The ethics of aesthetics: Stigma, information, and the politics of electronic ankle monitor design

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At present, the politics of digital tools are predominantly discussed in terms of the data they collect, analyze, and circulate. Through my analysis of electronic ankle monitors’ visual characteristics, I widen the scope of investigation to consider how the visuality of digital tools’ form factor–the size and shape of computing hardware–also contributes to their politics. I discuss five major impacts the visuality of electronic ankle monitors’ physical form has upon their wearers’ lives: (1) lack of differentiation in the aesthetics of monitors across different types of wearers (spanning from criminal justice to immigration detention) leads wearers to be considered “dangerous criminals,” by default; (2) monitors limit wearers’ ability to “pass” in society; (3) monitors expand the set of surveillors beyond government officials to also include the public; (4) monitors compromise wearers’ privacy; (5) monitors associate wearers with older practices of visually marking people normative society has labeled dangerous. Based on this analysis, I argue two points. First, that the visuality of electronic ankle monitors’ form factor expands the harms wearers experience beyond those engendered by the device’s primary use as a remote geo-temporal tracking tool used by government organizations. Second, the case study of electronic ankle monitors evidences the need to develop laws and policies that seek to regulate the visual properties of digital tools as well as the data they generate.




Kilgour, L. (2020). The ethics of aesthetics: Stigma, information, and the politics of electronic ankle monitor design. Information Society, 36(3), 131–146.

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