Reimagining the Data Subject in GDPR


  • Ananya Karthik Stanford University


Scholarship centering marginalized groups has long questioned the universality of a “default” person. In her landmark text Justice, Gender, and the Family, feminist philosopher Susan Moller Okin argues that “almost all current theories continue to assume that the ‘individual’ who is the basic subject of their theories is the male head of a fairly traditional household.”1 Professor Donna Haraway’s framework of the “view from nowhere” shows that a supposedly universal perspective, which she calls the “God trick,” can actually shield a “very specific position (male, white, heterosexual, human).”2 In the words of bestselling author Caroline Criado Perez, “this reality is inescapable for anyone whose identity does not go without saying, for anyone whose needs and perspective are routinely forgotten. For anyone who is used to jarring up against a world that has not been designed around them and their needs.”3 Political philosopher Iris Marion Young writes that “[t]he privileged groups lose their particularity; in assuming the position of the scientific subject they become disembodied, transcending particularity and materiality, agents of a universal view from nowhere. The oppressed groups, on the other hand, are locked in their objectified bodies, blind, dumb, and passive.”4 Without explicitly mentioning race, gender, or any other aspect of identity, an abstract conception of subjecthood runs the risk of insidiously adopting the identity at the top of the societal hierarchy. When a certain level of abstraction is necessary, is there a way to universalize more inclusively, to affirmatively elevate the worldviews of those traditionally left out of the narrative?