From hostile worlds to multiple spheres: towards a normative pragmatics of justice for the Googlization of health

Tamar Sharon (2021)

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, Online first

Abstract. The datafication and digitalization of health and medicine has engendered a proliferation of new collaborations between public health institutions and data corporations like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Critical perspectives on these new partnerships tend to frame them as an instance of market transgressions by tech giants into the sphere of health and medicine, in line with a “hostile worlds” doctrine that upholds that the borders between market and non-market spheres should be carefully policed. This article seeks to outline the limitations of this common framing for critically understanding the phenomenon of the Googlization of health. In particular, the mobilization of a diversity of non-market value statements in the justification work carried out by actors involved in the Googlization of health indicates the co-presence of additional worlds or spheres in this context, which are not captured by the market vs. non-market dichotomy. It then advances an alternative framework, based on a multiple-sphere ontology that draws on Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth and Michael Walzer’s theory of justice, which I call a normative pragmatics of justice. This framework addresses both the normative deficit in Boltanski and Thévenot’s work and provides an important emphasis on the empirical workings of justice. Finally, I discuss why this framework is better equipped to identify and to address the many risks raised by the Googlization of health and possibly other dimensions of the digitalization and datafication of society.

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