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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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4. Foundations os Internet Surveillance Theory


73 4. FOUNDATIONS OF INTERNET SURVEILLANCE THEORY3 The overall aim of this chapter is to elucidate how Internet surveillance is defined in the existing literature, what commonalties and differences of various notions of online surveillance exist, and what advantages and disadvantages such definitions have. For doing so, based on the distinction of panoptic and non-panoptic notions of surveillance from chapter two, sections one and two of this chapter contain a systematic discussion of the state of the art of Internet surveillance by establishing a typology of the existing literature and discussing commonalties and differences. For analysing the existing literature on a more abstract level and identifying ad- vantages and disadvantages, it is essential to discuss commonalties and differences and to find certain typologies: Non-panoptic definitions of Internet surveillance make one or more of the follow- ing assumptions: Foucault’s notion of the Panopticon is useless for studying Internet surveil- lance nowadays. Online surveillance should be defined in a neutral way. This view uses a broad definition of surveillance. There are constraining and enabling effects of collecting data. Internet surveillance is primarily understood as a plural and technical pro- cess. In comparison, panoptic definitions of Internet surveillance make one or more of the following assumptions: Foucault’s notion of the Panopticon is (to a certain extent) useful for study- ing Internet surveillance nowadays. Online surveillance should be defined in a negative way. 3 This chapter has originally been published in Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media, edited by...

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