Imagining Impact in Global Supply Chains: Data-Driven Sustainability and the Production of Surveillable Space

Matthew Archer

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In the context of global agrocommodity supply chains, the sociotechnical imaginary of neoliberal sustainability is characterized by a belief that the impactfulness of market-based solutions like fair trade standards and voluntary certification schemes relies on the transparency and traceability of those supply chains. Achieving transparency and traceability, however, relies on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data about numerous social, environmental, and economic factors, data that are generated through increasingly intensive regimes of high-tech monitoring and surveillance. For my interlocutors, who work to design and promote these standards, surveillance comes to be seen as not only justified but also expected and necessary, leading to the tacit categorization of certain spaces (and the human and non-human actors who populate them) as surveillable. In the case of sustainability standards specifically, which are imposed almost exclusively on producers in the Global South, the notion of surveillable space raises important questions about race and gender.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSurveillance and Society
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)282-298
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Sustainability
  • Neoliberalism
  • Supply chains
  • Space
  • Agriculture

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