Through a Glass, Darkly: Everyday Acts of Authoritarianism in the Liberal West

International Journal of Communication, Forthcoming

31 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2018

See all articles by Arne Hintz

Arne Hintz

Central European University (CEU)

Stefania Milan

University of Amsterdam

Date Written: December 7, 2017


Institutional practices undermining citizen agency and infringing on individual freedoms are typically associated with authoritarian countries. However, they are proliferating also in Western democracies. This article redefines data-based surveillance as a “Western” authoritarian and illiberal practice in the digital realm, resulting from state-industry collaboration and alienated from accountability mechanisms. Straddling critical data studies and surveillance studies, the article explores these dynamics of surveillance in the West by focusing on two dimensions: the institutionalization of governmental practices in law, and societal normalization of surveillance in popular cultural practices. It thus investigates the re-negotiation of the boundaries of state power along two axes — top-down and bottom-up. It connects the notions of “authoritarian and illiberal practices” and “surveillance cultures”, asking how the former are produced, negotiated and legitimized, and reviewing their consequences on citizens and civil society. Based on empirical data from two projects exploring the interplay between citizenship and surveillance, the article argues that acts of authoritarianism in the West are institutionalized at the intersection of top-down governmental practices and bottom-up popular reactions.

Keywords: authoritarian practices, surveillance, surveillance cultures, liberal democracy, internet freedoms

Suggested Citation

Hintz, Arne and Milan, Stefania, Through a Glass, Darkly: Everyday Acts of Authoritarianism in the Liberal West (December 7, 2017). International Journal of Communication, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Arne Hintz

Central European University (CEU)

Nador utca 9
Budapest, H-1051

Stefania Milan (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Department of Media Studies
Turfdraagsterpad 9
Amsterdam, 1012 XT


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