Foundational surveillance studies theory has largely been shaped in line with the experiences of white subjects in western capitalist societies. Formative scholars, most notably Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, theorized that the advancement of surveillance technology tempers the State’s reliance on mass discipline and corporal punishment. Legal scholarship examining modern surveillance perpetuates this view, and popular interventions, such as the blockbuster docudrama The Social Dilemma and Shoshana Zuboff’s bestseller The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, mainstream the myth of colorblind surveillance. However, the experiences of nonwhite subjects of surveillance—pushed to or beyond the margins of these formative discourses—reflect otherwise.
By disrupting surveillance theory and pushing it beyond the white subject and the West, this Article introduces the “society of subjugation” as a rebuttal. First, society of subjugation theory demystifies the colorblind presumption that advancements in surveillance technology humanize the State’s administration of it by diminishing reliance on mass discipline and punishment. Second, this unchecked deployment of digital surveillance in authoritarian states is intended to subjugate minority groups marked as oppositional, a form of collective discipline and punishment that supersedes social control—as critical scholars examining racialized surveillance in the United States have argued. Through its focal case study of Uyghur surveillance in China, this Article analyzes how state administration of digital surveillance blurs the mandates of mass control, discipline, and punishment into a state ensemble of subjugation.
Further, this Article builds on surveillance literature by arguing that the salient locus of state surveillance may be racial identity, but, depending on the political context, may fixate on other forms of subaltern identity such as religion, sexual orientation, gender, and their intersections. In turn, this expands scholarly analysis and attention to other groups stigmatized by the rising tide and deepening gaze of digital surveillance—a phenomenon unfolding on a global scale.