Surveillance potential: Exploring how unbanked social assistance recipients in Toronto, Canada negotiated a mandatory transition from cash to cards

When and Where

Friday, March 11, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm
Online via Zoom


Kelsi Barkway, Post-Doctoral Fellow, CrimSL


Abstract: This article explores how digital money can be conceived of as a tool for social control, and how people who are mandated to engage with it respond. Drawing on 47 qualitative interviews conducted in Toronto, Canada, this article examines how unbanked social assistance recipients navigated the mandatory transition from cheques to benefits card technology. This shift in payment technologies meant that people who relied primarily on cash considered the implications of digital money. Respondents discussed the benefits cards in terms of surveillance potential, a term I use to capture their uncertainty about how surveillance was operating; respondents were careful about how they used the cards, engaging in a new form of financial earmarking that involved using cash and the cards to curate their financial data.