Research event

Human Rights and the Fluid Subject of Algorithmic Governance

A presentation by Dimitri Van Den Meerssche, Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary University of London. This event is part of the Fundamental Rights Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights

Who is the subject of human rights? This concern, which has been at the heart of postcolonial and feminist critiques on liberal human rights, has a renewed importance in the literature of algorithmic governance, where anxieties about the loss of human agency and autonomy are prevalent. In this talk, Dimitri Van Den Meerssche explores how digital technologies of data collection and analysis entail new forms of subject-making that displace and disrupt the liberal subject at the heart of human rights law. Drawing on an empirical study of data-driven border control projects developed in the EU and the UK, this talk observes how the placement of people in patterns of data – described by the EU Commission as the ‘unsupervised uncovering of correlations’ – enacts a new subject of governance: the fleeting and fluid ‘cluster’ (of data points, propensities, inferred attributes). This development, the paper argues, risks to erode existing legal safeguards (in anti-discrimination law, for example) and troubles the conditions of possibility for collective political action. Yet, in response to these problems, a return to ideals of the liberal human subject might neither be possible nor desirable.

Dimitri Van Den Meerssche is a Lecturer in Law and Fellow at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (IHSS) at Queen Mary University of London. His work draws on socio-legal methods to study the ways in which big data and AI reshape international law and global security governance. He is also a founding committee member of the ESIL Interest Group on International Law and Technology. His recent paper 'Virtual Borders: International Law and the Elusive Inequalities of Algorithmic Association' published in the European Journal of International Law (available here) provides background to the topic of the presentation.

Prior registration is required. Registered attendees will receive the dial-in details as well as a draft paper, on which the presentation is based, via e-mail prior to the event.