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Digital-sensory work

written by Anna Harris
04/05/21

Combining their ethnographic material from hospitals and medical schools in Australia, Anna has published an article with Australian-based sociologist Sarah Maslen in the high-profile journal Social Science & Medicine.

Entitled “Becoming a diagnostic agent: A collated ethnography of digital-sensory work in caregiving intra-actions“, it concerns the digital sensory work entailed in caregiving interactions involving children. Anna drew from her fieldwork with doctors who engage in sensory training themselves, as well as with patients, while Sarah drew on her fieldwork with parents. You can read the full abstract below. The article would be of interest to those interested in parenting apps, diagnostic decision making, sensory learning and/or digital-sensory ways of knowing the world, as well as researchers exploring experiments in bringing ethnographic or other research material together in virtual collaborations across the world.

You can access the article for free until June 9th via this link, otherwise please contact Anna after that: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953621002598?dgcid=coauthor

 

Sociological contributions on digital health have acknowledged the enduring significance of sensory work in diagnosis and practices of care. Previous explorations of these digital and sensory entanglements have focused separately on healthcare providers or patients/caregivers, rarely bringing these worlds together. Our analysis, based on the collation of ethnographic fieldwork in clinics, medical schools, and homes in Australia, offers rare insights into caregiver and practitioner perspectives. We interrogate the work involved in digital-sensory becoming, as caregivers (in our case parents) learn to assign diagnostic meaning to potential childhood disease. Working with Karen Barad’s concept of ‘intra-action’, we demonstrate how diagnostic knowing is enacted between practitioners, parents, senses, and devices. We identify seven aspects of digital-sensory learning: attention to the change from normal; testing/searching for signs and symptoms; confirmation and direction from more experienced others; mimicry; analogy/metaphor; digital archiving; and reference to validated digitised signs. We found that this learning does not take place discretely in the clinic or at home. Doctors and parents both do digital-sensory work to register, co-witness, and mutually enact disease by interpreting signs and symptoms together in their caregiving intra-actions. Our article also champions collated ethnography as a methodological approach for making sense of complex assemblages in healthcare.

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