Surveillance Capitalist Aesthetics

Rosamond, Emily. 2018. 'Surveillance Capitalist Aesthetics'. In: A Modest Proposal Symposium. Royal College of Art, United Kingdom 27 October, 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Emily Rosamond opens up a few avenues of exploration toward a surveillance capitalist aesthetics in her talk, by remarking on the aesthetics of reputational value, and the particularities of addressivity in surveillance-capitalist scenarios. “Surveillance capitalism”, a term coined by Shoshana Zuboff in 2015, describes a new regime of accumulation, according to which analysing and intervening in behaviour becomes directly profitable. Companies such as Google offer free services (for example, email), but use these to collect information on their users. This information – analyzed into ersatz subjectivities – is then sold on to advertisers seeking highly targeted audiences. Although etymologically, surveillance refers to ‘watching over,’ surveillance capitalism’s relationship to ‘watching’ is hardly straightforward. Information on online users may be directly operationalized (by a company’s proprietary machine-learning algorithm, seeking to infer gender from online activity, for example). However, this information – and the subjects from whom it is expropriated – is hardly ‘watched’ or ‘seen’ in the strict sense – either by machines or by human attendants. Thus, surveillance capitalism has a paradoxical relationship to watching, and to the visible. In light of these complexities, what might a theory of surveillance capitalist aesthetics look like? How might artworks and other cultural artefacts try to make sense of the (in)consequential nature of the sensible within this regime of accumulation – with its hyper-visible subjects and hyper-proprietary means for their interpretation?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


27 October 2018Completed

Event Location:

Royal College of Art, United Kingdom

Date range:

27 October, 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Nov 2018 12:48

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:58


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