What we talk about when we talk data: Valences and the social performance of multiple metrics in digital health



Data as a discursive concept in and around data-intensive health and wellness communities evokes multiple social values and social lives for data. Drawing on two years of qualitative, ethnographic observations, participation, and interviews in these communities, our work explores the gap between discourses of data, the practices with and around data, and the contexts in which data “live.” Across the communities of technology designers, “e-health” providers and advocates, and users of health and wellness data, we find that tensions emerge not around the meaning or legitimacy of particular data points, but rather around how data is expected to perform socially, organizationally and institutionally, what we term data valences. Our paper identifies data valences in health and wellness data, shows how these valences are mediated, and demonstrates that distinct data valences are more apparent in the interstitial interactions occurring in the spaces between institutions or among powerful stakeholder groups.