Cat-and-Mouse Games: Dataveillance and Performativity in Urban Schools

Crooks, Roderic
Surveillance & Society

This paper focuses on the responses of teachers and students in a South Los Angeles public high school to dataveillance regimes that were meant to control specific behaviors. Over a period of two years, a newly deployed one-to-one tablet computer program supported the integration of dataveillance regimes with previously established modes of pursuing teacher and student accountability. As tablet computers achieved ubiquity, students, teachers, and administrators challenged the ambiguous relationship between digital data and the behavior of subjects putatively described by these data. Conflicts over digital data—what data could mean, what they could stand in for, and what could be deemed normal or aberrant—emerged between school authorities and targets of dataveilleance. Where school authorities often depicted their own surveillance capabilities as immediate, inescapable, and predictive, contests over the interpretation of data attenuated this power, showing it to be partial, negotiated, and retroactive, a dynamic this study refers to as interpretive resistance. This study uses a theoretical framework based on performativity of digital data to think through the implications of observed contestations around representation. Performativity conceptualizes digital data not as a set of objective, value-neutral observations but as the ability to produce statuses of norm and deviance.