Prosthetic Surveillance: The medical governance of healthy bodies in cyberspace
(Emma Rich, Andy Miah)
This paper examines how ‘surveillance medicine’ (Armstrong 1995) has expanded the realm of the medical gaze via its infiltration of cyberspace, where specific features of healthism are now present. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of biopower, we examine how digital health resources offer new ways through which to discipline individuals and regulate populations. The emergence of health regulation within and through cyberspace takes place in a context wherein the relationship between the body and technology is rendered more complex. Departing from early literature on cyberspace, which claimed that the body was absent in virtual worlds, we articulate a medicalized cyberspace within which the virtual and corporeal are enmeshed.
The range of health issues articulated through surveillance discourses are many and varied, though of significance are those related to weight and health, as they provide a particularly rich example through which to study medical surveillance in cyberspace due to their moral and regulative focus. We argue that the capacity for health resources to encourage disciplinary and regulative practices defies the designation of virtual, as non-reality. Moreover, with the advent of a range of digital platforms that merge entertainment with the regulation of the body, such as Internet based nutrition games, and the use of games consoles such as Nintendo wii fit, cyberspace may be providing a forum for new forms of regulative practices concerning health. These virtual environments expand our understandings of the boundaries of the body, since much of what takes place occurs through both a virtualization of identity, such as the use of an avatar or graphic image of one’s body on screen, and a prostheticisation of the body within cyberspace. To conclude, while surveillance medicine regulates physical selves in real time, we argue that there is a growing tendency towards a prosthetic surveillance, which regulates and defines bodies that are simultaneously hyper-text and flesh.
Full article (pdf) on Surveillance & Society journal :