Aggregations of the opaque: Rethinking datafication and e-waste
This paper points to phenomena that are undeniably intrinsic to the datafied society, yet that themselves belie the dream/nightmare of total control through datafication: electronic waste (e-waste) and its recycling. In recycling industries and reverse logistics, invisibility, opacity, and uncertainty persist despite worldwide networks of surveillance, datafication, and algorithmic calculation. Mobilizing different technologies from RFID to big data, data assemblages enact particular regimes of visibility that cohere three “gazes”: security’s gaze, efficiency’s gaze, and speculation’s gaze. Yet along with these gazes come various forms of sightlessness, which I frame respectively as “blind eye,” “blind spot,” and “blindsight.” Looking at datafication through e-waste teaches us that critique should not start from the presumption of increasingly all-encompassing datafication, but instead analyze the (constitutive) limitations and (productive) excesses at stake in data assemblages.