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Minke Nouwens

Visions of Healthy Bodies and their Futures: How Wearable Technology is changing how we ‘see’ bodies.

My PhD research is entitled ‘Visions of Healthy Bodies and their Futures: How Wearable Technology is changing how we ‘see’ bodies’. It is a project still in its developmental phase and addresses the increased application by human beings of wearable technologies (bracelets) to understand and visualise bodies and ‘healthy’ body rhythms (i.e., heart rates, brain waves, breaths per minute, calorie burn, etc.). My project will focus on both the individual use of wearables by consumers and the process of making wearables and wearable discourse by start-up designers and educational institutions (e.g., museums and colleges).

The project will rely predominantly on visualisations of health and body rhythms and these images will be the bulk of my non-written research data. As non-written work, my main challenge will be to bring these images and my written interpretations and presentations together into my PhD thesis. I would like to bring these two aspects of my research into one space through a gallery or museum exhibition, either online or offline. And to present my thesis or use parts of my thesis as an accompanying (digital) exhibition catalogue.

However, as my research is predominantly anthropological in nature, with participant-observation and interviews as my main method, I am struggling to figure out how to present my material as an exhibition and whether or not it would ‘qualify’ as a PhD presentation. Both methods, participant-observation and interviews, are non-visual forms of methodology and allow very little audio-visual expressions by participants themselves. I am the research foci point and the main producer of written-oriented materials. Therefore, my main struggle at the moment is to find or develop a method or tool that will accommodate the visual nature of my research. Currently, I am exploring using an app called ‘EthnoAlly’ and ask participants to themselves be in charge of the audio-visual material gathering alongside me.

The literature of this course already helped me to see that part of my methodological and presentational issues stem from a particular way of working within the anthropological discipline and that I will need to work cross-disciplinary with the humanities to overcome current anthropological pitfalls in regard to images. I have not had a change to extensively explore methodologies and theoretical perspectives from the humanities, and art or practice-based research is even newer to me. I therefore wish to gain a deeper understanding of both aspects through this workshop. In addition, I hope to walk away with a clear idea of what additional methods I will implement during my fieldwork and how I will present them afterwards as part of my PhD thesis.