Filter bubbles, democracy and conceptions of self: a brief genealogy and a Spinozist perspective

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This chapter considers the political implications of the way in which elections now employ the same techniques as used for marketing commercial products, relying upon micro-targeted messages that are derived from data analysis of individuals. What had to be in place in society in order for us to think of democracy in such diminished terms? The chapter explores how this image of democracy derives from a neo-liberal framework in which citizenship is reduced to the interests of homo œconomicus. This image lies in stark contrast with ideals of participative democracy in which everyone has a voice in matters that affect their everyday lives and debate issues to produce an ‘enlarged mentality’. The chapter traces a genealogy of our weakened democracy, drawing on Janet Coleman’s characterisation of John Locke as a transitional figure. Coleman positions Locke’s image of self-identity as marking a step towards the image of today’s ‘private self-conscious self-identity of self-owners’. This chapter then contrasts Locke with his contemporary, Baruch Spinoza. It applies Spinoza’s alternative image of human beings and the ethical importance of communication to imagine an alternative politics that could arise if Spinoza, rather than Locke, were taken as a pivotal figure in Western political theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBig Data, Political Campaigning and the Law
Subtitle of host publicationDemocracy and Privacy in the Age of Micro-targeting
EditorsNormann Witzleb, Moira Paterson, Janice Richardson
Place of PublicationAbingdon UK
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429288654
ISBN (Print)9780367230548
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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