The governmental topologies of database devices

Ruppert, Evelyn (2012). The governmental topologies of database devices. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(4-5) pp. 116–136.



In business and government databases contain large quantities of digital transactional data (purchases made, services used, finances transferred, benefits received, licenses acquired, borders crossed, tickets purchased). The data can be understood as on-going and dynamic measurements of the activities and doings of people. In government, numerous database devices have been developed to connect such data across services to discover patterns and identify and evaluate the performance of individuals and populations. Under the UK’s New Labour government the development of such devices was part of a broader policy known as ‘joined up thinking and government.’ Analyses of this policy have typically understood joining up as an operation of adding together distributed data about subjects, which can then be used in the service of government surveillance, the database state or informational capitalism. But rather than such technical or managerialist analytics, I argue that topological analytics capture what these database devices enact and do: they materialise the ‘individuality’ of subjects in intensified, distributed and fluctuating ways and materialise and intensify a logic of what Deleuze (1992) describes as modulating controls. Through examples of UK New Labour social policy initiatives over the past decade, I argue that topological analytics can account for these as immanent rather than exceptional properties of database devices and as such are part-and-parcel of a governmental logic and ontology of subjects.

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