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Critical Theory, Information Society and Surveillance Technologies

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This article offers an account of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that draws upon the tradition of critical theory, arguing that an application of the latter to the former can be categorized as a theory of 'cyber criticalism'. Its aim is not to provide an exhaustive theoretical analysis or any kind of literature review, but to suggest that such a theorization is possible because cyber criticalism (1) offers an account of social power and (2) suggests how and why alternatives to existing social practices and institutions can be formed. The first section relates the debate about information society to that concerning globalization and argues that two main theories square off against each other in the race to explain that society: one which, in Castells's terminology, emphasizes the power of flows and the other which emphasizes the flows of power. If the former is inadequate in crucial respects then the way is clear for critical theorists to explore the latter. Cyber criticalism is then sketched in outline and the article proceeds to identify information systems, the flows of power, as potential sites of resistance. The final section focuses upon biometrics and argues that the way forward for cyber critical theorists lies in exploiting the cultural insecurities of informatic capitalism. Ultimately, then, cyber criticalism is critical theory updated for the information age. Unlike those such as Castells it identifies flows of power and the intensification of those flows around the dominant nodes of the informational net. It insists that information systems constitute potential sites of resistance. Nevertheless, acts of resistance are still relatively marginal and fragmented events due to they way in which social problems are pathologized and criminalized.
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Keywords: BIOMETRICS; CASTELLS; CRITICAL THEORY; LEGISLATION; RESISTANCE; SURVEILLANCE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2002

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