Surveillance, Mass Culture and the Subject: A Systems/Lifeworld Approach


  • Stephen Marmura Department of Sociology, St. Francis University, Canada.


Habermas’s (1984/1989) Theory of Communicative Action provides distinct advantages for considering both the evolving character of surveillance within the context of late capitalism, andrelated changes to human subjectivity and culture. In particular, the concepts systems, lifeworld and colonization may be employed to identify key threats to democratic life within information- based, consumer-driven societies. Many recent social theoretical approaches to the study of surveillance emphasize the entanglement of human subjectivity with “electronic language” and computer-based practices of personal data gathering and profiling. One result is that conscious, embodied, human subjects are often not treated as potentially significant agents of progressive social change. Alternatively, Habermas makes a methodological distinction between the impersonal workings of administrative and economic systems, and the lifeworld of communally shared experience. This allows for critical attention to the potentially negative social/cultural effects of commercial surveillance practices, while preserving a role for rational human actors.


Author Biography

Stephen Marmura, Department of Sociology, St. Francis University, Canada.

Stephen Marmura is assistant professor of sociology at St. Francis University, Canada. His research includes attention to the ways in which competing social actors make use of the internet in the course of their ideological struggles. His recent publications include, Hegemony in the Digital Age: The Arab/Israeli Conflict Online (Lexington Books, 2008). As a Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Surveillance Project (Queen’s University, 2004-2006) Stephen investigated the growing use of location technologies in Canada, and their potential privacy implications. He also examined American public opinion towards the Patriot Act, and its relationship to mainstream media coverage of terrorism and state security initiatives. Address: Sociology Dept. STFXU, P.O. BOX 5000, Antigonish, NS. Canada.