Karoline Kalke, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien

Autonomy in the Digital Age

The euphoric tone of the digital dream has recently subsided. Instead, warning voices are pointing to big data’s assault on autonomy within surveillance capitalism and technological totalitarianism. Against this pessimistic analysis, they call for a digital enlightenment, for reclaiming autonomy to fight against the neoliberal shape of big data, and to render digitalization into a means for the societal good. However, despite ever-rising information on data surveillance and algorithmic control, the use of social media has increased considerably - we are facing a “privacy paradox”. Given such devotion to the social web, this PhD thesis proposes a shift in perspective on autonomy in the digital age. It departs from the assumption of the digital assault on autonomy, as this perspective revives reductionist, atomistic and coherent appeals to the sovereign autonomous subject. Instead, this thesis conceives of autonomy as a historically variable ideal of action constituted through societal (power) structures. As the digital sphere extends ever more into analogue subjectivities within digital societal relations, this thesis asks for the hegemonic notion(s) of autonomy in the digital age. It seeks to answer this question by firstly, applying former techno philosophy and criticism to contemporary digital times, secondly, developing a processual and relational approach of autonomy, and thirdly conducting a dispositive analysis of the profile according to the latter. It therewith strives to contribute to an understanding of the obstacles of an emancipatory thrust towards societal change with the use of technological progress, as well as windows of opportunity for it. Given the endangerments of the multiple crises pushing people ever more into the virtualization in everyday life, an understanding of notions of autonomy in digitalizing western-affluent societies seems mandatory for any horizon of a progressive societal transformation.


Stichworte: Digitalisation, Cybernetic Societies, Critical Theory, Political Sociology, Philosophy of Technology, Governmentality, Subjectivities, Societal Transformation