The "Situation" in Micronesia: The Rise of Behavioral Dispossession

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Brett Zehner


In one of the largest ethnographies ever produced, American anthropologists subjected nearly the entire population of Micronesia to psychological testing. This battery of tests created databases to universalize patterns of economic behavior by collecting “aberrations” in rational thought. Perhaps ironically, the methods developed through Micronesian data experiments provided the formal tools to model corporate decision-making. In the process, economists created a new space of racialized capitalist expansion by producing raw behavioral data. I theorize these early forms of data dispossession as a violent procedure that creates a rift between old modes of subjective identity and new modes of production. My analysis of the weaponization of behavioral modeling—both bypassing the individual as a locus of economic value and dividing the common—sheds new light on the development of so-called data mining on contemporary online platforms.

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