Theorising digital media cultures: The politics of watching and being watched This chapter explores some of the key political and rights issues pertinent to the production, consumption, and use of media in the digital era. This entails conceptualising the ontology of digitised media as serving different ends as a relation of visibility, a type of commodity, and a mode of power. With this in mind, I cogitate on whether a privacy framework is an adequate (or desirable) legal and moral device for regulating and protecting the vast flows of personal information being leaked or expelled into the surrounding ‘digital enclosure’ as people move, talk, converse, play, and act. Contrary to popular and conventional beliefs, I wish to contend that traditional privacy ideas/ideals are becoming increasingly obsolete in an age of mass data emissions and transmissions, and in a culture permeated by digital companionship and practices of self-revelation. Instead, I suggest a more fruitful regulatory and rights approach might focus on (a) further educating data barons, bankers, profilers, and sharers about the meanings, fallibilities, and harmfulness of data (what I call, the social life of data) as it flows from context to context, and (b) decolonising the technological infrastructures from state-corporate monopolies. I then identify key areas of research that require interdisciplinary attention if we are to better understand the complex meanings of contemporary media practices and experiences, and develop a set of protections that are fit for purpose in a point of history where we find ourselves progressively looking and being looked at through a screen.


Smith, GJD (2017) Theorising digital media cultures: The politics of watching and being watched. In Tumber, H and Waisbord, S (eds) The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp.126-135.



Fields of Research

  • Social Theory
  • Sociology And Social Studies Of Science And Technology

Updated:  01 October 2023 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers