Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Lee H., Lee T.
The TraceTogether Matrix Has You – Surveillance, Rationalisation and Tactics of Governance in Singapore’s COVID-19 App
(2022) Platform, 9.2 (Special Issue), pp. 77 – 91

Open access

In the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore rolled out TraceTogether; a contact-tracing mobile app that uses proximity sensing to track the movements of its population. TraceTogether was initially voluntary, and used solely for contact tracing. By December 2020, the system became mandatory. This sparked a mass adoption that made TraceTogether possibly the most successful application in Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. When it emerged in January 2021 that the data had been used by the police for criminal investigation, images of a totalitarianism sprang to mind, where technology permits the state an invasive awareness of the movement of individuals. In this paper, we defer from common arguments that Singaporeans are intrinsically trusting of the government or have been conditioned to accept ‘Big Brother’ modes of surveillance. Instead, we argue that the success of TraceTogether reflects a Singapore society that, through the rationalisation of surveillance, willingly participates in their own surveillance. In uncovering the genealogy of media discourse that surrounds TraceTogether, we highlight that it is the regular practice of voluntary surveillance, of subscribing oneself to the apparatuses of state control, rather than specific technologies, that characterises the Singapore surveillance state. We describe a matrix of reason, layered-on and normalised through media discourse, that exemplifies what Foucault has termed ‘governmentality’, which asserts a government’s power of control not over, but within, citizens. © Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

AUTHOR KEYWORDS: Covid-19; Genealogy; Governmentality; Media discourse; Singapore; Surveillance

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