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Boersma, J.G.

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Subjectivation by Calculation

This thesis offers a contribution to the debate about which role technology should play in our lives. Governmental institutions are increasingly applying algorithms to assist in a more efficient form of governing. I will present three cases of the application of algorithms; predictive policing, the use of algorithms in court proceedings to calculate the risk of re-offense and how the Dutch Tax Authority uses data analysis, to nudge its citizens towards a better tax morale. By relating these three cases to the work of Michel Foucault, this thesis will provide an answer to the following question: How should we interpret and evaluate the use of algorithms by governmental institutions, and how can we then develop a critical relationship to these technologies?

I will illustrate how the three cases of application of algorithms by governmental institutions relate to the structures of power which Foucault identifies in the Panopticon. In this sense, we can interpret and evaluate these cases as power structures which observe and alter behaviour. If it is the case that our behaviour is influenced by technologies, we do not make autonomous choices in the sense that we are free from external forces. In order to develop a critical relationship to these technologies, we need to constitute ourselves as moral subjects. Foucault’s later work on ethics and subjectivation provides us with an answer to how we can still be free to design our own life. I will apply this concept of freedom to the theory of Technical Mediation in order to provide a manner of dealing with these power structures and develop a critical relationship with technology.

Last modified:24 November 2017 1.54 p.m.