Gavin J.D. Smith (@gavin_jd_smith) is a Senior Lecturer in the ANU’s Research School of Social Sciences. His research explores the social impacts of sensor technologies and datafication processes. He is especially interested in the labour relations attendant on practices of watching and being watched. His recent book, Opening the Black Box: The Work of Watching (2015, Routledge), provides an ethnographic account of CCTV camera operation, specifically exploring of visibility from a cultural perspective experiences. His work appears in leading journals such as Body & Society, Theoretical Criminology, Surveillance & Society, and Urban Studies. He is an editor of Surveillance & Society, and is on the Sage Sociology Video Collection Editorial Advisory Board.
Data doxa: explaining public understandings of data retention legislation in Australia
This paper reflects on the recent commencement of data retention laws in Australia. It provides a cultural explanation for the notable public inertia in the build up to—and in the aftermath of—the security laws being enacted. Notwithstanding the fact that the measures significantly expand the state’s capacity to monitor personal life, and impinge on civil liberties, they have been met with limited opposition. I argue that we can account for this generalised passivity via the notion of ‘data doxa’: where a reliance on digital devices and data corresponds with a reduced critical awareness of what they actually do. Many users possess a restricted understanding of how data—as forms of capital and mediums of power—structure social experience and serve particular interests in often unseen ways. We can partly situate this blasé attitude as an offshoot of digital societies, where digital device bearing netizens become utterly enchanted with practices of mediated watching and the experience of being watched. The fields of visibility in which people are situated and participate desensitise them to the depths of data, and they animate a participatory habitus that is orientated to data sharing: both in terms of producing and consuming data. I suggest that the formation of this disposition, where data are construed as merely affording pleasure, convenience and security, and where data subjects become comfortable with in/voluntary relations of visibility, accounts for the lack of public unease. It is only when data are used to impede the interests of the represented person that this doxic relationship is compromised.