Few possible implications of the Foucauldian framework on the digital age

In this paper, I aim to suggest few modern implications of the Foucauldian framework on the digital age. On the first pace, I will describe the convergence of two political visions into the prototype of the Panopticon. Then I will describe its penetration and absorption process into the social body during the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. I will then turn to describe a new form of control into Foucault’s framework which comprises into a broader scope of biopower. Following the articulation of these two poles, I will discuss the advertisement industry before and after the emerge of the Internet in respect to notions of indoctrination and apparatuses of security. I will briefly use David Lyon’s work on governmental surveillance on the big-data era to raise a question upon the extent of which these revelations could implement a panoptic schema. Then, I will assist Foucault’s notion of the human capital in order to suggest a compatible schema regarding the phenomenon of the smartphones distribution and the constant demand for availability that follows.

The diffusion process of the panoptic schema

According to Foucault (DP, 199), two governing political visions converged into the prototype of the Panopticon during the 17th and the 18th centuries in Europe. The first is the pure community, which was constituted upon the exclusion of the lepers, and the second is the vision of a disciplined society which was implemented in the plague-stricken town.

The Panopticon is an architectural apparatus of control that was first introduced by Bentham in the late 18th century. Its genuine architecture enables to inhabit multiple inmates within its peripheral isolated cells which can be observed with a single supervisor without being able to identify whether a supervisor is presented or not from the inmates’ standpoint. The panopticon functions as an efficient mechanism to control and employ a scattered and mixed crowd of individuals into an array of isolated individuals which are subjected to direct supervision, measure, and observation by a single invisible observer whose presence is irrelevant to its source of power. In fact, the sole source of power here stems from the guarding gaze, “a faceless gaze(Ibid., 209) that is a state of affairs in which “a real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation(Ibid., 202). Hence it is able to gain maximum efficiency with a minimum investment of power, what makes it adequate for various implementations in society. It can carry out social experiments, train soldiers or apprentices, correct undesired behaviors, optimize labor capacities, it hence should be perceived as a “utopian form of the exercise of power(Ibid., 205).

Foucault describes a process of penetration and absorption of the panoptic schema into the social body during the late 17th and along the 18th centuries. This process is carried out by various messengers especially on the theological domain and gradually shapes various aspects of the social norm. For example, the military code derived by the Protestant and pious armies, the educational code by colleges of the Jesuits and the schools of Batencour and so forth (Ibid., 209).

The reverse-logic of surveillance by apparatuses of security

Foucault was not fully satisfied with his theory of the disciplinary edifices of power. Further investigations lead him to introduce on 1976’s publication The History of Sexuality, an integrated notion of ‘power over life(HOS, 140), namely, bio-power. Bio-power is a broader concept that designated the power that is imposed on the living species as such, versus the ‘old power of death(Ibid., 139). Foucault distinct these two forms of power on the historical ground that the governments were given the right to ensure living upon the right to kill, ‘the power to expose a whole population to death(Ibid., 137). However, Foucault stresses that, this presumption was gradually declined and transplanted during the 19th century by a new paradigm which justifies its force on the notion of ‘the power “make” live and “let” die(SMD, 241).

Bio-power consists of two different poles of power. The first to be historically evolved is the one that is discussed in the previous chapter, is a disciplinary force, it is employed on the social body as a machine and its chief function as such is “the optimization of its capabilities(Ibid., 139). The second form is applied “to man-as-species(SMD, 242). This power is more subtle and better concealed than the former. It does not stand on the same par with the disciplinary power, ‘it exists in a different level(SMD, 242). The series of actions with which this force is carried out is titled by Foucault as a “biopolitics of the population(HOS, 139). Rather than suppressing, it serves the various conjunctures of the livings – births, deaths, health, propagation. Since its focus and source of power relies on the power to “make” live and “let” die, it deals with fostering life. Hence, we shall see its implications on apparatuses of security, a notion that is further elaborated by Foucault after coming back from his Sabbatical year on 19771 and is addressed on Security, Territory, and Population, as we will see now.

In order to explicate the way in which biopolitics manifests its power over the population and in particular implements apparatuses of security, I will put forward Foucault’s discussion over the development of Nantes in France during the 18th century that took place on a lecture series at the College de France during 1977-78.

Foucault uses the phrase milieu2 to designate the design pattern with which administrative problems, such as overcrowding, economic stagnation, and poor peripheral relations (STP, 32) were addressed. The notion of the milieu entails a further set of implications upon the modern political societies of which, due to the shortage of the current scope will be not be discussed. However, a salient notion stands out whereas Foucault describes the economic development of the modern liberal state on the grounds of the theoretical framework of the physiocrats in France during the 18th century. It is that “politics has to work in the element of a reality that the physiocrats called, precisely, physics(STP, 70). The modern notion that the matter of politics is the reality, rather than a celestial source, is fused with the notion of the milieu, in which the natural arguments of the environment and the social body are the matter of the town administration as a milieu. In this sense, the natural reality and the biological species as situated within supplies the datum for the biopolitical force as a technological form of power3.

This statement uses us as the point of departure for the following analysis on the contemporary society on the digital age. The following analysis rely on the presumption that biopolitics exercises its power over the social body as a natural given by consuming its datum as multiplicity of individuals, a population. Since biopolitics is ex vi termini a technological form of power, the significant growth technological capabilities during the last decades must be opening up new opportunities of surveillance.

Insofar as the technological infrastructure could provide a unilateral media stream by a fixed channel broadcast such as few radio stations, television channels, and printed newspapers, its contents had to be commensurate with its fixed capacities or, more accurately, the consumers had to be ‘corrected’ to its contents. Since the multiplicity of individuals with a vast variety of standpoints could not possibly adequate the few media channels before the rise of the Internet, the media necessarily had to play an indoctrinating role to some degree. During this early phase of development, the form of power that was imposed by the media was more aligned to a form of discipline since it was only able to dictate content with a unilateral direction from the administration or the social elite towards the mass.

With the emergence of the Internet, the picture has radically changed. The conventional media was gradually supplanted by the new media which is featured by a reach multistreaming bilateral channeling options. Any news event or historical theme could be now broadcasted simultaneously by multiple channels all of which serve a different interpretation with a particular standpoint, baked for a custom audience, by anyone. In this sense, the emergence of the new media better implements the controlling pattern as apparatuses of security, since it gives rise to the notion that “politics has to work in the element of reality [that is], physics(STP, 70). This implies that the new media amplifies the given rather than indoctrinates, or, disciplines it into conservative conventions. At this point, one may wonder how exactly this ostensibly liberal form of power plays a role of control whatsoever. That shall be the leading question on the following analysis.

The use of big data by governmental institutions, monitoring one’s physical location on the basis of its cellphone, the ability to extract personal information out of generic meta-data, the exchange of data between private corporations and governmental institutions and the permanent surveillance over ordinary citizens on a large scale, all these4 were put in doubts before they were exposed to the public sphere due to Edward Snowden’s agitating leak that took place on June 2013. Since this governmental surveillance and its implications has been widely discussed on the critical literature and thus will not be discussed here, the sole question that raises out of this topic is to what extent big data manipulation could implement the panoptic schema, given the fact that the surveillance activity is no longer concealed after Snowden’s revelations. How does the acknowledgment of the fact that we are being watched contributes to the construction of a supervised consciousness and thus it hols a sway? In my opinion, the semi-concealed semi-transparent method of the modern observation is more subtle than the panoptic utopian schema, and as such, although its wide acknowledgment, it is conceived in a sort of denial, as suggested by Cohen5, and is closed to Orwell’s doublethink6 conception, this sort of denial does not eliminate the effect of the surveillance as panopticon, rather it enables it and grounds it deeper into an subconscious level of perception.

As mentioned above, one of the chief features of the biopower is the ability to endure, maintain and amplify the social function of the individual as a productive player within the economic social body. From a governing eye, as long as this function is maintained, the conservative indoctrination practices, includes its various media forms, are redundant. The abundance of information that is willingly contributed by the users on the cyberspace accumulates into an immense body of data. This has lead to a state of affairs in which few corporations are holding a vast majority of the body of data such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, et cetera. With cross-domain technologies, few of these corporations such as Google and Facebook have succeeded to expand beyond a strict scope of a domain and now are able to collect data on multiple web spheres. For example, Facebook has successfully created a cross-domain hold by enabling to freely embed the “Like” button across the web7. Likewise, Google’s Adsense system for example already has a myriad hold over the web. With such architectures of digital penetration, these corporations can build reliable profiles of each user out of their daily digital activities, without having to have neither their strict approval nor even being aware of the process ‘behind the scenes’. These highly efficient data machines besides from being a highly productive revenue generator machines are performing as an highly effective marketing tools. A data manipulation out of our daily digital conversations over Whatsapp and Facebook intelligibly knows to suggest real estate advertisement punctually right after we used relevant keywords. The new media, rather of having to rely on approximations and ‘shoot’ its commercial content everywhere, is now able to accurately and intelligibly address the specific audience and moment at which its advertisement is at the highest chances for a sale. In this sense, the new bilateral, digital and interactive media is way more efficient as implementing one of the core features of apparatuses of security, that is, the amplification of the social function of the individual as an active contributor, productive factor, or in short, a consumer.

We will now postpone the conclusive discussion for the good of grasping a new notion that stems from Foucault’s latest work, a notion that will shed new light and will assist to raise few more implications.

The self as entrepreneur and the permanent demand for availability

Foucault draws on a lecture series, which took place during the years 1978-79 and later inscribed into The Birth of Biopolitics, the groundings from which the modern neo-liberal state has developed. Foucault pays closer attention out of the various discussed disciplines to the formation of the American neoliberalism. The American historical conjuncture has lead to statue neoliberalism in the core of the American political nerve-system. In contrary to European states, “Liberalism was appealed to as the founding and legitimizing principle of the state(BB, 217). Foucault points out that one of the two core characteristics of the American neoliberalism is the conception of the human capital (Ibid, 219). Foucault stresses that the very notion of human capital bears an extension of economic perception into an uneconomic domain, namely, human affairs, and that is a significant shift, one of those which designates the distinction between liberalism and neoliberalism. The notion of human capital breaks down the conservative capitalistic view upon which the Marxist’s criticism is applied, namely, the reduction of human affairs into a quantitive labor power that is exchangeable on the commodities market, according which it evaluates the rate of the labor’s wages. Instead, human capital offers a different approach as it evaluates the labor power as a result of its human potential. The set of skills, knowledge, personal traits, all of which boils down to education, is what determines the potential rage rate thus it is a modifiable ex vi termini. From this point of view, human capital consists of an emancipatory promise, in respect to the presumptions of apparatuses of security. Besides that, it is more likely to be absorbed into the social body with less friction or resistance. Moreover, human capital statues the individual as a self-project of permanent improvement, as an entrepreneur, a vision holder that aims to self-realization. As Andrew Dilts accentuates:

“The rise of neo-liberalism as a critique of classical liberalism,[..] also signals the possibility of a new governmental rationality: a governmentality that does not operate in relation to homo-economicus as a partner in exchange, but instead as its ‘correlate.’ From the point of view of this governmentality, there are no firms, producers, households [..] or even citizens, but only entrepreneurs of the self”8

A possible interpretation of Dilts’ claim is that from the governing standpoint instead of investing so much around exercising discipline it is more beneficial to delegate governmental responsibility to the mass. Since the neoliberal state is all about reducing governmental regulations into the minimum requisite extent for the good of the free markets, therefore it implies that the state functions as a means for the free market exchange. According to this logic, the economic activity determines the grid of the true-system, that is, it functions as the source of truth, namely, ‘a site of veridiction’ (BB, 44). Hence whereas the population adopts the logic of human capital, one devotes itself to the economic activity. That explains Dilt’s ‘correlation’ between the individual as an entrepreneur and the state.

Further, the notion of human capital reaches new summits of obedience, a reverse-logic of discipline with disciplinary consequences de facto. The strong aspiration of the individual for success determines its course from life to death whereas only a few are able to escape the ‘rats race’ of the neoliberal rigid work lifestyle. An onerous and rigid education towards success takes place follows by an exhausting work lifestyle. This state of affairs draws a picture in which the ultimate vision of freedom by the name of self-realization project furnishes the ultimate reality of slavery.

Now, with the technological growth, a new significant phenomenon has taken a place. A phenomenon that bears the potential to accelerate and amplify the notion of the human capital. During the last decade, we are witnessing the emergence of the extensive and wide use of the smart mobile devices, namely, the smartphones. These devices have long ago enhanced beyond the sole use of as telephones and its current daily use covers a vast and increasing set of functions such as navigation, exploring new information and reading the daily news, paying the bills and transferring money, exploring the social media, sending Emails, sharing schedules, peer to peer and group chatting and the list constantly expands. The usage patterns of the smartphones have gradually increased to a comprehensive extent of which consumes a vast majority of the human affairs activity.

That is a penetration process of the cyberspace into the realm of the physical life, just as much as the employment of the self as human capital has penetrated and supplanted a large portion of the human sphere. The diffusion process of the smartphones blurred the distinction between leisure and work9. The conservative conception of labor rights with a nine to five daily work is gradually being replaced with a constant employment twenty-four hours a day during which social, leisure, and work are intertwined.

Furthermore, the constant engagement with the smartphone has given a rise to the social norm of availability. A constant social demand is being imposed on the individual for the sake of its safety, mutual care, and for the good of a newborn necessity. The demand for availability plays a role of a constant surveillence as it regularly inscribes the individual location, verifying its nonabsence, and responsiveness, all of which conducted not by a governing authority rather by social circles of peers. Ironically, the extensive use of the smartphones accelerates social solitude rather than engagement. These two regulating functions of the smartphones – demand for availability and solitude – are corresponding to the panoptic schema. This illustrates the interweaving relations between the panoptic schema and apparatuses of security.

To conclude, although this discussion could not be by any means exhaustive of the modern implications of Foucault framework of biopower, we could have briefly single out few practices by which biopower takes place, some of which correspond to the panoptic schema whilst some implement apparatuses of security. Though, we should bear in mind that the restrict distinction is somewhat artificial and is thus conducted merely for the sake of the analysis.

References list:

  • (DP) Foucault, Michel, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1995, Trans. Sheridan, Alan.Random House Inc, New York.

  • (SMD) Foucault, Michel, Society Must Be Defended, 2003, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76. Trans. David Macey. Ed. Arnold I. Davidson. Picador, New York.

  • (STP) Foucault, Michel , Security, Territory, Population, 2007, Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978. Trans. Burchell, Graham. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

  • (BP) Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics, 2008, Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979. Ed. Senellart, Michel. Trans. Burchell, Graham. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

  • Dilts, Andrew, 2011, From ‘Entrepreneuer of the Self to ‘Care of the Self: Neo-liberal Governmentality and Foucault’s Ethics” in Foucault Studies, no. 12.

  • Kristensen, Kasper Simp, Michel Foucault on Bio-power and Biopolitics, April 013, Master’s thesis, University of Helsinki.

    Source: https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/39514/Kristensen%20Masters%20Thesis.pdf

  • Romele, Alberto; Gallino, Francesco ; Emmenegger, Camilla; Gorgone, Daniele. May 2017, Panopticism is not Enough: Social Media as Technologies of Voluntary Servitude. From Surveillance and Security, Vol 15, No 2. doi: https://doi.org/10.24908/ss.v15i2.6021

  • Orwell, George. 2003. 1984. Orlando: Harcourt Books.

  • Cohen, Stanley. 2000. States of Denial. Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge:Polity Press.

  • Lyon, David, The Snowden Stakes: Challenges for Understanding Surveillance Today, Surveillance and Society.

  • Career Builder, “New CareerBuilder Survey Reveals How Much Smartphones Are Sapping Productivity at Work”, Accessed 15.9.18. Source: http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspxsd=6%2F9%2F2016&id=pr954&ed=12%2F31%2F2016)

  • The Guardian, 2018, “Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you”, Accessed 15.9.18, Source: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/15/is-28-hours-ideal-working-week-for-healthy-life

1 Kristensen, 2013, P.13

2 Milieu, From French, (literally in French ‘mid-place’, mi=‘mid’+lieu=‘place’, source: The Oxford Dictionary), referenced by Lamarck to ‘fluids like water, air, and light [..] it designates a set of action exerted on a living being from the outside’, actions of which are initiating a causal influence (‘circonstances influentes’). Source: Foucault, Security, Territory Population, 36: Footnote.

3 When they say this, they are not aiming so much at materiality in the, if you like, post- Hegelian sense of the word “matter,” but are actually aiming at the reality that is the only datum on which politics must act and with which it must act. “. Source: Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 70.

4David Lyon, p.141.

5Cohen, Stanley. 2000. Quoted by Romele, Alberto et al., 2017. p. 9.

6To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed

lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing

in both of them, to use logic against logic, […] and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself –

that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness” (Orwell 2003: 120), Quoted by Romele, Alberto et al., 2017. p. 9.

7 Romele, Alberto et al., 2017. p. 5

8 Dilts, Andrew, 2011, p.10.

9 (1) “in 2002, fewer than 10% of employees checked their work email outside of office hours. Today, with the help of tablets and smartphones, it is 50%, often before we get out of bed“. The Guardian, 2018.

(2) According to a national survey in the US and included a representative sample of 2,186 hiring managers 3,031 full-time workers. Three out of four reasons for distractions from work are related to smartphone usage, as follows: Cell phone/texting: 55 percent, The Internet: 41 percent, Gossip: 39 percent, Social media: 37 percent.

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