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Coming to terms with algorithmic surveillance

Authors: Thomas Behrndt*, University of Turku
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: Surveillance, algorithm, subjectivity, politics
Session Type: Paper
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An increasing number of tasks which were previously performed by humans, such as the sorting, classifying and hierarchizing of objects, ideas, people and places, are being delegated to computational and algorithmic processes (Striphas 2015, 395). Surveillance, which has prominently become understood as “social sorting,” referring to the specific arrangements “coded to categorize personal data such that people thus classified may be treated differently” (Lyon 2007, 162), thus needs to be made sense of in terms of its increasingly automated and algorithmic character. Speaking about contemporary surveillance and surveillance practices is to speak about algorithmic practices, encompassing data-collection, archiving and categorization, as well as interpretation of data. And while surveillance scholars have been attentive of these developments and timely in finding terms to describe them (Introna and Wood 2004, Norris and Armstrong 1998, Graham 2005), I am arguing that notions such as “digital”, “automated” and “algorithmic” surveillance are to an extent being used interchangeably. Paying attention on how specific terms are being used and for what purpose might allow us to identify the intricacies of the phenomena they aim to describe and thus in turn increasing their definitional weight. The notion of algorithmic surveillance, as argued here, requires us to rethink politics and subjectivity in light of surveillance practice, being mindful of its socio-technical character and the spaces it produces.

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