Subjectivity and Surveillance: Capitalist or Otherwise

AAA Annual Meeting, Vancouver, November 20-24, 2019

Organizers: Simanti Dasgupta (University of Dayton) & Sareeta Amrute (University of Washington)

Please email your abstracts to & by Monday, March 25th

The question of subjectification and its relation to institutions has long dominated anthropological inquiry. Subjectification, referring to the simultaneous co-creation of a sense of selfhood and the establishment a particular relation of domination, is theorized as a contingent sphere, forever emerging in response to the social and the political context in which it is embedded (Foucault 1982, Allen 2008). Subjectification is also as much entrenched in the material conditions of life as new forms of governance evolve and residues of older forms linger. This panel seeks to think about subjectivity in this dual sense specifically in relation to surveillance. Surveillance has been the center of anthropological attention to states and their responses to various crises in sovereignty, from disease epidemics (Lowe 2010, Lakoff 2008) to terrorist threats (Grewal 2017) and infrastructural breakdowns (Bakke 2016, Hu 2015). Yet, a burgeoning literature on surveillance ties the concept more directly to the forces and structures of advanced capitalism, grounded in the collection and monetization of subject-produced data, the mobilization of which can be used to ‘nudge’ human behavior in particular directions (Zuboff 2019, Morozoff 2019). We seek to interrogate these claims to surveillance capital even as we conceptualize surveillance broadly ranging from medical to legal to the technological. We emphasize how tools and modes of surveillance become a thing and a way of life, crystallizing in databanks, biometric recording devices and bureaucratic procedures. Papers in this panel investigate: how one comes to inhabit surveilled space as a subject of state intervention as in HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Kolkata, India; the explanatory value surveillance capitalism has as an analytical frame to explain state practices of surveillance within the contemporary immigration politics surrounding U.S. tech industries; and [other panelists’ descriptions]. In our investigations, we seek to delve into the complex processes underscoring the relationship between subjectivization and surveillance as it weaves its way through contemporary capitalist formations. This panel proposes that an everyday analysis of subjectivity offers the possibility of understanding the ‘concrete constellations’ (Biehl et al, 2007), which materialize and wither away as the stakes and states of surveillance shift.