From data fetishism to quantifying selves: Self-tracking practices and the other values of data

T. Sharon*, D. Zandbergen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

100 Citations (Web of Science)


This article foregrounds the ways in which members of the Quantified Self ascribe value and meaning to the data they generate in self-tracking practices. We argue that the widespread idea that what draws self-trackers to numerical data is its perceived power of truth and objectivity—a so-called “data fetishism”—is limiting. Using an ethnographic approach, we describe three ways in which self-trackers attribute meaning to their data-gathering practices which escape this data fetishist critique: self-tracking as a practice of mindfulness, as a means of resistance against social norms, and as a communicative and narrative aid. In light of this active engagement with data, we suggest that it makes more sense to view these practitioners as “quantifying selves.” We also suggest that such fine-grained accounts of the appeal that data can have, beyond its allure of objectivity, are necessary if we are to achieve a fuller understanding of Big Data culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1695-1709
Number of pages15
JournalNew Media & Society
Issue number11
Early online date9 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Big Data
  • data fetishism
  • ethnography
  • mindfulness
  • practice-based approach
  • Quantified Self
  • self-tracking
  • technological subversion
  • value
  • Quantifying Self

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