An anonymous researcher (one person though they use “we” throughout their documentation) has released the results of an extraordinary study. By temporarily constructing a botnet on openly available devices around the world, they were able to map usage of the global internet over IPv4 at a scope and level of detail that has no rival outside of proprietary network operations databases.
Beyond the Miracle of the Market addresses broad questions, among which perhaps the broadest, most enduring has occupied theorists for centuries: Why do some countries succeed where others fail? To answer this in the context of late-twentieth century developing nations, Robert Bates constructs a detailed way of thinking about this central issue in economics, which troubles the very position of the State in its course. Markets, and the institutions that dominate their constituencies, take center stage here, while political and social interests form the supporting apparatus and the lenses through which to examine change in those institutions over time. In this way, Bates approaches the questions of growth, stability, and crisis in developing-nation economies without striking either condescending or dismissive tones, and without mistaking patterns for general truths. Continue reading
The aspect of power/knowledge best suited for adoption by those dissatisfied with traditional political economy, social psychology, or political theory, Foucault’s concept of biopolitics addresses the machinations of power on the historically inscribed body, as well as the diffusion of actual relations of power between such bodies. In the lecture series “Security, Territory, Population” and “The Birth of Biopolitics”, he delves into the details of the conditions of power relations in neoliberal societies. Cautious to distinguish liberal and neoliberal contexts from the commonsense notion of freedom, and to differentiate power relations from individual rights or privileges, his argument rests on the ideas developed in his edited works such as Discipline and Punish, or the end of History of Sexuality. Here, biopolitics takes on the characteristics of State apparatuses, but extends beyond them into the quotidian practices of material, discursive, and economic life.
Introduced by Foucault late in his career, during the lectures at the College de France, governmentality spawns perhaps the most discussion among contemporary readings of his works. And no wonder:
Foucault’s second major publication follows the immense History of Madness, and precedes The Order of Things. Its focus on the medical gaze, and on the epistemic shift concurrent with the turn of the 18th century, emphasizes the themes that carry between those two texts. Staunchly archaeological, The Birth of the Clinic traces the moduli of language as evidence and archive, entryways into the probing questions of medical practice and assumption throughout the period. Remarkably, throughout this subtle and sensitive critique of a scientific logic that insists upon the technical objectivity of images and words of the body, Foucault’s own treatment of the body – as historically and socially embedded – avoids direct confrontation with the conditions of possible embodiment of the medical regard itself.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York: Basic, 2011
It would be foolish to refute the core premise of Sherry Turkle’s third installment in her series on computers and people: technology – specifically, robots and computers – have taken on agency in their relationships to humans. Her anecdotal approach threads a compelling argument through selections from her psychoanalytic research that includes over 450 subjects, of all ages. In Turkle’s estimation, computers have become what occupies us, keeping us always tethered and networked, rather than remaining our occupational instruments. Likewise, her staunch humanism views the advent of robotics that go beyond artificial intelligence by performing social functions like caring and emotion as a pivotal “robotic moment” for our lives, and for our concepts of life as such. The stakes of being-human, on her account, are changing, and not necessarily for the better. Continue reading
We turn now from contextual summaries of broad topics to more specific analyses of focused problems. The case in point this week is the curious interplay of market and economic themes in discourses and studies of the internet. There are several fascinating phenomena associated with the rise of the internet as a platform for trade as well as communication and computation. These, however, have roots that run deeper than their own emergence, in the economic and historical conditions that undergird the internet’s development. As trade and commerce proliferate online, they mimic (at least at first) the structure and behavior of their non-internet predecessors, which themselves must shift or extend their positions to accomodate this competition. As internet markets continue to grow and find their own forms, their effects on their non-internetted counterparts deepens. And as financial instruments and economic models become more closely attuned to internet machinations, it becomes easier – from a cultural or social standpoint – to overlook the most obvious historical and global correlations to this situation.
A silly image for a spammy post on webtech-team.com
These weeks I’ve turned from biographical and summary readings to Foucault’s early works. From here on, these posts will proceed at conceptual levels as much as is possible. Today, we turn to archaeology. In its simplest reduction, the concept denotes a history of discourse. In books such as the History of Madness, the Archaeology of Knowledge, and the Order of Things, Foucault undertakes examinations of discursive formations ranging from health and madness to scientific understanding to aesthetics and perception. Throughout each of these, he frames the conditions of knowledge in a given time period as constrained by the characteristics of that period, a general way of organizing and thinking about the world in each that he names an episteme. So, archaeology is the study of “epistemae,” and an episteme places discourse in historical context.
This first post in a short-term regular series of essays on Michel Foucault deals with his most famous influences. I begin with the precursors to Foucault’s own production of knowledge because their work and tutelage form the conditions of that production. This requires that I oversimplify some of their contributions to cultural scholarship and critical theory. I hope to maintain a baseline level of respect for their importance without fetishizing their names, just as I intend to maintain the tension between the familiarity of Foucault’s own name and the irreducibility of his intellectual production to any single certain thought or text. Enough lingering on qualifications and breast-beating, then. Let me turn to the names and their significance for Foucault’s emergence as a theoretical producer – and event.
- Michel Foucault – image via Creative Commons.