Technological Salvation or Orwellian Panopticon? : A Case Study on Social Labelling, Governance, and Social Control in China´s Social Credit System

University essay from Linnéuniversitetet/Institutionen för samhällsstudier (SS)

Abstract: The international governance discourse has seen radical changes in both trends and understandings in recent years, from the global dominance of liberal democracy after the Cold War, to the current movement towards authoritarianism. The modern autocracy has progressed its reach by the use of new applications in technology, which has resulted in a digital authoritarianism, also known as E-governance. In China, a system known as the “Social Credit System” represents these changes in modern governance. It aims to improve civic governance by incorporating the social contract into a digital platform. The system has been described as both a technological salvation and Orwellian Panopticon, with approximately 900 million individual records whilst assigning each user with a social credit score depending on how well they perform on different areas, such as education, prosocial behavior, financial services and much more. “Trustworthy” users are given opportunities in life such as improved; welfare, housing, social status, employment, and mobility in society. Meanwhile, “trust breakers” are placed on a blacklist and face a variety of sanctions and restrictions.   This qualitative case study analyzes the overall functioning of the system in terms of social control, in order to open up the (currently) rather dualistic debate on the system in current academic literature since the system is usually presented rather simplistically as either a threat or a benefit. The thesis, furthermore, analyses the domestic governance implications of the Social Credit System and the changes it suggests to how social control might be operationalized by other societies in the future. Lastly, the study will investigate the effect of social labelling in the “Blacklist” component and discuss the consequences for minority groups, polarization, governance advances, legal improvements, and rule of law. 

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