ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Archived dataveillance: Applying theories from Marx and Mead

Noel Packard

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 10 - Law Building, Room 105
Date: 2012-07-11 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-18


This paper combines Marxian commodity theory and Mead's sociality theory, to develop a theoretical, methodological framework for sociological discourse about society and dataveillance. The combination, I argue, provides a methodology by which to discuss the relationship and interdependence of humans with a dataveillance industry that records our actions, in real time, electronically, and archives our population activity 'diaries,' in data banks. Marxian commodity methodology helps to explain the workings of daily archived human activity, while Mead's sociality theory offers a way to conceptualize human agency, and social change, through the idea of time, and novelty, within the context of a dataveillance dependent society.
Even before 9/11, U.S. national security programs embraced practices such as warrant-less domestic eavesdropping, corporate and government sponsored dataveillance and DNA banking. Such defense programs, combined with electronic financial transaction logs and recorded on-line activities, generate an enormous amount of archived memory about our individual actions. Archived memory or dataveillance becomes a commodity in and of itself - for purchase by corporations and governments, and is an industry in itself (dependent on tracking us). Dataveillance of human actions is a sort of diary record - turned into commodity - and presents a challenge to classical Marxian ideas about human labor as the source of wealth. For the purposes of this paper the term 'commodity memory' refers to electronic data or intelligence and other kinds of 'archived memory' such as DNA, seed or sperm banking; with the qualification that in the orthodox Marxian view of commodities, today's archived memory commodities (electronic data of daily activities) do not always appear to produce immediate surplus value or profit; rather they are in an incubation time period and emerging over time, as commercial commodities, as climate-change and degradation of the planet generates scarcity. Marx's theoretical approach to commodities is then combined with George Herbert Mead's sociality theory. Mead's sociality theory is explored as a potentially useful macro-theoretical model for sociologically analyzing the marketing and production of commodity memory of human activity because it includes reasons for: time, change or 'novelty,' a mind - body connection, and consciousness, differentiating it from sociological collective memory theories.
Combining Marxian commodity theory, and Mead's sociality theory, broadens and deepens this experimental sociological methodology, and the analysis it affords of the interdependence of humans with the dataveillance industry, that records individual actions, in real time, electronically, and archives individual activity 'diaries' of entire populations, in massive data banks.

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