Becoming a diagnostic agent: A collated ethnography of digital-sensory work in caregiving intra-actions

Sarah Maslen*, Anna Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

118 Downloads (Pure)


Sociological contributions on digital health have acknowledged the enduring significance of sensory work in diagnosis and practices of care. Previous explorations of these digital and sensory entanglements have focused separately on healthcare providers or patients/caregivers, rarely bringing these worlds together. Our analysis, based on the collation of ethnographic fieldwork in clinics, medical schools, and homes in Australia, offers rare insights into caregiver and practitioner perspectives. We interrogate the work involved in digital-sensory becoming, as caregivers (in our case parents) learn to assign diagnostic meaning to potential childhood disease. Working with Karen Barad's concept of 'intra-action', we demonstrate how diagnostic knowing is enacted between practitioners, parents, senses, and devices. We identify seven aspects of digital-sensory learning: attention to the change from normal; testing/searching for signs and symptoms; confirmation and direction from more experienced others; mimicry; analogy/metaphor; digital archiving; and reference to validated digitised signs. We found that this learning does not take place discretely in the clinic or at home. Doctors and parents both do digital-sensory work to register, co-witness, and mutually enact disease by interpreting signs and symptoms together in their caregiving intra-actions. Our article also champions collated ethnography as a methodological approach for making sense of complex assemblages in healthcare.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113927
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Caregivers
  • Digital media
  • Enskillment
  • Ethnography
  • Diagnosis
  • Materiality
  • Medicine
  • Senses
  • BODY

Cite this