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From Protest to Surveillance – The Political Rationality of Mobile Media

Modalities of Neoliberalism

Oliver Leistert

The book won the Surveillance Studies Network Book Prize 2014.

The book argues that the mobile as a political technology in a broad sense facilitates the global export of the Western concept of individuality. This empowers those subjectivities and mindsets which can adapt to the communication regime of ubiquitous connectivity. Exemplifying two focal points – the use in protests and the surveillance of mobile phones – the book traces political trajectories of mobile phones, just as it provides deep insights into the actual practice of mobile phone use by activists and their surveillance. 50 semi-structured interviews with activists from countries including Brazil, India, Pakistan and Mexico offer a detailed and profound discussion of mobile phone success and failures in different struggles for justice. By situating mobile phone mass dissemination within a political rationality of neoliberalism and its political technology of governmentality, it shows how sovereign rule updates to catch up with the subject’s empowerment through mobile phones. The limits of mobile phone impact on activism are examined, and how it compromises its users when new sovereign means such as data retention or silent SMS surveillance are invoked.


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Part One: Play of Freedom


2 Governmentality Introduced by Michel Foucault, in his late lectures (see 2007 and 2008)1, the study of governmentality aims at understanding how subjects are constituted as govern- able and how governing produces subjectivities whose rationalities are in a produc- tive relation to its surrounding societal settings. Within its genealogical account it aims to understand how it has been possible that economy has been constituted as an object of government, and thus how as a practice of economical governing, how such a rationality has been produced. This trajectory is a shift in Foucault’s theories of power and it establishes a third pillar, that of governing as management of populations. While he very intensely analyzed what he calls sovereign power and disciplinary power, he now introduced the concepts of a third type of power with this “rather awkward neologism” (Miller and Rose 2008, 15); governmentality. Foucault differentiates a triangle of power with different functional modalities and problematizations: Let’s say then that sovereignty capitalizes a territory, raising the ma- jor problem of the seat of government, whereas discipline structures a space and addresses the essential problem of a hierarchical and func- tional distribution of elements, and security will try to plan a milieu in terms of events or series of events or possible elements, of series that will have to be regulated within a multivalent and transformable framework. (Foucault 2007, 20-21) I will come back to the concept of security, as it is the most important element here. For now, I want...

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