GIC lecture: making digital surveillance unacceptable? Security, democracy and the political sociology of disputes

3 March 2021, 1.00 PM - 3 March 2021, 2.00 PM

Professor Claudia Aradau, King’s College London



This talk draws on collaborative work with Dr Emma Mc Cluskey (King’s College London). Despite extensive criticisms of mass surveillance and mobilisation by civil liberties and digital rights activists, surveillance has – paradoxically – been extended and legalised in the name of security. How do some democratic claims against surveillance appear to be normal and common-sense, whilst others are deemed unacceptable, even outlandish? Instead of starting from particular ‘logics’ of either security or democracy, this paper proposes to develop a political sociology of disputes to trace how the relation between security and democracy is shaped by critique in practice. Disputes entail demands for justification, which are ‘inextricably linked with the possibility of critique’ (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005). They allow us to account for the constraints which govern whether an argument is deemed acceptable or improper; common-sensical or peculiar. We mobilise disputes in conjunction with Arjun Appadurai’s reflections on ‘small numbers’ in democracies in order to understand how justifications of surveillance for security enact a ‘rise in generality’, while critiques of digital surveillance that mobilise democratic claims enact a ‘descent into singularity’. To this purpose, we analyse public mobilisations against mass surveillance and challenges brought before the European Court of Human Rights. We draw on interviews with a range of actors involved in the disputes, the parties’ submissions, oral hearings, judgements and public reports.


Claudia Aradau is Professor of International Politics in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her research has developed a critical political analysis of security practices. Among her publications are Politics of Catastrophe: Genealogies of the Unknown (co-authored with Rens van Munster, 2011) and Critical Security Methods: New Frameworks for Analysis (co-edited with Jef Huysmans, Andrew Neal and Nadine Voelkner, 2015). Her journal articles have proposed novel research agendas in critical security studies and International Relations around democracy and security, risk, materialism and epistemic politics. She is on the editorial collective of Radical Philosophy and on the editorial board of International Political Sociology and Security Dialogue. Aradau is Principal Investigator of the European Research Council Consolidator Grant SECURITY FLOWS ‘Enacting border security in the digital age: political worlds of data forms, flows and frictions’ (2019-2024) and of the Open Research Area-funded grant GUARDINT ‘Oversight and intelligence networks: Who guards the guardians?’ (2019-2022).

Joining Instructions 

The seminar will be run as a Zoom webinar but we are planning to duplicate the f2f format as far as possible. What this means is that if you would like to ask a question or make a comment during the Q&A session, you will need to register your interest in doing so in the Q&A box. We will then take questions broadly in order and can unmute you so you can speak and interact rather than just be limited to text based chat and responses from the speaker. The webinar format is limited to 100 participants so we will work on a first come, first served basis.  Beyond that, everybody is welcome!

Please click the link below to join the webinar:

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