Beyond the click
: Interventions in digital adspace

  • Daniel Webster

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis undertakes an ethnographic study of surveillance capitalism and contemporary marketing techniques as they are found in motion. In particular Google, its AdWords marketing platform, and its extensive network of adspace are explored through empirical research to establish: how surveillance capitalism is formed, implemented, and structured; how it creates value; and how agents are able to act and choose in its space-times. In order to do so, this study diverges from a focus on surveillance capitalism as a universal, cybernetic, and statistical system used to predict and control humans. Instead it looks to the notions of logistics and marketization that enable an approach to capitalism as the ongoing design, implementation, and maintenance of markets by unpredictable, posthuman agents.

Research-creation, interviews with marketing experts, and (auto)ethnographic analysis were used to conduct an interventionist research project into Google's data markets in ways that engaged and probed their different marketing processes, agents, and objects. In this way, capitalism was experienced as a series of generative, fragile and localised performances of multiple human and non-human agents in different space-time arrangements increasingly oriented towards the (re)production of profit. This study therefore finds that it is not enough to look to surveillance capitalism as something cohesive to oppose or resist, but rather as a series of deepening entanglements and interdependencies that must be continually unfolded, reviewed, and (re)negotiated.

In sum, this thesis offers both a more encompassing perception of surveillance capitalism, marketing, and Google's platform technologies–how they work, why they perpetuate, and who upholds them–and also presents an important case study of how other critical engagements with surveillance capitalism (scholarly or otherwise) can continue to be undertaken.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorMerav Amir (Supervisor) & Tristan Sturm (Supervisor)


  • Digital geography
  • posthuman
  • marketing
  • Google
  • adspace
  • advertising
  • marketization

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