DATACTIVE is happy to announce the publication of the article “Through a Glass, Darkly”: Everyday Acts of Authoritarianism in the Liberal West, co-Arne Hintz (Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University) and Stefania Milan, in the International Journal of Communication. The essay is part of a Special Section on “Authoritarian Practices in the Digital Age”, edited by Marlies Glasius and Marcus Michaelsen, University of Amsterdam. The Special Section brings together nine papers that extend our understanding of the relationship between contemporary forms of authoritarianism and digital communication technologies. The contributions investigate Internet control and censorship, surveillance, and disinformation, presenting insights from China, Russia and Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Europe. The articles are available in open-access. The abstract of Through a Glass, Darkly is below.
Institutional practices undermining citizen agency and infringing on individual freedoms are typically associated with authoritarian countries. However, they are also proliferating in Western democracies. This article redefines data-based surveillance as a “Western” authoritarian and illiberal practice in the digital realm, resulting from state–industry collaboration and alienated from accountability mechanisms. Straddling critical data studies and surveillance studies, the article explores these dynamics of surveillance in the West by focusing on two dimensions: the institutionalization of governmental practices in law and the societal normalization of surveillance in popular cultural practices. It thus investigates the renegotiation of the boundaries of state power along two axes—top down and bottom up. It connects the notions of “authoritarian and illiberal practices” and “surveillance cultures,” asking how the former are produced, negotiated, and legitimized and reviewing their consequences for citizens and civil society. Based on empirical data from two projects exploring the interplay between citizenship and surveillance, the article argues that acts of authoritarianism in the West are institutionalized at the intersection of top-down governmental practices and bottom-up popular reactions.
Keywords: authoritarian practices, surveillance, surveillance cultures, liberal democracy, Internet freedoms