Technologies of Attribution: Characterizing the Citizen-Consumer in Surveillance Performance

Rosamond, Emily. 2015. Technologies of Attribution: Characterizing the Citizen-Consumer in Surveillance Performance. International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 11(2), pp. 148-164. ISSN 1479-4713 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Many accounts of surveillance and its subjective effects tend to focus on privacy. Along with this focus comes the assumption that surveillance’s objects are simply facts and attributes, straightforwardly ‘mined’ (or stolen) from people’s private lives. Yet, the habits and propensities ascribed to individuals through surveillance apparatuses are complex, relational phenomena: co-produced, selected and interpreted with interest by various actors. This essay begins to develop a critical language for surveillance as a form of characterization, by analysing SWAMP's McService (2003), Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2005–) and Erica Scourti’s Life in AdWords (2012–2013). Following Sara Ahmed, I theorize characterization as a ‘technology of attribution’ that attaches such interpretations of character to people within surveillant scenarios. Drawing from literary studies as well as recent work on the surveillance economy, I analyse the forms of attribution made possible within surveillant scenarios. Within SWAMP, Elahi and Scourti's works, which span a decade between 9/11 and the Snowden revelations, one can trace an evolution of structures through which such attributions manifest: from self as threat, to self as set, to self as product.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


surveillance, character, characterization, attribution, privacy, performance art, Hasan Elahi, Erica Scourti, SWAMP, Google, AdWords, algorithm, pre-emption, propensity, persona, self

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


September 2015Accepted
12 November 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

22 Sep 2017 10:05

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:35

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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