We’re excited to share that our project “Psy-technologies as global assemblage: histories and social lives of quantification and digitisation in three former countries of the British Empire” is to be funded by the British Academy’s Humanities and Social Sciences Tackling the UK’s International Challenges fund. The new research will be led by China Mills, with co-investigators Elise Klein (University of Melbourne) and Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield), and will investigate the colonial histories of psy-technologies in India, South Africa and Australia. Through archival work we will trace the historical dimensions of these technologies and how this shapes their reception and implementation, as well as fundamentally structuring how behaviour and psychologies are understood and governed. By psy-technologies we are referring to both digitization (such as phone apps) and quantification (such as through algorithmic diagnostic tools). We will also explore the wider global assemblages in which these technologies are embedded.

This one-year project will start in February 2018, and extends our current British Academy funded project which looks at “Changing behaviour through technology: therapeutic culture and the digital revolution” (IC160362) (March 2017-February 2018). This project analyses the social life (production, use, appropriation and resistance) of psy-technologies for behaviour change within international development, with a focus on specific technologies in Australia, India and South Africa. Our research so far points to an under-explored relationship of reinforcement between quantification and digitization – how they fold into each other to make visible behavioural and psychological ‘problems’ and to construct them as amenable to technological intervention (Mills and Hilberg, forthcoming). These technologies are often presented as entirely new and ahistorical, while our project emphasises their immersion in social and cultural contexts with longstanding histories of the quantification of mental wellbeing.

Want to know more?

As part of this research, we have organized two workshops on therapeutic cultures and technologies, and have an upcoming conference on Global Mental Health and Therapeutic Assemblages. Our research team will also be presenting our findings and ongoing research at various events, including: a paper on “The Psycho-Social Lives of Diagnostic Algorithms” at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology (July 15-21, 2018) in Toronto, Canada. We have a conference in India on Psy-Technologies planned for March, with our partners at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai. So stay tuned for further information!