This project explores the ways in which a series of prominent, and interconnected developments are challenging established conventions concerning what it is to be free within liberal societies. In the context of developments within the behavioural sciences, new systems of psychologically inspired government, and the rise of big data and smart infrastructures, this project considers how science, politics, and technology are combining to disrupt the principles and experience of freedom in the 21st Century. These developments present fresh empirical problems to the extent that they: 1. could enable the provision of smarter systems of real-time government (from both the public and private sectors), which might enhance citizens’ individual and collective wellbeing; but 2. are associated with the curtailing of certain freedoms in relation to the editing of choice, the resetting defaults, and the deepening of personalised data surveillance.
In light of the novelty of these interconnected empirical developments, this project seeks to break with existing explanatory frameworks and methodologies. Theoretically this project deploys the concepts of neuroliberalism, internalities and actually lived freedoms in order to challenge existing theories of liberal freedom. While existing accounts of government and freedom within liberal societies are based on the idea of harm-to-others and externalities, it is argued that the idea of internalities (those things that cause harm-to-self and others) provides critical context to rethink the relations between government and freedom. This project also challenges the often-abstract moral inquiries into liberal freedom, by focusing on actually lived freedoms (negotiated forms of freedom that emerge out of the complexities of everyday life). In order to explore changing forms of actually lived freedoms, this project deploys an innovative interdisciplinary methodology involving a ‘distributed ethnography’. This methodology will be applied to the study of the design and experience of emerging smart city and quantified self and community developments.