Heart Sense

with Anne Pollock and Lewis Wheaton

How can the very creation, rendering, and experiencing of biological data be distinctly feminist? For example, how can it start from women’s lives in all our plurality and complexity, break down binaries such as objectivity/subjectivity, and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of our bodies—a kind of knowing that is in and of the world?

Heart rate data may seem like a counterintuitive choice as an entry point into these questions. The monitored heart rate can be very mechanistic and even disciplinary: the persistent mechanical beeping during surgery, the fetal heartbeat of anti-choice politics, monitors that can spur excessive intervention in childbirth, and even fitness monitors that incite increased intensity in exercise. Heart rate can be a site of plural layers of “control by quantification”. Yet the heart remains ambiguous and undisciplined. In times of emotional intensity, a racing heart rate can feel very much out of control. At the same time, we can feel our own heartbeat and that of others with whom we are intimate. In this manner, heart rate offers an accessible route into engaging with our bodies. The heart’s pace is at once most intimate and personal, while simultaneously deeply connected to others and the outside world. Creatively engaged, heart rate can offer an intriguing point of departure for feminist engagement with the entangled nature of data, matter, and meaning both in theory and practice.

In this collaboration, we present ongoing work that draws together scholars from science and technology studies, physiology, and design to seek speculative ways in which heart rate and other physiological data might facilitate new explorations of embodiment. By creating, visualizing, and encouraging reflection on circumscribed datasets, we strive to approach physiological data for its capacity to inspire an alternative epistemological and experiential engagement from either standard scientific visualization or the quantified self.

Ours is an object oriented feminist approach: “in light of a specific and particular materiality to hand, what if we see the world like this?”

Related publications and presentations:

  1. Nassim JafariNaimi and Anne Pollock, “Heart Sense: Experiments in Design as a Catalyst for Feminist Reflections on Embodiment,” in Proceedings of 2018 Design Research Society (DRS) Conference, (Limerick, Ireland: 2018): Vol 2., 497–505. Download Here.
  2. Nassim JafariNaimi and Anne Pollock, “Heart Time: Reflections on Physiology and Embodiment.” 2017 Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSA), November 2017 (Tempe, Arizona).
  3. Pollock, Anne. Heart feminism. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 1, no. 1 (2015).