The Psycho-Social Lives of Diagnostic Algorithms

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
China MILLS, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Eva HILBERG, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Increasingly, digital technology is used to collect mental health data, to diagnose mental health problems, and as a route of mental health intervention and clinical management. This paper explores the relationship between the quantification and digitization of mental health in India, conceiving of both as ‘human technologies’ that fold into each other to construct mental health as amenable to technological intervention, and act as key drivers in global advocacy to make mental health count. This paper draws upon preliminary findings from fieldwork on the psychosocial life of diagnostic algorithms in India, highlighting the different dimensions of the conception, dissemination, use, and appropriations of diagnostic tools. By emphasizing the psychological impact of these medical tools, this approach does not only trace the ‘social lives’ of medical knowledges and conceptions, but also directs attention to effects on individual and collective notions of health and well-being, and imaginaries of ‘medicine’. The paper reflects on the different imaginaries of mental health and medicine enacted in the conception of these algorithms and in their use - the psycho-social lives of diagnostic algorithms. Here, a technological calculability and rationality of mental health encounters the vagaries of locally specific implementation efforts, and different notions of the medical encounter. This includes exploring potential preferences of pharmaceutical treatment over other treatment alternatives, and different notions of medical advice and public education around mental health. The paper seeks to overall address the question of how the supposed algorithmic rationalization of mental health diagnosis gets mediated in different practices and cultural contexts.