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Hannah Zeavin: Auto-Intimacy — Algorithmic Therapies and Care of the Self

February 25, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

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This event will be streamed live via Zoom. This event is restricted to the University of Michigan unless special arrangements have been made. Click here for the participation credentials if you have logged into your University of Michigan GSuite account: https://sites.google.com/umich.edu/esc-center/hannah-zeavin


Auto-Intimacy: Algorithmic Therapies and Care of the Self

Hannah Zeavin, University of California Berkeley



“Auto-Intimacy: Algorithmic Therapies and Care of the Self” engages with therapeutic and psychiatric treatment by algorithmic automated therapies. I interrogate what therapy becomes when the traditional therapist is replaced by a computational actor. “Auto-Intimacy” opens with an overview of very early attempts to write a responsive algorithm which modeled a therapeutic relationship and addresses changes in automated therapy over the past fifty years. At the earliest moment of experimentation with automated therapies, two strains of work emerged: the simulation and detection of a disordered mind in the hopes of automating intake, diagnosis, and psychological education, and the simulation of a therapist toward the dream of automating therapeutic treatment. I will move to a brief discussion of the politics and “gamification” of contemporary psychological applications such as “Ellie” and “Joyable” and “iHelp,” which attempt to assist persons with a wide range of mental health disorders in managing their behavior and moods. These applications, which are frequently offered by employers to employees, collapse the categories of wellness, stress, labor management, and mental health care.


Hannah Zeavin is a Lecturer in the Departments of English and History at UC Berkeley, and is a faculty affiliate of the University of California at Berkeley Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. She works as a historian and theorist with particular expertise in feminist science and technology studies. Zeavin’s first book, The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy is forthcoming from MIT Press in August 2021. Other work has appeared in American Imago, Logic Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Somatosphere, Slate, and beyond. Her second book, Mother’s Little Helpers: Technology in the American Family, investigates the ways in which technologized parenting interacts with moral, medical, and psychiatric concepts of parental fitness, presence, and absence across the 20th century and into our present, from the baby monitor to facial recognition in schools.


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