Panel 39

Resistance in action. Understanding countersurveillance practices, imaginaries, and activities in a digitally dense environment

Organizers: Veronica Moretti (1); Alessandro Caliandro (2); Barbara Morsello (3)

1: University of Bologna, Italy; 2: University of Pavia, Italy; 3: University of Padova, Italy

Topics: Algorithmic knowledge, media ecologies and artificial intelligence; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies; Extractivist powers, imaginaries and asymmetries

Keywords: countersurveillance, resistance, alternative imaginaries, social and personal activism, digital environment

The panel aims to promote reflection on how people avoid surveillance measure and policy thus realizing countersurveillance practices in a digitally dense environments. Despite being central to the dynamics of surveillance, the concept of resistance remains underdeveloped within the surveillance studies.

Counter-surveillance is the task of making surveillance difficult or to avoid it. Resistance subverts various components of the surveillance process (Wood & Thompson, 2018) in many fields. Countersurveillance can be employed by individuals and communities to protect privacy, civil rights, and against abuses regarding personal information and sensitive data in public spaces, online and offline. Additionally, counterveillance it may be engaged to make pressure to the public and private surveillance systems by identifying potential vulnerabilities and errors.

Moreover, resistance, activism, and counteraction to institutionalized surveillance system implies to avoid the action of many actors involved in the process of surveillance such as: algorithms, cookies, traced payments, terms of services, informed consent, tracking health apps, populations screenings, just to name few.

There are multiple examples of countersurveillance activities. Consider, for instance,  how citizens using media and participatory journalism converge to expose and sabotage governmental systems of surveillance (Ataman & Çoban 2018; Velkova & Kaun, 2021). Counterveillance practices and imaginaries within the healthcare system show how people can resist algorithms by interacting with them. This was especially visible across the international contact tracing and risk assessment system, where some of the prominent cases (including the Italian one) failed because of massive and explicit resistance to institutionalized surveillance (Moretti and Caliandro forthcoming). In addition, with the emergence of platform capitalism, countersurveillance practices are getting traction in the domain of consumption as well. Consider for example those consumers installing Ad blockers and/or VPNs to escape targeting advertising (Ruckenstein & Granroth, 2020). Finally, as pointed out by Monohan (2006) counter-surveillance operates within and in reaction to ongoing global transformations of public spaces naturalizing forms of social control and exclusion of economically or culturally marginalized groups through architecture or infrastructure. Digitally dense environments also shape dystopian imaginaries and technological surveillance narratives that have given rise to the counterculture as cyberpunk and/or forms of digital and data activism.

Through this panel we propose to frame countersurveillance as an ensemble of individuals, technologies, data flows, practices, knowledge that work together to counteract surveillance measures.

Contributions may cover, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Algorithmic surveillance resistance
  • Dataveillance resistance
  • Internet-facilitated countersurveillance activities (through social media)
  • Cyberpunk culture, practices and imaginaries
  • Resistance to the biomedical surveillance and health policy
  • Emerging practices of counterveillance during Covid-19 pandemic
  • Environmental counter-action from below
  • Resistance to surveillance capitalism (e.g., targeting advertising, algorithmic monitoring of consumers’ behaviors (on/offline), vocal assistants, shopping surveillance, etc.)
  • How counter-surveillance imaginaries and practices changes across different social segments (communities, classes, ethnic groups, age groups, etc.)
  • Making surveillance visible through data visualization (and other visual aids)
  • Innovative methods to frame countersurveillance practices