I have a new piece out today in the wonderfully smart space curated by the good people at ‘The New Inquiry.’ My piece is titled ‘The Algorithm and the Watchtower‘ and in it I suggest that when it comes to the politics of information we are too easily distracted by visual metaphors of surveillance, watching, and all-seeing gazes. The politics of information is not pan-optic, I argue, but rather pan-analytic. It depends less on total visuality and more on massive harvesting, gargantuan storage capacity, and the super-complex calculative rationality we like to call ‘Big Data.’ This piece follows on from my essay in the ‘New York Times’ last year titled ‘The Age of Infopolitics‘. Both are part of an ongoing book project involving concept work on the politics of data as well as empirical inquiry into the genealogy of how we have become what I like to call “informational persons”.
The book is framed as a genealogy of our cybernetic contemporary and looks into the pre-history of the grandiose vision of universal information first laid out by Norbert Wiener in his 1948 book Cybernetics. That pre-history, as I tell it, involves an array of informational technologies and techno-practices through which it became obligatory for the modern subject to present itself: this includes obvious devices like government-issued identification cards but also less obvious data production mechanisms like the pencil-and-paper tests of personality assessment, ideas of perfect translatability central to then-raging ideas for universal languages, and the datafication of a welter of social categories.
Check out the new piece at: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-algorithm-and-the-watchtower/
Out in the latest issue of Foucault Studies (in the review essay section)–a symposium on my ‘Genealogy as Critique.’ Honored am I that Amy Allen, Eduardo Mendieta, & Kevin Olson have taken the time to develop responses both careful and critical in orientation. A hope is that this exchange will help further ongoing conversations about the role and status of critical theory vis-a-vis the contemporary (in Rabinow’s sense of that term). Some of the topics covered in the symposium (which consists of responses by Allen, Mendieta, and Olson plus my reply): normativity (+ cryptonormativity + normativeness), the status of universality and contingency, the place (or not) of the transcendental in genealogy, the relation between methodology and deployment in philosophy, and how to thinking about the challenge of choosing a problem (object, space, field) for inquiry.
A new volume of essays on Foucault edited by Jim Faubion is out under the title “Foucault Now“. This is a great collection with a solid cross-disciplinary edge to it. Great pieces by Rabinow, Huffer, and of course Jim Faubion’s latest entry in his ongoing work on an anthropology of ethics. (I feel quite lucky to be a part of this one, I have to admit.) Hacking’s “Déraison” is also here (this is a piece that some of us first heard at the UCSC conference years ago).
… over at The Garden of Forking Paths (by Zach VanderVeen).
My short opinion piece on infopolitics in the New York Times is just out. In it I discuss ideas at the center of my current book project. The focus is on how information became the political morass that it is today. A big part of the story has to do with how we all became the informational morasses that we are today. I call these two parts of the story ‘informational politics’ and ‘informational persons’.
The broader project is a ‘history of the present’ of our contemporary zero-moment of dragnet surveillance, big data analytics, and other intersections of information and politics in which we are finding ourselves. The historical part of the project traces a genealogy of where we find ourselves today back to the late nineteenth century. The image here is one of umpteen emblems for the project: Emma Goldman’s 1893 mug shot: her crime was “anarchism” for which she spent two weeks in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia. Other emblems might include: Francis Galton’s bertillon (or anthropometry) record, the fingerprint records of Sir William Herschel, Herman Hollerith’s tabulating machine which was used to produce the first computer (or at least proto-computer) tabulated census in 1890, or future Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis’s co-authored 1890 article on what we would later come to call ‘information privacy’.
Please spread the word on the NYT article (and if you feel moved to leave a comment please do so as that would help if I approach them in the future with another piece).
See the post below for a recent recording of a lecture I gave on this topic.
Here is a useful year-in-review reading list from Stuart Elden over at Progressive Geographies…
As for me, I spent much of 2013 digging through historical monographs on information, data, and other such subjects. That and I finally read Middlemarch (and Silas Marner, and Mill on the Floss)!