Whose bodies? Approaching the quantified menstruating body through a feminist ethnography

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Studies on the socio-technical relations between bodies and self-tracking apps has become more relevant as the number of digital solutions for monitoring our bodies are increasing and becoming even more embedded in our everyday lives. While a strong body of literature within the fields of self-tracking and the quantified self has evolved during the recent years. I suggest it is time we (once again) start paying attention to the specific bodies in question when we look into the quantification of bodies; whose bodies are we talking about when we say “quantified bodies”? I also propose that we, when discussing the quantification of bodies, take interest in the bodies designing, producing and guiding the logic behind the algorithms embedded in the technological solutions in question.
By suggesting this focus on bodies as knowledge producing, I draw from a feminist perspective of situated knowledges (Haraway 1989; Harding 1986, 2004) with a particular interest in knowledge production and the understanding of bodies as active, epistemological objects. Feminist theory of science replaces, so to speak, the idea of a universal human identity with a knowing subject who can occupy many different positions - in co-creative and transforming constellations. Following this line of thought, all kinds of knowledge production must be bodily anchored and situated, however, knowledge production always takes place in relation to or with something/someone else / other. As explained by philosopher Rosi Braidotti ”[t]he post-human knowing subject has to be understood as a relational embodied and embedded, affective and accountable entity and not only as a transcendental consciousness.” (Braidotti 2018:1)
Thus, the bodies in this chapter are the bodies who menstruate. I wish to discuss a particular socio-technical relation between smartphone applications (apps) to track and monitor the female cycle; period-apps, and the menstruating bodies engaging with these apps.
Building on early feminist thoughts from the science and technology studies (STS) I seek to move beyond the algorithmic quantification of bodies to study the network of knowledge production formed by bodies, materialities, technology and history with all its reminiscence of stigma and taboo surrounding these leaking bodies (Shildrich).
These inquiries are not only theoretical accounts but are also rooted in empirical soil. Based on a feminist ethnography on Danish womens everyday engagement with period-apps, the female developers from the Femtech-industry and the women-only groups within the quantified self-movement, I aim at providing a broad perspective on what I define as the gendered data body. I argue for a feminist approach to better understand the sociotechnical relations and the sociocultural discourses the menstruatiing body is situated in, as well as to better understand the unique relation between knowledge production and technology as being constitutinal for the gendered data body.

Keywords: keywords: feminist STS, self-tracking, period-tracker, knowledge production, menstruation
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Quantification of Bodies in Health: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
EditorsBtihaj Ajana, Joaquim Braga, Simone Guidi
Place of publicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing
Publication dateDec 2021
ISBN (Print)978-1-80071-884-5
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-80071-883-8, 978-1-80071-885-2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Cite this