Becoming Your Own Device: Self-Tracking Challenges In The Workplace


  • Steven Richardson Queen's University
  • Debra Mackinnon Queen's University



Self-tracking, Corporate wellness, Health promotion, Science & technology studies, Organizational studies


Workplaces have long sought to improve employee productivity and performance by monitoring and tracking a variety of indicators. Increasingly, these efforts target the health and wellbeing of the employee – recognizing that a healthy and active worker is a productive one. Influenced by managerial trends in personalized and participatory medicine (Swan 2012), some workplaces have begun to pilot their own programs, utilizing fitness wearables and personal analytics to reduce sedentary lifestyles. These programs typically take the form of gamified self-tracking challenges combining cooperation, competition, and fundraising to incentivize participants to get moving. While seemingly providing new arrows in the bio-political quiver – that is, tools to keep employees disciplined yet active, healthy yet profitable (Lupton 2012) – there is also a certain degree of acceptance and participation. Although participants are shaped by self-tracking technologies, “they also, in turn, shape them by their own ideas and practices” (Ruckenstein 2014: 70). In this paper, we argue that instead of viewing self-tracking challenges solely through discourses of power or empowerment, the more pressing question concerns “how our relationship to our tracking activities takes shape within a constellation of habits, cultural norms, material conditions, ideological constraints” (Van Den Eede 2015: 157). We confront these tensions through an empiric case study of self-tracking challenges for staff and faculty at two Canadian universities. By cutting through the hype, this paper uncovers how self-trackers are becoming (and not just left to) their own devices.

Author Biographies

Steven Richardson, Queen's University

Department of Sociology, PhD Candidate

Debra Mackinnon, Queen's University

Department of Sociology, PhD Candidate