Beyond data as representation: The performativity of Big Data in surveillance

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Tobias Matzner


The article discusses problems of representative views of data and elaborates a concept of the performativity of data. It shows how data used for surveillance contributes in creating suspect subjectivities. In particular, the article focuses on the inductive or explorative processing of data and on the decoupling of data generation and analysis that characterize current use of data for surveillance. It lines out several challenges this poses to established accounts of surveillance: David Lyon’s concept of surveillance as social sorting and Haggerty and Ericson’s “surveillant assemblage”. These problems are attributed to a representationalist view, which focuses on the veracity of data. This can lead to ignoring problematic consequences of surveillance procedures and the full scope of affected persons. Building on an idea by Rita Raley, an alternative account of data as performative is proposed. Using Judith Butler’s concept of “citationality,” this account shows how surveillance is entangled with the production of subjects through data in general. Surveillance is reformulated as a particular way in which subjects are produced that is parasitical to other forms of subjectivation.

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How to Cite
MATZNER, Tobias. Beyond data as representation: The performativity of Big Data in surveillance. Surveillance & Society, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 2, p. 197-210, sep. 2016. ISSN 1477-7487. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 nov. 2017.
Big Data, surveillance, data as performative, representationalism, subjectivity, social sorting, surveillant assemblage