Book Review – The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy of Personal Information, by Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.

graphic of a human eye surrounded by digital data

The academic field of surveillance studies has (thankfully in my view) become more crowded during the past few years in response to the increasing use of data technologies for social control. In the early 1990s, when some of us (e.g. me) were naively celebrating the liberating potential of the internet, Oscar H. Gandy, Jr. was critically examining earlier incarnations of data systems and practices that contributed to the entrenchment of existing systems of domination and social injustice. First published in 1993, his book The Panoptic Sort was a groundbreaking account of the history and rationalization of surveillance in service of institutional control and corporate profit at the expense of individual privacy and autonomy. In the a second edition, published by Oxford University press in 2021, Gandy updates his original book for the context of today’s increasingly ubiquitous technologies that collect, process, and commodify personal information for instrumental use by corporate interests.