The Emancipated Trait: Characteristics Beyond Character in Online Surveillance

Rosamond, Emily. 2019. 'The Emancipated Trait: Characteristics Beyond Character in Online Surveillance'. In: Person/ne Forum. Griffin Art Projects, Vancouver, Canada 6 July 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

How is it possible to give an account of online surveillance, without relying on overdetermined and ill-fitting conceptual frames such as privacy and subjecthood? This talk argues for shifting the frame away from privacy and subject, and toward characteristic and ‘character’: a long-contested concept through which the relationships between ideas of singularity, self-similarity, tendency, and futurity are negotiated. Online surveillance performs tensions between the singularity of character and the fungibility of traits that travel across border security software systems, social media platforms, credit scoring algorithms, and many other apparatuses. Recognized tendencies and traits become ‘emancipated’ from the characters from which they are seen to emanate; they are then recombined to derive new data, which in turn reshape how a person’s ‘character’ might be interpreted in the first place. This emancipation of traits has anything but emancipatory effects. Nonetheless, reorienting discussions of online surveillance toward the contested terrain of the characteristic opens up new means to frame discussions of the politics of data beyond privacy and subjecthood, drawing attention instead to the social logic of the derived and the derivative, fundamental to the financial underpinnings of data analysis.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Keynote)


online surveillance, character, data, the derived, the derivative

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


31 March 2019Accepted
6 July 2019Completed

Event Location:

Griffin Art Projects, Vancouver, Canada

Date range:

6 July 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

15 Jul 2019 11:24

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:15


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