Agency and the Data Subject, Policy and Praxis


Save the date: 24th March 17.00 (GMT) 18.00 (GMT)

Data agency in surveillance capitalism: empowering citizens in CryptoParties

Prof Dr Sigrid  Kannengiesser 

While citizens are more and more disempowered and exploited in surveillance capitalism, there are initaitives that reflect on the problems and challenges of current datafication and try to empower users of digital media technologies and online communication to put them into the position to decide for themselves if and with whom they share their data and develop skills of data protection. Using the concept of „data agency“ the talk presents results from a study in which CryptoParties have been analyzed as an examples of initiatives in which these empowering practices take place: activsists from diverse backgrounds share their expertice in encryption practices to enable citizens who try to learn these practices to protect their privacy in processes of online communication. While the presentation discusses the possibilities and potentials of data agency in CryptoParties, also constraints and ambivalences that can be identified in these practices are revealed. 

Data subjects as strangers

Prof Dr Phoebe V Moore

Progress has been predicted by privacy activists for people who are also known as ‘data subjects’ by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) because we, as data subjects, technically have more rights to access and control data about ourselves based on this legislation. However, there is not enough clear discussion about the data subject herself in intrinsic, ontological ways not only in recent regulation but in the everyday lives of (deep) mediatisation. The GDPR’s definition refers to an ‘identifiable natural person’. Digging deeper we see that the subject is referenced against two very different ‘selves’: one, a consumer; and two, a worker. These identifiers cannot be conflated, given the opposite social positions that workers and consumers possess, and in particular, the social relations of alienation depending on which transaction we conduct. Data construction of subjects, subjectification and subjectivation must be problematised and Althusser’s theory of interpellation revived. Subjects are potentially so abstracted we become strangers to our’selves’. Indeed, what happens to our subjectivities in the process of datafication? Who now has the right to ‘enunciation’, or the right to formate the self, the right to subjectivity? 

Discussant: Dr Stephan Görland