Mary Ebeling

Penn Humanities Forum Regional Fellow

20172018 Forum on Afterlives

Mary Ebeling

Associate Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Women's & Gender Studies, Drexel University

Mary Ebeling is associate professor of sociology and global studies, director of Women’s and Gender Studies and I have an affiliation with the Center for Science, Technology and Society and the Culture, Communication and Media program in the Graduate School at Drexel University.

She is an ethnographic sociologist who researches the intersections of marketing, health, biomedical science and digital life. Her new book, Healthcare and Big Data: Digital Specters and Phantom Objects (2016, Palgrave Macmillan) is focused on data brokers, data mining, marketing surveillance, private health data, and algorithmic identities. Over the last several years, she has become particularly passionate about “digital ontologies” and how our bodies, and the data they produce, are transformed into digital objects that live “lives of their own” in the databased society.

Her work has received support from the National Science Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) and the European Union (5th Framework Programme).

The Uncanny Afterlives of Private Health Data in the Debt Society

This project follows the afterlife trajectories of health data commodities--medical information extracted from patients’ bodies that are digitized and repackaged into new data commodities--that go on to live in the algorithms and databases of credit bureaus and consumer credit scoring instruments to score patients on their creditworthiness. A key concern is to understand the data ontologies and what kinds of data objects are being constructed through the reuse of patient data by credit bureaus. Through an investigation of the biopolitics of data commodities and the tracing of how health data lives many afterlives in disparate databases and financial instruments, this project aims to understand how patients’ data, and thus patients’ health and their lives, are rendered “visible” through the lens of debt and credit worthiness.