Surveillance Entanglements: Digital Data Flows and Ageing Bodies in Motion in the Danish Welfare State


  • Nete Schwennesen University of Copenhagen



self-tracking, algorithm, physical rehabilitation, ageing, surveillance, assemblage, vital materialism


In recent years, new forms of self-tracking technologies, advanced algorithms and quantified measurements have increasingly become part of interventions targeting the physical improvement of elderly bodies. This has led authors to argue that the latter are not just ‘busy’ bodies (Katz 2000) but ‘busier and smarter bodies,’ as well as being nodes for data collection, monitoring and surveillance designed to promote physical functioning (Katz and Marshall 2018). The article qualifies the argument by examining concrete encounters in which frail elderly bodies are made to move and transform in digital rehabilitation programs in the Danish welfare state. The study mobilizes Bennett’s (2009) notion of the ‘vitality of materiality’ as an analytic lens, thus highlighting the agentic capacities of technologies and the fleshy-sensual, lively force of the body itself. Drawing on ethnographic material, the article traces how movement is impacted by the links and forces generated by a specific digital rehabilitation assemblage. This emphasizes the fluidity of relational connections between bodies and digital dataflows, meanwhile demonstrating that the vital force of the aging body is expressed through sensory pain when the temporality of the metrics and the rate of bodily recovery are out of alignment. In contrast to studies focusing on surveillance as a pre-given disciplining force, the vital materialism approach invites us to think about surveillance as a vibrant, open-ended and temporally specific process whose outcome is not predetermined. Finally, it is argued that, to develop processes leading to bodily restoration rather than disruption, greater attention to sensory expression is needed – among professionals, IT workers and the elderly alike – combined with a willingness to adjust the assemblage continually to align metrics with rates of bodily recovery.


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