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Cold War LegaciesSystems, Theory, Aesthetics$
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John Beck and Ryan Bishop

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474409483

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474409483.001.0001

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‘Bulk Surveillance’, or The Elegant Technicities of Metadata

‘Bulk Surveillance’, or The Elegant Technicities of Metadata

(p.188) Chapter 10 ‘Bulk Surveillance’, or The Elegant Technicities of Metadata
Cold War Legacies

Mark Coté

Edinburgh University Press

Metadata has jumped from the specialist vernacular of the archivist and programmer to public discourse in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Yet the precise nature and import of this seemingly technical artifact remains dimly understood. This chapter will undertake a cold war archaeology of metadata, from analogue information gathered by the East German Stasi to the born digital data accessed by the NSA and GCHQ. Metadata is a key cipher for the contemporary technocultural condition, and the chapter offers a case study of broader shifts in techne (the constitutive relationship between the human and technology) and in labouring practices as afforded by our data-infused digital environment. The chapter provides a concise history of metadata as highly structured data for the information discovery of data objects. Changing surveillance practices reflect the increasingly fine granularity of the digital human to the extent that now we can be considered as data objects. The degree to which this manifests an ontological shift is addressed in relation to philosophical debates about materiality and the nonhuman. It also illustrates a changing ecosystem for new kinds of informational politics. The chapter concludes by reconceptualising the persistent generation of born-digital metadata via Simondon.

Keywords:   metadata, surveillance, cold war, Stasi, Data objects, George Simondon

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