Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Questions of how to best harness digital technologies for promoting mental health have become a seedbed of governmental, health policy and social debate. Widespread campaigns for optimizing digital healthcare generally focus on promoting patient responsibilization or self-responsibility, emphasizing the need for developing more informed patients who draw on digital resources as part of self-care strategies, deepening and expanding their health-related knowledge as well as enabling easy forms of self-tracking. Arguably, however, while “self-care” often involves the promotion of patient self-responsibility, it simultaneously foregrounds other modes of ethical engagement, such as care for, or from, (known and unknown) others and concerns over states’ and corporations’ responsibilities for ensuring mental wellbeing. Indeed, the broader literature on responsibility suggests that rather than an overriding emphasis on personal responsibility, advanced liberal societies create a much more fertile and contested ground upon which multiple, “competing responsibilities” often flourish. Digital technologies, moreover, add unique facets to how responsibility is enacted, reshaping experiences of time and space by enabling new forms of continuous, or seemingly continuous, person-person and person-technology relations, and consequently refracting users’ sense of where agency lies (i.e. in themselves, in their relations with (human) others, or in technologies themselves). Drawing on a case study of a newly emerging ethics of care that is being developed through young New Zealanders’ uses of health apps and other digital technologies for promoting mental health, this presentation examines how interpersonal dynamics, human-technology relations, and questions of agency are recasting understandings and enactments of responsibility for mental wellbeing.