Digital technologies and the biomedicalisation of everyday activities: the case of walking and cycling

Carter, Simon; Speed, Ewen and Green, Judith (2018). Digital technologies and the biomedicalisation of everyday activities: the case of walking and cycling. Sociology Compass, 12(4), article no. e12572.



Walking and cycling have been transformed by digital technologies, which range from mapping apps for way-finding, through ‘wearables’ which monitor activity, to social media apps for comparing activity within social groups. Some technologies are explicitly orientated to health projects, others are not, yet all have potentially profound effects on bodies, health-orientated identities and understandings of health.

This paper uses the concept of biomedicalisation to explore emerging literature on the intersection of digital technologies with everyday mobility, focusing on walking and cycling. Beyond simply ‘medicalising’ mobility (by bringing it into the realm of public health), digital technologies contribute to various transformations of health: encouraging some health practices, inhibiting others; creating or excluding individual and collective health-related identities; and reconfiguring health and wellbeing. There is research evidence on the contingent and multiple relationships between digital technologies and social practices, with specific themes including: quantification; the role of apps in framing walking as extraordinary, cycling as competitive; enabling users to perform as healthy, neoliberal citizens; and digital careers. There has been less attention on how social divisions are reproduced or disrupted by the mediation of mobility through digital technologies. Further research should consider the impact of digital technologies on political economies of health.

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