Why data is not enough: Digital traces as control of self and self-control

Tyler Butler Reigeluth


As an alternative to the seemingly natural objectivity and self-evidence of “data,” this paper builds on recent francophone literature by developing a critical conceptualization of “digital traces.” Underlining the materiality and discursiveness of traces allows us to understand and articulate both the technical and sociopolitical implications of digital technology. The philosophies of Gilbert Simondon and Michel Foucault give strong ontological and epistemological groundings for interpreting the relationships between technology and processes of subjectification. In this light, digital traces are framed as objects and products of heteronomous interventions, the logics of which can be traced through the programs and algorithms deployed. Through the empirical examples of “Predictive Policing” and “Quantified Self” digital traces are contrasted with the premises and dreams of Big Data. While the later claims to algorithmically correlative, predict and preempt the future by reducing it to a “what-is-to-come,” the digital trace paradigm offers a new perspective on how forms of self-control and control of the self are interdependent facets of “algorithmic governmentality.”


New Technologies

Full Text: