Ageing, embodiment and datafication: Dynamics of power in digital health and care technologies

Main Article Content

Nicole Dalmer
Kirsten Ellison
Stephen Katz
Barbara Marshall


As a growing body of work has documented, digital technologies are central to the imagining of aging futures. In this study, we offer a critical, theoretical framework for exploring the dynamics of power related to the technological tracking, measuring, and managing of aging bodies at the heart of these imaginaries. Drawing on critical gerontology, feminist technoscience, sociology of the body, and socio-gerontechnology, we identify three dimensions of power relations where the designs, operations, scripts, and materialities of technological innovation implicate asymmetrical relationships of control and intervention: (1) aging bodies and the power of numbers, (2) aging spaces and the power of surveillance, and (3) age care economies and gendered power relations. While technological care for older individuals has been promoted as a cost-effective way to enhance independence, security, and health, we argue that such optimistic perspectives may obscure the realities of social inequality, agist bias, and exploitative gendered care labour.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details

Articles in a Special Issue


Aceros, J. C., Pols, J. & Domènech, M. (2015). Where is grandma? Home telecare, good aging and the domestication of later life. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 93: 102–111. doi: 10.1016/j. techfore.2014.01.016

Aging Analytics. (2019). Longevity Industry Landscape Overview 2019. London: Aging Analytics Agency.

Barakat, S., Woolrych, R. D., Sixsmith, A., Kearns, W. & Kort, H. S. M. (2013). eHealth technology competencies for health professionals working in home care to support older adults to age in place: Outcomes of a two-day collaborative workshop. Medicine 2.0 2(2): e10. doi: 10.2196/med20.2711

Barnes, M., Henwood, F. & Smith, N. (2016). Information and care: A relational approach. Dementia 15(4): 510–525. doi: 10.1177/147130121 4527750

Beer, D. (2016). Metric Power: London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after Technology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Berg, A. J. (1994). A gendered socio-technical construction: The smart house. In C. Cockburn & R. Fürst-Dili (eds.), Bringing Technology Home: Gender and Technology in a Changing Europe (pp. 165–180). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Bergschöld, J. M. (2018). Configuring dementia: How nursing students are taught to shape the sociopolitical role of gerontechnologies. Frontiers in Sociology 3: 1–13. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2018.00003

Bergschöld, J. M., Neven, L. & Peine, A. (2020). DIY gerontechnology: Circumventing mismatched technologies and bureaucratic procedure by creating care technologies of one’s own. Sociology of Health and Illness 42(2): 232–246. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.13012

Berridge, C. (2016). Breathing room in monitored space: The impact of passive monitoring technology on privacy in independent living. The Gerontologist 56(5): 807–816. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnv034

Berridge, C. (2017). Active subjects of passive monitoring: Responses to a passive monitoring system in low-income independent living. Ageing and Society 37(3): 537–560. doi: 10.1017/S0144686X15001269

Berridge, C., Chan, K. T. & Choi, Y. (2019). Sensor-based passive remote monitoring and discordant values: Qualitative study of the experiences of low-income immigrant elders in the United States. JMIR mHealth and uHealth 7(3), e11516. doi: 10.2196/11516

Berridge, C. & Wetle, T. F. (2019). Why older adults and their children disagree about in-home surveillance technology, sensors, and tracking. The Gerontologist 60(5): 926–934. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnz068

Carver, L. & MacKinnon, D. (2020). Health applications of gerontechnology, privacy, and surveillance: A scoping review. Surveillance & Society 18(2): 216–230. doi: 10.24908/ss.v18i2.13240

Chivers, S. (2018). Not an activist? Ableism meets ageism in the Canadian media. Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 12(1): 107–109. doi: 10.3828/jlcds.2018.7

Chung, J., Demiris, G. & Thompson, H. J. (2015). Obtrusiveness of a smart home application as perceived by Korean American older adults. The Gerontologist 55(Suppl2): 381. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnv174.05

Couclelis, H. (2009). Rethinking time geography in the information age. Environment and Planning A 41(7): 1556–1575. doi: 10.1068/a4151

Cowan, R. S. (1983). More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. New York: Basic Books.

D’Ignazio, C. & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data Feminism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Dalmer, N. K. (2018). Informing Care: Mapping the Social Organization of Families’ Information Work in an Aging in Place Climate [Doctoral dissertation]. The University of Western Ontario.

Dalmer, N. K. (2020). “Add info and stir”: An institutional ethnographic scoping review of family care-givers’ information work. Ageing & Soci¬ety 40(3): 663–689. doi: 10.1017/S0144686X18001125

de La Bellacasa, M. P. (2011). Matters of care in technoscience: Assembling neglected things. Social Studies of Science 41(1): 85–106. doi: 10.1177/0306312710380301

Dominguez-Rué, E. & Nierling, L. (2016). Ageing and Technology. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Eyssel, F. & Hegel, F. (2012). (S)he’s got the look: Gender stereotyping of robots. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 42(9): 2213–2230. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.00937.x

Forma SafeHome. (n.d.). Secure independent living experience [Company website]. 30 November. Available on https://www.formasafehome. com/rosie

Fotopoulou, A. (2019). Understanding citizen data practices from a feminist perspective. In H. Stephansen & E. Trere (eds.), Citizen Media and Practice (pp. 227–242). New York: Routledge.

Fotopoulou, A. & O’Riordan, K. (2016). Training to self-care: Fitness tracking, biopedagogy and the healthy consumer. Health Sociology Review 26(1): 1–15. doi: 10.1080/14461242.2016.1184582

Fox, S., Duggan, M. & Purcell, K. (2013). Family Caregivers are Wired for Health. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Garg, V., Camp, L. J., Lorenzen-Huber, L., Shankar, K. & Connelly, K. (2014). Privacy concerns in assisted living technologies. Annals of Telecommunications-Annales des Télécommunications 69(1): 75–88. doi: 10.1007/s12243-013-0397-0

Gilleard, C. & Higgs, P. (2021). Agents or actants: What technology might make of later life? In A. Peine, B. L. Marshall, W. Martin & L. Neven (eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 99–111). New York: Routledge.

Ghosh, R., Lindeman, D., Ratan, S. & Steinmitz, V. (2014). The New Era of Connected Aging: A Framework for Understanding Technologies that Sup¬port Older Adults in Aging in Place. Centre for Technology and Aging, University of California. 15 November. Available on http://www.

Haggerty, K. D. & Ericson, R. V. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal of Sociology 51(4): 605–622. doi: 10.1080/00071310020015280

Höppner, G. & Urban, M. (2019). Materialities of age and ageing. Frontiers in Sociology 4(14). doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2019.00014

Huber, L. L., Shankar, K., Caine, K., Connelly, K., Camp, L. J., Walker, B. A. & Borrero, L. (2013). How in-home technologies mediate caregiving relationships in later life. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 29(7): 441–455. doi: 10.1080/10447318.2012.715990

Joyce, K. (2021). Encountering aging, science, and technology: Whose future? Whose definition of aging? In A. Peine, B. L. Marshall, W. Martin & L. Neven (eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 189–194). New York: Routledge.

Joyce, K. & Loe, M. (2010). Technogenarians: Studying Health and Illness Through an Ageing, Science, and Technology Lens. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Kamp, A., Obstfelder, A. & Andersson, K. (2019). Welfare technolo¬gies in care work. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 9(S5): 1–12. doi: 10.18291/njwls.v9iS5.112692

Katz, S. & Marshall, B. L. (2018). Tracked and fit: FitBits, brain games, and the quantified aging body. Journal of Aging Studies 45: 63–68. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2018.01.009

Kutney, M. E. & Wilson, K. (2019). Age-tech will be huge for the silver economy. Policy Options Politiques, 5 January. Available on

Lewis, T. (2015). Rise of the Fembots: Why artificial intelligence is often female. Live Science, 5 January. Available on www.livescience. com/49882-why-robots-female.html

López Gómez, D. (2015). Little arrangements that matter. Rethinking autonomy-enabling innovations for later life. Technological Forecast and Social Change 93: 91–101. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2014.02.015

Lupton, D. (2016). The diverse domains of quantified selves: Self-tracking modes and dataveillance. Economy and Society 45(1): 101–122. doi: 10.1080/03085147.2016.1143726

Mahler, M. & Sarvimäki, A. (2010). Indispensable chairs and comforting cushions: Falls and the meaning of falls in six older persons lives. Journal of Aging Studies 24: 88–98. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2008.11.003

Marshall, B. L. (2018). Our Fitbits, our (ageing) selves: Wearables, self-tracking and ageing embodiment. In S. Katz (Ed.), Ageing in everyday life: Materialities and embodiments (pp. 197–213). Policy Press.

Marshall, B. L., & Katz, S. (2016). How old am I? Digital Culture & Society 2(1): 145–152. doi: 10.14361/dcs-2016-0110

Marier, P. (2021). Four Lenses of Population Aging: Planning for the Future in Canada’s Provinces. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Martin, A., Myers, N. & Viseu, A. (2015). The politics of care in technoscience. Social Studies of Science 45(5): 625–641. doi: 10.1177/030631271 5602073

Mejias, U. A. & Couldry, N. (2019). Datafication. Internet Policy Review 8: 1–10. doi: 10.14763/2019.4.1428

Milligan, C. (2009). There’s No Place Like Home: Place and Care in an Ageing Society. Farnham: Ashgate.

Milligan, C. & Power, A. (2010). The changing geography of care. In T. Brown, S. McLafferty & G. Moon (eds.), A Companion to Health and Medical Geography (pp. 567–586). Oxford: Wiley.

Mol, A., Moser, I. & Pols, J. (2010). Care: Putting practice into theory. In A. Mol, I. Moser & J. Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms (pp. 7–25). Bielefeld: Transcript.

Moreira, T. (2017). Science, Technology and the Ageing Society. London: Routledge.

Moreira, T. (2019). Anticipatory measure: Alex Comfort, experimental gerontology and the measure of senescence. History and Philosophy of iological and Biomedical Sciences 77, 101179. doi: 10.1016/j. shpsc.2019. 101179

Mortenson, W. B., Sixsmith, A. & Woolrych (2015). The power(s) of observation: theoretical perspectives on surveillance technologies and older people. Ageing & Society 35(3): 512–530. doi: 10.1017/ S0144686X13000846

Mortenson, W. B., Sixsmith, A. & Beringer, R. (2016). No place like home? Surveillance and what home means in old age. Canadian Journal on Aging 35(1): 103–114. doi: 10.1017/S0714980815000549

Murphy, M. (2016). What can’t a body do? Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 3(1): 1–15. doi: 10.28968/cftt.v3i1.28791

Nafus, D. & Sherman, J. (2014). This one does not go up to 11: The quantified self-movement as an alternative to big data practice. The International Journal of Communications 8: 1785–1794.

Neff, G. & Nafus, D. (2016). Self-Tracking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Neven, L. (2010). “But obviously not for me”: Robots, laboratories and the defiant identity of elder test users. Sociology of Health & Illness 32(2): 157–168. doi: 10.1002/9781444391541.ch12

Neven, L. (2015). By any means? Questioning the link between gerontechnological innovation and older people’s wish to live at home. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 93: 32–43. doi: 10.1016/j. techfore.2014.04.016

Neven, L. & Peine, A. (2017). From triple win to triple sin: How a problematic future discourse is shaping the way people age with technology. Societies 7(3): 26. doi: 10.3390/soc7030026

Neves, B. & Vetere, F. (eds.). (2019). Ageing and Digital Technology: Designing and Evaluating Emerging Technologies for Older Adults. Singapore: Springer.

Neves, B. B., Waycott, J. & Malta, S. (2018). Old and afraid of new communication technologies? Reconceptualising and contesting the “age-based digital divide.” Journal of Sociology 54(2): 236–248. doi: 10.1177/1440783318766119

Oudshoorn, N. (2012). How places matter: Telecare technologies and the changing spatial dimension of healthcare. Social Studies of Science 42(1): 121–142. doi: 10.1177/0306312711431817

Oudshoorn, N., Neven, L. & Stienstra, M. (2016). How diversity gets lost: Age and gender in design practices of information and communication technologies. Journal of Women & Aging 28(2): 170–185. doi: 10.1080/08952841.2015.1013834

Oxlund, B. (2012). Living by numbers. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 37(3): 42–56.

Oxlund, B. & Whyte, S. R. (2014). Measuring and managing bodies in the later life course. Journal of Population Ageing 7(3): 217–230. doi: 10.1007/ s12062-014-9104-9

Pantzar, M. & Ruckenstein, M. (2017). Living the metrics: Self-tracking and situated objectivity. Digital Health 3: 1–10. doi: 10.1177/2055207617712590

Peek, S. T. M., Aarts, S. & Wouters, E. J. M. (2017). Can smart home technology deliver on the promise of independent living? A critical reflection based on the perspectives of older adults. In J. van Hoof, G. Demiris & E. J. M. Wouters (eds.), Handbook of Smart Homes, Health Care and Well-Being (pp. 203–214). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Peine, A., Marshall, B. L., Martin, W. & Neven, L. (eds.), (2021). Socio-Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology. New York: Routledge.

Peine, A. & Neven, L. (2019). From intervention to co-constitution: New directions in theorizing about aging and technology. The Gerontologist 59(1): 15–21. doi: 10.1093/geront/gny050

Peine, A. & Neven, L. (2021). The co-constitution of ageing and technology – a model and agenda. Ageing and Society 41(12): 2845–2866. doi: 10.1017/S0144686X20000641

Pickard, S. (2011). Health, illness and normality: The case of old age. BioSocieties 6(3): 323–341. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2011.10

Pol, M., van Nes, F., van Hartingsveldt, M., Buurman, B., de Rooij, S. & Kröse, B. (2016). Older people’s perspectives regarding the use of sen¬sor monitoring in their home. The Gerontologist 56(3): 485–493. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnu104

Pols, J. & Moser, I. (2009). Cold technologies versus warm care? On affective and social relations with and through care technologies. Alter: European Journal of Disability Research 3(2): 159–178. doi: 10.1016/j. alter.2009.01.003

Pols, J., Willems, D. L. & Aanestad, M. (2019). Making sense with numbers: Unravelling ethico-psychological subjects in practices of self-quantification. Sociology of Health & Illness 41: 98–115. doi: 10.1111/ 1467-9566.12894

Prendergast, D. & Garattini, C. (eds.) (2015). Aging and the Digital Life Course. New York: Berghahn Books.

Roberts, C., Mackenzie, A. & Mort, M. (2019). Living Data: Making Sense of Health Bio-Sensing. Bristol: Bristol University Press.

Roberts, C. & Mort, M. (2009). Reshaping what counts as care: Older people, work and new technologies. Alter: European Journal of Disability Research 3(2): 138–158. doi: 10.1016/j.alter.2009.01.004

Rosales, A. & Fernández-Ardèvol, M. (2020). Ageism in the era of digital platforms. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 26(5–6): 1074–1087. doi: 10.1177/1354856520930905

Ruckenstein, M. (2014). Visualized and interacted life: Personal analytics and engagements with data doubles. Societies 4(1): 68–84. doi: 10.3390/ soc4010068

Sanders, R. (2017). Self-tracking in the digital era: Biopower, patriarchy, and the new biometric body projects. Body & Society 23(1): 36–63. doi: 10.1177/1357034X16660366

Schwennesen, N. (2019). Algorithmic assemblages of care: Imaginaries, epistemologies and repair work. Sociology of Health & Illness 41(S1): 176–192. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12900

Sharon, T. & Zandbergen, D. (2016). From data fetishism to quantifying selves: Self-tracking practices and the other values of data. New Media & Society 19(11): 1695–1709. doi: 10.1177/1461444816636090

Smith, A. (2014). Older Adults and Technology Use. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Smith, G. J. D. & Vonhethoff, J. D. (2016). Health by numbers? Exploring the practice and experience of datafied health. Health Sociology Review 26(1): 6–21. doi: 10.1080/14461242.2016.1196600

Sousa, I. (2013). New technologies and concepts of care. In P. Armstrong & S. Braedley (eds.), Troubling Care: Critical Perspectives on Research and Practices (pp. 129–142). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Storelli, E. (2010). Aging in Place: Smith, Media Texts and the Invisible Gendered Caregiver. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

Strengers, Y. & Kennedy, J. (2020). The Smart Wife: Why Siri, Alexa, and Other Smart Home Devices Need a Feminist Reboot. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Taipale, S., Wilska, T.-A. & Gilleard, C. (eds.). (2018). Digital Technologies and Generational Identity: ICT Usage across the Life Course. New York: Routledge.

Tay, B., Jung, Y. & Park, T. (2014). When stereotypes meet robots: The double-edge sword of robot gender and personality in human-robot interaction. Computers in Human Behavior 38: 75–84. doi: 10.1016/ j.chb.2014.05.014

Toner, J. (2018). Exploring the dark-side of fitness trackers: Normalization, objectification and the anaesthetisation of human experience. Performance Enhancement & Health 6(2): 75–81. doi: 10.1016/j.peh.2018.06.001

Urban, M. (2021). Topographies of ageing: A new materialist analysis of ageing-in-place. In A. Peine, B. L. Marshall, W. Martin & L. Neven (eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 56–69). New York: Routledge.

Van Hees, S., Wanka, A. & Horstman, K. (2021). Making and unmaking ageing-in-place: Towards a co-constructive understanding of ageing and place. In A. Peine, B. L. Marshall, W. Martin & L. Neven (eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 133–146). New York: Routledge.

Wachter-Boettcher, S. (2017). Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech. New York: W. W. Norton.

Wanka, A. & Gallistl, V. (2018). Doing age in a digitized world – A material praxeology of aging with technology. Frontiers in Sociology: Sociological Theory 3: 1–16. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2018.00006

Winance, M. (2010). Care and disability. Practices of experimenting, tinkering with, and arranging people and technical aids. In A. Mol, I. Moser & J. Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms (pp. 93–117). Bielefeld: Transcript.

Woods, O. & Kong, L. (2020). New cultures of care? The spatio-temporal modalities of home-based smart eldercare technologies in Singapore. Social & Cultural Geography 21(9): 1307–1327. doi: 10.1080/ 14649365.2018.1550584

Woods, T. (2019). “Age-tech”: The next frontier market for technology disruption. Forbes Magazine, 5 January. Available on https://www.