Self-Tracking, Big Data, and the questions of Subjectification and Primitive Accumulation

One question surrounding big data – in addition to well-established worries about privacy and discrimination – that is starting to get attention is how it functions as a mode of capitalist accumulation.  There is an emerging literature on capitalist value creation and big data, but a lot of that is about the creation of surplus value, and so generates debate about whether the value that individuals freely contribute to the Internet can be described in Marxian terms as surplus labor.  In view of that discussion, I’ve suggested that we need to also think about the level of primitive accumulation, or what David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession.”  In the case of big data, I argued, one such method is by depriving individuals of their preferences, though accumulation practices are diverse.  A recent paper by Deborah Lupton suggests another mechanism by which this process might occur: coercive self-tracking.

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