Ambivalence in digital health: Co-designing an mHealth platform for HIV care

Benjamin Marent, Flis Henwood, Mary Darking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In reaction to polarised views on the benefits or drawbacks of digital health, the notion of ‘ambivalence’ has recently been proposed as a means to grasp the nuances and complexities at play when digital technologies are embedded within practices of care. This article responds to this proposal by demonstrating how ambivalence can work as a reflexive approach to evaluate the potential implications of digital health. We first outline current theoretical advances in sociology and organisation science and define ambivalence as a relational and multidimensional concept that can increase reflexivity within innovation processes. We then introduce our empirical case and highlight how we engaged with the HIV community to facilitate a co-design space where 97 patients (across five European clinical sites: Antwerp, Barcelona, Brighton, Lisbon, Zagreb) were encouraged to lay out their approaches, imaginations and anticipations towards a prospective mHealth platform for HIV care. Our analysis shows how patients navigated ambivalence within three dimensions of digital health: quantification, connectivity and instantaneity. We provide examples of how potential tensions arising through remote access to quantified data, new connections with care providers or instant health alerts were distinctly approached alongside embodied conditions (e.g. undetectable viral load) and embedded socio-material environments (such as stigma or unemployment). We conclude that ambivalence can counterbalance fatalistic and optimistic accounts of technology and can support social scientists in taking-up their critical role within the configuration of digital health interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-141
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2018


  • Digital health
  • Sociological ambivalence
  • Sociotechnical practices
  • Participatory design
  • Self-care
  • Healthcare technology
  • HIV care
  • Digital sociology


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