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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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2. Foundations of Surveillance Theory


1 Since Michel Foucault has published his book Surveiller et punir in French in 1975 and in English in 1977, the amount of literature on surveillance has increased enormously and represents a diffuse and complex field of research. Lyon (1994, 6- 7) stresses: “Michel Foucault’s celebrated, and contentious, historical studies of surveillance and discipline had appeared that mainstream social theorists began to take surveillance seriously in its own right”. David Murakami Wood (2003, 235) emphasizes that ”for Surveillance Studies, Foucault is a foundational thinker and his work on the development of the modern subject, in particular Surveillir et Punir (translated as Discipline and Punish), remains a touchstone for this nascent trans- disciplinary field.” Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish (1977) is cited more than 30 thousand times (Google Scholar 2012). According to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Pryor 2006, 898) and to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Gutting 1998, 708- 713), Foucault is one of the most important historians and philosophers of the 20th century with wide influence in different disciplines. The overall aim of this chapter is to elucidate how surveillance is defined in the ex- isting literature, what the different notions of surveillance have in common and what distinguishes them from one another, and what advantages and disadvantages such definitions have. For doing so, Foucault’s understanding of surveillance and the idea of the Panopticon are introduced (section one). Based on these findings, section two and three contain a systematic discussion of the state of the art of sur- veillance by...

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