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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Louise Amoore

Amoore, L.A. (2011). Data Derivatives: On the Emergence of a Security Risk Calculus for our Times. Theory, Culture & Society 28(6): 24-43.

Author(s) from Durham


In a quiet London office, a software designer muses on the algorithms that will make possible the risk flags to be visualized on the screens of border guards from Heathrow to St Pancras International. There is, he says, ‘real time decision making’ – to detain, to deport, to secondarily question or search – but there is also the ‘offline team who run the analytics and work out the best set of rules’. Writing the code that will decide the association rules between items of data, prosaic and mundane – flight route, payment type, passport – the analysts derive a novel preemptive security measure. This paper proposes the analytic of the data derivative – a visualized risk flag or score drawn from an amalgam of disaggregated fragments of data, inferred from across the gaps between data and projected onto an array of uncertain futures. In contrast to disciplinary and enclosed techniques of collecting data to govern population, the data derivative functions via ‘differential curves of normality’, imagining a range of potential futures through the association rule, thus ‘opening up to let things happen’ (Foucault 2007). In some senses akin to the risk orientation of the financial derivative, itself indifferent to actual underlying people, places or events by virtue of modulated norms, the contemporary security derivative is not centred on who we are, nor even on what our data say about us, but on what can be imagined and inferred about who we might be – on our very proclivities and potentialities.