Skip to main content
More about COS

6 March 2024 - 6 March 2024

3:00PM - 5:00PM

Durham University Business School and Online

Share page:

Join us for a COS-hosted seminar with Professor Phoebe Moore (Essex Business School)

This is the image alt text

A screen of data

Workers’ right to the subject: the social relations of data production


The use of data to profile and make decisions about data subjects for citizenship, targeted advertising, job recruitment and other reasons, has been eminently normalised, which is an emerging threat to protected spaces for personal subjectivation and identity formation. The ‘right to the subject’; or to agency via personal subject formation outside bilateral profiling; is at stake. This is especially true for workers. Algorithmic management infused with worker control mechanisms occurs in structurally and objectively unequal conditions within subjective, and unequal, social relations. Data harms protections in European privacy and data protection law, despite being heralded as the strongest in the world, are insufficient to protect workers’ right to the subject. Indeed, structural features of inequality within the capitalist data political economy mean that workers experience different power relations to consumers and citizens. Analysing the social relations surrounding policy features of ‘consent’, and ‘risk’, with focus on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the negotiations for the AI Act, it is not difficult to see that these policies do not protect all data subjects’ rights to the subject identically. Indeed, workers never have the capacity to truly consent at work; and the risks workers face are different from that of other data subjects such as consumers. Data subjects do not, across categories, have equal access to equality, within, and because of, the social relations of data production. From a cross-disciplinary perspective and with contributions to sociology, critical theory, media and policy studies, this article argues that workers’ right to the subject is at stake, in datafied social relations.

About Professor Phoebe Moore