Personalization: a new political arithmetic?

Day, Sophie E.; Lury, Celia and Ward, Helen. 2023. Personalization: a new political arithmetic? Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 24(2), pp. 167-194. ISSN 1600-910X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Scholarship on the history of political arithmetic highlights its significance for classical liberalism, a political philosophy in which subjects perceive themselves as autonomous individuals in an abstract system called society. This society and its component individuals became intelligible and governable in a deluge of printed numbers, assisted by the development of statistics, the emergence of a common space of measurement, and the calculation of probabilities. Our proposal is that the categories, numbers, and norms of this political arithmetic have changed in a ubiquitous culture of personalization. Today’s political arithmetic, we suggest, produces a different kind of society, what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the ‘default social’. We address this new social as a ‘vague whole’ and propose that it is characterized by a continuous present, the contemporary form of simultaneity or way of being together that Benedict Anderson argued is fundamental to any kind of imagined community. Like the society imagined in the earlier arithmetic, this vague whole is an abstraction that obscures forms of stratification and discrimination.

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This work was funded by a grant from The Wellcome Trust (205456/Z/16/Z)

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personalisation; political arithmetic; participation; precision; prediction; continuous present.

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1 July 2022Accepted
4 January 2023Published Online

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Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2022 12:18

Last Modified:

09 Sep 2023 04:25

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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