Whose life is it anyway? Identity, surveillance and power in the digital world.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Throughout its initial conception, anthropological studies of the virtual world have been very limited in numbers. A drastic shift began to occur in recent years as the virtual world has become accessible to a wide array of people, therefore allowing more individuals to connect with the virtual world. Through online role-playing games and social media, the inhabitants within these worlds are afforded with benefits that will not only enrich their lives, but are otherwise unobtainable in the physical world. Drawing from Michel Foucault and Thomas Mathiesen’s models of panopticism and synopticism, this thesis seeks to discuss how surveillance is practiced, and how power is structured in the virtual world. The first section compares the Terms of Service documents within the internet to the erection of a central watchtower under the possible occupation of guards who survey everything within their gaze, and explains how the constant evolution of the internet rendered panopticism to be inadequate in governing the domains within the internet. The second section discusses the ways which the advanced two-way medium of the internet has increased the ability of individuals to attain the roles of surveilles in the virtual world, and how personal freedom is exercised through careful negotiation of power with other individuals.