New Publication – A Critical Analysis of the Impacts & Discursive Framework of Surveillance Capitalism

March 2, 2021

SPIN is delighted to feature recent University of Bristol and SPAIS graduate Mikey Ettlinger’s new paper published in the SPAIS Working Paper Series


Author: Mikey Ettlinger (University of Bristol)


The growing reach of commercial surveillance is fundamentally altering the power dynamics which structure our everyday lives. This paper explores these dynamics through the framework of Shoshanna Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism and Couldry and Mejias’ Cost of Connection. This paper first explores the harms that this new power regime imposes in the spheres of privacy, autonomy and dignity. Having laid out these consequences, this paper employs discourse analysis to unpack the contemporary discourses around modern technology. This is important to explain the way in which opposition to surveillance is often greeted with a sense of indifference to the casual observer. Commercial and governmental discourse on data and technology frequently argues its potential benefits through the discourse of ‘surveillance exceptionalism’, which overshadows the negative consequences of surveillance capitalism. In this discourse, I identify three narratives which function to shield the extractive logic of surveillance capitalism from scrutiny and regulation. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 epidemic, which threatens to usher a new era of biological surveillance, this article unravels how the general discourse on data, much of which is reused in the ongoing debate about COVID-19 surveillance, protects modern forms of data collection from ethical and legal questioning. This paper thus offers a critique of the discourse which leaves surveillance capitalism relatively impervious to regulatory constraint.


You can read Mikey’s full paper published in the SPAIS Working Paper Series here.