Tracking the Therapeutic (2015-2019)

Therapeutic Encounters

Encountering therapeutic technologies: Politics, wellbeing and inequality

Suvi Salmenniemi

In this project I investigate the diverse and bourgeoning field of therapeutic technologies in Finland. My case studies range from empowerment groups, spiritual services and alternative and complementary health services to self-improvement exercises, mindfulness courses, life coaching and political movements drawing on positive psychology and alternative health practices. I study both the producers and users of therapeutic services. My aim is to understand why people seek their ways to these services and technologies, how they experience and use them, and what kinds of meanings they ascribe to them. My research questions are:

1. How and why people engage with therapeutic technologies?  

By exploring therapeutic engagements and how they shape subjectivities and everyday practices, this project will shed light on the reasons for the growing popularity and appeal of therapeutic technologies.

2. What kinds of conceptions and strategies of wellbeing and politics are involved and articulated in therapeutic engagements? 

I will investigate how wellbeing is understood and sought after in therapeutic engagements; the communities and bonds of solidarity therapeutic engagements may engender; and the relationships between therapeutic technologies and the official health care and social welfare institutions. I also take issue with the conventional interpretation of therapeutic technologies as a depoliticizing force. I suggest that therapeutic technologies may not only depoliticise and promote political quiescence but also politicise and serve as vehicles of resistance and everyday acts of subversion. In this way this project will advance our understanding of the spaces and forms taken by political engagement today.

3. How can therapeutic technologies both produce and contest gendered, classed and racialized inequalities?

I hypothesize that therapeutic technologies constitute a key mode of power which may both empower and discipline. Therapeutic technologies exercise power by normalising certain understandings of selfhood and the social world, thereby constructing symbolic and material hierarchies. I will unearth the ways in which different social groups use these technologies as well as the conceptions of gender, class and race these technologies articulate.