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Towards a Critical Theory of Surveillance in Informational Capitalism

Thomas Allmer

The aim of this book is to clarify how surveillance in informational capitalism can be theorised. This work constructs theoretically founded typologies in order to systemise the existing literature of surveillance studies and to analyse selected examples. It argues that conventional surveillance theories are insufficient for studying surveillance in general and Internet surveillance in particular. In contrast, a typology of surveillance in informational capitalism, which is based on the foundations of a critical political economy approach, allows to systemise and to analyse (online) surveillance in the spheres of production, circulation, and consumption. In conclusion, political recommendations are drawn in order to overcome surveillance in informational capitalism.


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1. Introduction


Surveillance has notably increased in the last decades of modern society. Surveil- lance studies scholars like David Lyon (1994) or Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong (1999) stress that we live in a surveillance society. Although there are a lot of other features in contemporary society such as information, neoliberalism, globalization, capital, etc., surveillance in general and Internet surveillance in particular are crucial phenomena. In order to get a first impression of (Internet) surveillance, some illus- trative examples can be given: According to the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute (2008) that undertake an annual quantitative survey about electronic monitoring and surveillance with approximately 300 U.S. companies, “more than one fourth of employers have fired workers for misusing e-mail and nearly one third have fired employees for misusing the Internet“. More than 40% of the companies monitor e- mail traffic of their workers, and 66% of corporations monitor Internet connec- tions. In addition, most companies use software to block non-work related web- sites such as sexual or pornographic sites, game sites, social networking sites, enter- tainment sites, shopping sites, and sport sites. The American Management Associa- tion and the ePolicy Institute (2008) also stress that companies “tracking content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard ... store and review computer files ... monitor the blogosphere to see what is being written about the company, and ... monitor social networking sites.“ In addition, the New Yorker risk consulting company Kroll undertakes off- and online pre-employment screening on a large-scale level. Kroll offers background screening...

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