analysis and the sheer number of readers interested in the material. At least one reason for this can be found in the way digital technology has changed how subjects communicate, think, and of course also consume products of literary or artistic imagination. The continued spread and improvement of smart devices such as smart phones, tablets, or smart watches, paired with the constantly advancing quality and availability of high speed internet has created a situation in which “life writing” can no longer be understood solely on literary terms. Contemporary subjects record their experiences via video, photo, text, and even emojis, and new studies of “writing” thus need to account for the popularity of vlogs, blogs, and “stories”, the new feature in popular apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp that lets users record, upload, and share moments that will automatically – and supposedly permanently – be deleted within 24 hours. Another influential factor is the general trend towards ever increasing efficiency, optimization, and control that can be tied to both the economy of the Information Age and the prevalence of neoliberal ideals of subjectivity. The so called “Quantified Selves” emerging from this context are commonly characterized as subjects that utilize quantitative methods to track every aspect of their lives and bodies in order to build a better version of themselves. According to this logic, every human being can playfully track, control, and maximize their experience of life with the help of smart devices. These are often infused with gratification mechanics adopted from video games, sparking debates about the “gamification” of tracking and its effects. Ultimately, so the argument goes, the “truth” about the self can only be accessed through numbers and data and not by mere reflection or introspection. The goal of this conference is to analyze and question how a belief in the absolute truth and rationality of numerical data changes both the way subjects think about themselves and the way they choose to record and express their experience of the world.

We invite abstracts focusing on any of the topics proposed below (without being restricted to these):

  • Theories of Quantification and the Quantified Self
  • Apps and Gamification Processes
  • Video Game Studies
  • Digital Life Writing
  • Life Writing
  • Blogs, Vlogs, E-Journals, Streams, Personal Websites
  • Aesthetics of Data/Quantification
  • Body Image and Self-Tracking
  • Body Optimization

Abstracts should be submitted by June 30th. Please include the following in your submission:

  • Name
  • Affiliation (if any)
  • Email Address
  • Title of Abstract
  • Abstract (300 words)

Please send emails to sdanter[at]