Friday, August 17, 2007

Dion Dennis: Policing the Convergence of Virtual and Material Worlds

Policing the Convergence of Virtual and Material Worlds: "The True Object of Police is Man."
by Dion Dennis


In the late 17th Century, German political theorists developed a meta-notion of policing and gave it a name: Polizeiwissenschaft. The term embraces broad policy and policing functions. In The Foucault Effect, Colin Gordon assembled a pastiche of snipped citations and paraphrases to convey the ambitious sweep of the object and the practices of Polizeiwissenschaft. I've reshuffled this mini-mosaic (below):

Life is the object of police: the indispensable, the useful, and the superfluous ... Police 'sees to living;' 'the objects which it embraces are in some sense indefinite ... [The task of] calculating detailed action appropriate to an infinity of unforeseeable and contingent circumstances is met by [the desire to create] an exhaustive detailed knowledge of reality... [that extends from cataloging the behavior of masses to the micro-details of an individual's life]. . Police is a science of endless lists and classifications ... a knowledge of inexhaustibly detailed and continuous control ... a kind of economic pastorate of men and things ... where the population is likened to a herd and flock ... [1]

Compare the vision of these Polizeiwissenschaft theorists, as described by Foucault and Gordon, to this description of the near-future, as portrayed by Albrecht and McIntyre:

Imagine a world where your every purchase is monitored and recorded and your every belonging is numbered ... [Imagine] someone ... in another country has a record of everything that you have ever bought or owned ... every item of clothing... What's more, these items can be tracked remotely... [and] you can also be tracked and monitored remotely through the things you wear, carry and interact with every day. [This is the vision of] the world that Wal-Mart, Target, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, IBM, and [various entities of] the U.S. government want to usher in [by 2015, through the use of cheap, ubiquitous and nearly invisible Radio Frequency Identification technologies]. [2]

More than three centuries later, the actual, possible and probable use for "an Internet of Things" has met the knowledge production requirements and governance agenda of 18th Century Polizeiwissenschaft theorists. In Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze explained the key change that has reanimated the neo-Polizeiwissenschaft project:

In disciplinary societies, the individual passes from one closed environment to another: the family; the school; the barracks, the factory ... Now, societies of control, operating with computers, are replacing disciplinary societies ...
Enclosures are molds ... but controls are a modulation ... that continuously change... perpetual training replaces the school, and continuous control replaces the examination.

The numerical language of control is made of codes that [allow or disallow] access to information. We no longer deal with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," samples, data, markets, or "banks."

The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control ... short-term and rapid, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous ... [3]

One center for these new modulations of social control is the emerging "Internet of Things," where data collection and analysis devices are ubiquitous, interactive, hyper-intensive, decentralized, cheap and mobile. [4] Freed from the need for permanent enclosures (to observe, record, shape and discipline) by iterating generations of smaller, cheaper, faster and more powerful RFID and GPS chips, the capacity for continuous observation, judgment and control of "men and things" becomes broader, and deeper. As a constituent feature of this moment, these ubiquitous and mobile technologies de facto shred "taken-for-granted" categories of late modernity, such as the once-conventional distinctions between public and private.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

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