An Anthropological Approach to mHealth

Edited by Charlotte Hawkins, Patrick Awondo, and Daniel Miller

ISBN: 9781787354234

Publication: October 28, 2024

Series: Ageing with Smartphones

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This book proposes a radically different anthropological approach to the development and dissemination of mobile health (mHealth), a rapidly growing sector in healthcare. An Anthropological Approach to mHealth is based on 10 16-month ethnographies in settings across Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America that showed how conventional health apps may be irrelevant particularly for older people. Instead, the studies found that many people use their mobile and smartphones for health purposes to a surprising extent. They take the communicative apps they have become comfortable with, such as LINE, WeChat and WhatsApp, and are highly creative in turning them into their own health apps. These are the practices from which this book seeks to learn, in what we call a ‘smart-from-below’ approach.

This body of research also provided many additional insights, including the consequences of Googling for health information, the role of the smartphone in specific settings such as an oncology clinic in Chile or tele-psychotherapy in Uganda, and the lessons learnt during Covid-19 around the problems in self-tracking. Overall, the authors show how an anthropological approach situated in the observation of everyday life can be the foundation for an alternative but highly promising perspective on the future of mHealth.

Charlotte Hawkins is a health anthropologist currently affiliated with the Max Planck research group, ‘Ageing in a Time of Mobility’.

Patrick Awondo is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of Yaoundé 1-Cameroon.

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at UCL and currently Director of its Centre for Digital Anthropology.

List of figures
List of tables
List of contributors
List of abbreviations
Series foreword

1 Introduction: health and care in the smartphone age
Charlotte Hawkins and Daniel Miller

Part I: Contextualising mHealth

2 The smartphone and the ‘Human Plus’: an ethnographic review of mHealth practices in Shanghai, China
Xinyuan Wang

3 mHealth initiatives in Yaoundé: between ‘good technology’ and ‘wrong messages’
Patrick Awondo

4 Care, communication and Covid: notes from a Milan neighbourhood
Shireen Walton

5 Doctor Google will see you first
Daniel Miller

Part II: Informing mHealth

6 The healthcare system, the smartphone, and the human factor: oncological nurses using WhatsApp at a public hospital in Santiago, Chile
Alfonso Otaegui

7 An anthropological approach to tele-psychotherapy: providing ‘somewhere in-between’ to go
Charlotte Hawkins and John Mark Bwanika

Part III: Designing mHealth

8 From ‘datafication’ to socialization: rethinking self-tracking in Rural Japan
Laura Haapio-Kirk, Sasaki Lise and Kimura Yumi

9 From menopause to hypertension: securing engagement
Pauline Garvey, Daniel Miller and Sheba Mohammid

10 ‘I take care of what I eat to be in better health’: using WhatsApp as a visual diary to uncover older Brazilians’ relationship with food
Marília Duque

11 Conclusion
Kate Hampshire


Format: Open Access PDF

282 Pages

1 B&W table and 21 colour photo/halftones

Copyright: © 2024

ISBN: 9781787354234

Publication: October 28, 2024

Series: Ageing with Smartphones

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