Cultivating, Tracking and Documenting the Contemporary Self

Dr. Matthew Dennis
Cultivating, Tracking and Documenting the Contemporary Self

Intensive Seminar, English, 2 SWS, 2 ECTS
Introduction: Friday, 14.6.2019, 14-18 h, room 004
Saturday/Sunday, 11-17 h, 22./23.6. and 29./30.6.2019, Hardenbergstr. 33, room 110

Contemporary reality offers many new technologies of self-quantification that allow us to cultivate, document and intensively monitor who we are. Entrepreneurs and programmers have now developed a wide range of app-based technologies, each claiming to measure and evaluate dimensions of the most intimate aspects of our practical lives. Much of the first wave of technology simply involved documenting the self (still the focus of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter), but recently increasingly specialised app-based programs have been created that aim to monitor the self more informatively and meticulously. Apps now exist to monitor our emotions (MoodPanda), happiness (Happify, Aloe Bud), work productivity (Remete), mental health (Kyō), diet (SparkPeople), exercise (Strava), physical well-being (BetterMe, 8Fit), and even biological functions (heart rate, sleep cycle, fertility). Many of these apps even claim that quantifying the self not only helps us to understand ourselves, but that it provides the conditions for radical self-transformation. By accessing a dimension of reality that is at once less emotional, less subjective, and less affected by our passing whims, we can – so these apps claim – fundamentally transform our lives.
The first day of the course (Friday 14th June) will consist in a series of lectures introducing recent developments in self-care technology. This will include examining Michel Foucault's criticisms of the "Californian Cult of the Self", as well as an overview of Gilles Deleuze's "Postscript on the Societies of Control". Copies of these texts will be provided, although students are encouraged to read them in advance. After this, students will download up to two self-care apps to test and evaluate for 1-2 weeks. They will prepare an assessed presentation on this experience which they will present to the group (22nd, 23rd, 29th, 30th June). Participants will also be offered the opportunity to collaborate on an written review of these technologies that will be documented online.

Requirements for the ungraded Studium Generale credit: regular and active participation, practical testing and evaluation of self-care apps, short presentation.

Ausrichtung der Veranstaltung: orientierend, kritisch
Kompetenz/Aktivität der Teilnehmenden: wahrnehmen, reflektieren/denken

Matthew James Dennis is an Early Career Researcher at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick, UK. He writes on how emerging technologies affect our practical lives, especially their potential for character development and personal transformation. Currently he is writing about the 21st century self-care industry and Foucault's criticisms of the "Californian Cult of the Self", while completing a monograph on how we can actively cultivate our passionate attachments. He has previously published articles on Foucault, Deleuze, Nietzsche and Spinoza, and won the ASCP Postgraduate Essay Prize in 2017. More information on