Self-tracking for health and the Quantified Self: Re-articulating autonomy, solidarity and authenticity in an age of personalized healthcare

T. Sharon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Self-tracking devices point to a future in which individuals will be more involved in the management of their health and will generate data that will benefit clinical decision making and research. They have thus attracted enthusiasm from medical and public health professionals as key players in the move toward participatory and personalized healthcare. Critics, however, have begun to articulate a number of broader societal and ethical concerns regarding self-tracking, foregrounding their disciplining, and disempowering effects. This paper has two aims: first, to analyze some of the key promises and concerns that inform this polarized debate. I argue that far from being solely about health outcomes, this debate is very much about fundamental values that are at stake in the move toward personalized healthcare, namely, the values of autonomy, solidarity, and authenticity. The second aim is to provide a framework within which an alternative approach to self-tracking for health can be developed. I suggest that a practice-based approach, which studies how values are enacted in specific practices, can open the way for a new set of theoretical questions. In the last part of the paper, I sketch out how this can work by describing various enactments of autonomy, solidarity, and authenticity among self-trackers in the Quantified Self community. These examples show that shifting attention to practices can render visible alternative and sometimes unexpected enactments of values. Insofar as these may challenge both the promises and concerns in the debate on self-tracking for health, they can lay the groundwork for new conceptual interventions in future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-121
JournalPhilosophy & Technology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Self-tracking
  • Digital health
  • Quantified Self
  • Surveillance
  • Practice-based approach
  • Personalized healthcare
  • Philosophy of technology


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