The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies' (TES)
Volume 14, Number 2, 2015

ISSN 1602-2297

With A Little Help from a ... Machine. Digital Welfare Technology and Sustainable Human Welfare

Ditte-Marie From, Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change, Roskilde University, Denmark,

Abstract: This article discusses the role of technology as a new political welfare strategy in relation to health care, health promotion, and human welfare. The transitions into the era of digital welfare and the implementation of welfare technologies alter previous notions of treatment, prevention, and health promotion. Self-monitoring chronic diseases can be regarded as empowering and augmenting feelings of autonomy and independence, but may also have negative implications due to reduced social encounters with health professionals. When the provision of public health care services is no longer solely in the hands of health professionals, the patient is designated greater responsibility. This means that with the introduction of digital welfare technologies, that is, telemedicine, human interaction between health professionals and patients is transformed, and in some cases is absent. Replacing man with machine creates a stronger focus on (self-) maintenance of physical health, diminishing social and mental aspects of health care. These hypotheses divide the article into three main parts. The first scrutinises policy documents behind the emergence of digital welfare technologies, and their presented affiliation with certain rationales of health, welfare, and socio-economy. Second, the article discusses health as a welfare strategy from a critical sociological perspective, pointing to how the introduction of new health technologies as a welfare strategy also forms a new concept of health and health promotion. The third section discusses how a new concept of not only welfare, but also of health, requires work on the population’s mentality. This, I argue, leads to a strategy of governing citizens via discourses of promises and optimisation where the encouragement of virtue and responsibility is presented as a new sustainable strategy for human welfare. The overall conclusion of the article is that in the new strategies of digital welfare technologies are underpinned by new strategies of health care and health promotion, strategies of which we have yet to learn the sustainable effects on human welfare.

Key words: digital welfare technologies, sustainable human welfare, health care, self-technologies, governance, bio-citizens.

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