Stressing the ‘body electric’: history and psychology of the techno-ecologies of work stress

Jessica Pykett*, Mark Paterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This article explores histories of the science of stress and its measurement from the mid 19th century, and brings these into dialogue with critical sociological analysis of emerging responses to work stress in policy and practice. In particular, it shows how the contemporary development of biomedical and consumer devices for stress self-monitoring is based on selectively rediscovering the biological determinants and biomarkers of stress, human functioning in terms of evolutionary ecology, and the physical health impacts of stress. It considers how the placement of the individual body and its environment within particular spatio-temporal configurations renders it subject to experimental investigation through standardized apparatus, electricity, and statistical normalization. Examining key themes and processes such as homeostasis, metricization, datafication, and emotional governance, we conclude that the figure of the ‘body electric’ plays a central limiting role in current technology-supported approaches to managing work stress, and that an historical account can usefully open these to collective scrutiny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the University of Birmingham Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Scholarship scheme 2018.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • biosensors
  • emotions
  • organizational management
  • psychophysiology
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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