Due to COVID restrictions the course takes place online and in person. To register please use Moodle or send an email to Prof. Pasquinelli.


This course will seek to understand the place of big data, algorithms and AI in the current history of power, a process which has also been defined as “government by numbers” and more recently “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff.

It will start by reading philosophers such as Michel Foucault who clarified the role of statistics and taxonomies as a tool of power in the modern age, and will end discussing surveillance military projects such as DARPA’s Total Information Awareness and PRISM which has been recently disclosed by Edward Snowden among others. Rather than speculating about deep state conspiracies, however, the course illuminates the business-as-usual of data governance that is already permeating our society.

An example of this data governance comes from the current COVID pandemic, during which an unprecedented infrastructure for tracking, measuring and forecasting social behaviours has been established. The infrastructure for monitoring the pandemic, however, was not created ex nihilo, but built upon the existing digital platforms and apps which orchestrate most of the social relations of the contemporary society (see the workshop Breaking Models organised together with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science). The course will help student, for instance, to assess the debate on the privacy of COVID tracing apps.

This course will make students familiar with the technical and philosophical vocabulary of these forms of power and control, techniques such as: statistics, biopolitics, biometrics, psychometrics, pattern recognition, anomaly detection, face recognition, algorithmic governance, big data, metadata, data analytics, people analytics, quantified self, and more.

Students will be also invited to discover the role that different kind of “numbers” play in their life and to explore artists that have engaged with data aesthetics and surveillance (Clemens von Wedemeyer, Julia Scher, et al.). A conversation on these topics together with Kader Attia, curator of the next Berlin Biennale, is scheduled for January 2022.

We will read authors such as: Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, James Scott, Safiya Noble, Jon Agar, Ruha Benjamin, Paul N. Edwards, Matthew Jones, Cathy O’Neil, Yarden Katz, Grégoire Chamayou, Orit Halpern, and Wendy Chun, among others. As a conclusion, the course will go back to Foucault’s insights on the relation between knowledge and power, showing how the normative power of scientific knowledge and statistics of the modern age has evolved into the current forms of machine intelligence.

A certificate (Schein) is possible with credit in Media Philosophy. Students can a) make a project or deliver a presentation in class and write a short essay of ca. 10 pages, or b) write an extensive essay of ca. 20 pages. All materials will be shared via Dropbox.

Prof. Dr. Matteo Pasquinelli
mpasquinelli [∂]
Consultation hours: on appointment

Enrolment: via email or Moodle
Tuesday – Wednesday, 10:00 – 13:00. Bi-weekly
Course start: 3 November 2021
Language: English
Room: 112, 115 and online

3 / 9-10 / 23-24 November
7-8/ 21-22 December
11-12 / 25-26 January
8-9 February