H o w
d o e s
t h e
notion of power in c y b e r s p a c e
a n d
the corresponding notion of the body r e l a t e
i t s
p r e l i m i n a r y notions in history?
The body in times of changing power mechanisms
ANKE HANS 3 6 2 9 4 2 2
Final paper Technobodies / MA New Media and Digital Culture University of Utrecht February 2011
I. Introduction In antiquity, torture was an accepted procedure to regulate the behaviour of individuals who would deviate from the predominant patterns of behaviour of that time. At the moment we live in a society where technology plays a predominant role. This has given rise to another type of power that is being applied to achieve the very same purpose of regulating the behaviour of individuals in a society. Mechanisms of power change as cultures change. And as culture changes, notions about the body change (Hayles 2004: 230). This concatenation of developments in which technology plays an undefined role can appear to be disquiting. For technology attends with a fear called the Frankenstein trauma: though technology remains to partly be a promise (computers can, for example, execute routine tasks more rapidly than humans can), it is also observed as being a threat, for technology intertwines with our familiar practices and concepts without us knowing what technology exactly is. I cannot take away the fear for technology since I do not have the answer to what technology exactly is, but the research for this paper is aimed at reducing a small slice of the fear for the phenomenon of technology, namely the changing power relations in cyberspace and the corresponding notion of the body. I would like to accomplish this by relating the concept of power in cyberspace to several types of power throughout history as distinguished by Foucault. While doing so, I will signal changes concerning the notion of the body. This way, we may get an understanding of the context from which power and the notion of the body in cyberspace stem. My research question therefore is formulated as follows: How does the notion of power in cyberspace and the corresponding notion of the body in cyberspace relate to its preliminary notions in history? For the end of this research, I will first define three basic definitions. By power I understand "not an institution, nor a structure, nor a possession, but the name we give to a complex strategic situation in a particular society" (Foucault 1979: 93). Cyberspace, then, I define by combining both Loader's and Rheingold's definitions of cyberspace into: "a computer-generated public domain which has no territorial boundaries or physical attributes
and where words, human relationships, data, wealth and power are manifested by people using computer mediated communication (CMC)" (Loader 1997: 1 and Rheingold 1994: 5). Lastly, I define the body as "the focal point for struggles over the shape of power" (Foucault 1993: 17). The present paper is structured as follows. Part I covers three sections describing different types of power throughout history according to Foucault. I will start with a repressive type of power called 'sovereign power', then I will describe more productive types of power called 'disciplinary power' and 'biological power'. In the fourth section I will relate the notion of power and the body in cyberspace to its preliminary versions, asking myself the question: what is this new type of power? How can it be understood in terms of preceding types of power? And does it affect the notion of the body? If so, how? I will then close Part I with a conclusion. In Part II I will reflect on the results of the research and suggest some thoughts on how we can think about changing power relations and changing notions of the body in cyberspace.
<I://Mechanisms of power over time and changing notions of the body> "The perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary." (Foucault 1979: 201) 1. Sovereign power In the early modern period community and public life constituted the principle elements of society. Power was held by an individual called a 'sovereign'. The sovereign was a king or another central authority figure who was considered to be the top of society and the creator of law. Because of this status he had the right to exercise power downward to other individuals in order to regulate their behaviour. He could do so by the threat of death, meaning he was enabled to exercise his power in form of physical domination. Physical domination is a type of power that is added on from the outside onto the body of an individual. As the sovereign had the right to take away the life of individuals by violence, his power was signified by public executions given shape to by staged spectacles for other individuals of the community to
observe. The architecture of temples, theatres and circuses of sovereign society responded to the question of regulating relations between the sovereign and the individual namely â€œto render accessible to a multitude of men the inspection of a small number of objectsâ€? (Foucault 1979: 202-221 and Martinez 2010: 107). Sovereign power is a negative and a repressive type of power. It is negative because the authoritive figure formulates measures on the basis of which individuals are excluded (i.e.: publicly executed on a stage) from other individuals in society. It is repressive since it involves an authority who, in order to make them obey, physically dominates individuals who do not comply to the desired patterns of behaviour which he himself had formulated for them. Here we can notice that power in sovereign society was subject to a binary model of opposing concepts, namely of 'that which the sovereign considered to be normal behaviour' and 'that which the sovereign considered to be deviating, abnormal behaviour' in which cases he respectively 'let the individuals free' or 'dispose measures over the bodies of the individuals who show deviant behaviour'.
2. Disciplinary power Symptoms of a different way of exercising power after sovereignty could first be observed by the end of the seventeenth century. This was a time where the state feared the epidemic called the plague that would wipe out part of their populations. In this situation, the state considered itself justified to regulate the behaviour of the individuals living in it. This fear ultimately resulted in a set of procedures to quarantine towns, by means of executing different procedures. Examples were: 'to lock up every individual in town in their home', 'the careful distribution of food and water to every house', 'a constant surveillance over the movements of all individuals' and 'the reporting of all events to reprĂŠsentatives of power via a controlled hierarchical system'. If necessary, behaviour deviating from the behaviour as recorded in the procedures would be corrected (Foucault 1979: 196-198). These multitudinous methods of regulations by spatial partitioning and subdivision of individuals is a characteristic of disciplinary power. Some time later, in 1791, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham transformed the
disciplinary programme by proposing a mechanism of power in form of an architectural innovation which he called 'the Panopticon' (literally: "all-seeing place"). The Panopticon was designed to be a disciplinary institution, namely a prison space “…constructed in the shape of a wheel around the hub of an observing warden, who at any moment might have the prisoner under observation through a nineteenth century version of the closed circuit TV. Unsure of when authority might in fact be watching, the prisoner would strive always to conform his behaviour to its presumed desires” (Boyle 1997: 5). In the Panopticon, we see other principle elements as in sovereign society. We have a series of private individuals on the one hand and the guards –which could literally be anybody– on the other. The goal of regulating the relations between authority and the individuals is opposite to the one of sovereign power. Foucault describes this renewed goal in disciplinary society as “to procure for a small number, or even for a single individual, the instantaneous view of a great multitude”. (Foucault 1979: 216-217). Although it never was physically realized, the idea was that the Panopticon would distribute individuals in a way that they all are separated from other individuals and know themselves to be constantly visible and possibly constantly observed by a guard. This type of observation is what Foucault (1980) calls surveillance: "an inspecting gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorizing to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself" (p. 155). Since the individuals are potentially always an object of information for the guard in the hub and they fear being caught by him, they train the actions of their bodies automatically and no longer realize disagreeable conduct. Disagreeable conduct is thus suppressed and power no longer has to be exercised by an external authority, for the individuals regulate their own behaviour (Foucault 1979: 201-206). At this moment in history, the disciplines cross the technological threshold, for "techniques attained a level at which the formation of knowledge and the increase of power regularly reinforce one another in a circular process" (Foucault 1979: 224). This means that power is now automatized.
Discipline is a mechanism of power that regulates the behaviour of a series of individuals, instead of one individual in the case of a sovereign society. It is also a rational type of power for it no longer requires physical domination of an authority over the body of an individual. Methods of organizing space (in the case of the Panopticon this is the architecture of the Panopticon) and the activity of the individuals (constraining their movements), act directly on the individual. It suppresses behaviour before it even has been realized. This type of power learns individuals to conform to social norms by themselves, and therefore can be called a productive type of power, which works its way from the bottom upward, in contrast to power in sovereign society (Martinez 2010: 107). This makes it possible to increase the useful size of multiplicities by decreasing the inconveniences of power (Boyle 1997: 5 and Foucault 1979: 215-220). Compared to sovereign power, disciplinary power is a concealed type of power, which makes it an efficient tool of social control. Yet it still shares with sovereignty its being negative, since desired patterns of behaviour are being laid on individuals which are not their own. Disciplinary power also still shares with sovereign power the being subject to a binary model of opposing concepts of 'that which the authority consideres to be normal behaviour' and 'that which the authority consideres to be deviating, abnormal'.
3. Biological power Biological power (further to be called â€˜biopowerâ€™) is a type of power which characterizes modern Western societies from the mid-eighteenth century on. This was the point in history where societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species. This fact penetrated the notion of power, in the sense that power was now considered to be a means to manage a group of individuals. Biopower developed from disciplinary power however, incorporating some of its aspects. First of all, the aspect of a controlling space. Foucault further developed this element as a metaphor for the oppressive use of information in a modern disciplinary society. In the Panopticon, individuals were physically isolated and constantly potentially observed. Foucault found the same principle to be present in modern society, where our spaces are organized "like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which
each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible" (Foucault, 1979). Another similarity with disciplinary power is that in order to regulate the behaviour of individuals, physical domination is no longer used, and neither is architecture. The panopticon society observes, or gives the impression of observing us in all of our activities. And third, the effect of this exercising of power, is that in information society individuals regulate their own behaviour to escape the constant threat of detection by controlling institutions of power. So biopower is, as disciplinary power was, a productive type of power. Then what is the difference? The difference has to do with scale. Biopower is an explosion of numerous techniques for regulation of the behaviour of individuals, but in the form of populations. Biopower thus involves macroscopic objects that are so large that individuals are not aware of them reflectively. Biopower does not train the actions of bodies as disciplinary power does, but instead it relates the individual body to a population of bodies (where one becomes, for instance, a statistic). This caused a new conception of regularization, namely on a much larger scale (Martinez 2010: 107). Where sovereign and disciplinary power applied power to the individuals as being an individual body, biopower applies power to individuals as being a species. The power is based up gathered knowledge from these individuals. Does the binary model of opposing concepts also applies to biopower? Yes it does. There still is regulation of behaviour based on an authority's notion of what constitutes normal behaviour. What constitutes normal behaviour however, is not as clear as it was in sovereign and disciplinary society. As said, the difference is one of scale. As the individual from the mideighteenth century on is seen as being part of a species, the binary opposition in the case of biopower consists of the opposing elements 'that which the authority considered to be normal behaviour of a species' instead of 'that which the authority considered to be abnormal, deviating behaviour of a species'.
4. Power in cyberspace With digitality, power changed again. Transformations driven by the revolutionary developments in a range of information and communications technologies (further to be called
â€˜ICTsâ€™) have been facilitating the emergence of new forms of human interaction in cyberspace. In cyberspace, millions of people around the world use e-mail, Usenet newsgroups and BBSs which has given rise to the creation of 'virtual communities' on the Internet: social spaces where all seem equal and insusceptible by authorities (Loader 1997: 1-4). Boyle (1997) states that it was not so much that nation states would not want to regulate cyberspace, but instead that they would be unable to do so. Why is that? The immunity was considered to exist out of three aspects, together called the Internet Holy Trinity. Forestalled by the technology of the medium, the geographical distribution of its users and the nature of its content, cyberspace would be resistant to regulation. For a state is too big, too slow, too geographically and technically limited to regulate the behaviour of individuals in cyberspace (Boyle 1997: 1-4). At first glance cyberspace thus seems liberating: a conceptual space, a public domain in which rules and authorities no longer exist and within which anybody, anywhere can express to the rest of humanity whatever he or she believes without fear (Loader 1997: 3-4). As opposed to mechanisms of power in the physical world, cyberspace no longer seems liable to binary divisions. For the borders between opposite concepts dissolved in this conceptual world. Instead, "concepts and policital forces seem to be up for grabs" (Boyle 1997: 3). However, while new forms of interaction between individuals were created, cyberspace also appeared to give rise to new forms and expressions of power. Authorities in form of governments, credit agencies and insurance companies found their way into cyberspace and infrequently trace online data, tap phone calls made via Skype and securely monitor social networking sites. This has lead to heavy media coverage. It appeared that cyberspace brought about a renewed concern with security, privacy and crime (Loader 1997: 2). Though these types of observation in cybersapce occur infrequently, they do occur. How can we typfiy this type of power? Which elements of the preceding types of power does it incorporate and which are the differences? Power in cyberspace can be well compared to disciplinary power: it is a type of power which is possibly constantly exercised by means of surveillance by an authority: one's data may at any time be monitored, but it may also not be monitored (Boyle 1997: 6). The principle of being seen without seeing those who control
remains unchanged; we still are objects of information without communication. And this fact makes us regulate ourselves. The type of surveillance is slightly different though. The distance to this authority intuitively seems larger, since it is mediated by technology. And the filtering of communication between individuals in cyberspace is technologically invisible (Boyle 1997: 10) . This makes the observation an abstract, theoretical type of observation. What exactly is being monitered while stating â€˜We are still objects of informationâ€™? Is it our bodies? Certainly not the body in the sense of the sovereign society, for controlling institutions in cyberspace do not deal with bodies, nor with individuals. Since the core acitivity in cyberspace is spreading data, individuals are screened as patterns of code rather than as bodies. This type of power is based on the analysis and recognition of patterns of behaviour which are then simulated and modulated in order to reduce risks. Pattern recognition does not involve making an individual conform to a mould, to a pre-established model for behaviour. There is no process of reward and punishment associated with it, no coercion to comply to a norm. So the object of surveillance is different, too. In information society, it is no longer the body of the individual or the individual himself, but the online activities in form of data stemming from or about individuals which is being seen. This results in a process of constant modulation, ongoing automatic and networked adjustment of control according to the patterns detected. Lockwood (2011) defines the type of power in cyberspace as modulatory power: "a more fluid organizational form than disciplinary enclosure and moulding" (p. 15-16). Being more fluid does not seem to detract the fear which we have for power in cyberspace, though. As authorities no longer watch individuals but their data, what remains of the notion of the body in cyberspace? Lockwood (2011) proposes that in cyberspace, there are no more individuals, only data constructs divided into various kinds of information which he calls dividuals: "dividuality is the effect and experience of on the one hand being made into a form, an essence, a solid state, and on the other hand being made into a flow, an event, a fluid or formless state. Dividuality is precisely the experience of being neither this nor that, while at the same time perhaps being both at the same time". Lockwood himself finds the effect of dividuality to be one of discordance (p. 17).
5. Conclusion The research for this paper was aimed at reducing a small part of the fear for the phenomenon of technology, by describing changing power relations and the corresponding notion of the body in cyberspace. What I have done is describe power in cyberspace according to three different types of power according to Foucault. Whilst doing so I have constantly kept track of how the notion of the body was changing with it. The question that was the basis of this research was: How does the notion of power in cyberspace and the corresponding notion of the body in cyberspace relate to its preliminary notions in history? We can now say that power in cyberspace has become more systemic and impersonal than it was throughout the history of the physical world. There is no more sovereign or guard to make the rules of life clear to us. Also, there are no more measures which are laid from the outside onto the individual. Instead, behaviour is regulated through patterns of code. And the individual itself seems to have become systemic and impersonal as well. Instead of being an explicit target from the perspective of an authority, in cybersapce the individual has become a dividual: a data construct.
<II://Reflection> The revolutionary developments in ICTs which have facilitated the emergence of new forms of human interaction in cyberspace can be said to have constituted an information society. Hayles (2004) states that this has brought with it associated shifts in habits, postures, enactments and perceptions in our lifeworld (p. 230). In this paper I have described how one of the enactments that has changed in this development is the constellation of power relations between individuals and authorities. Hayles (2004) further states that cultural perceptions change in relation to the development of information-rich environments (p. 233). In the case of this paper the cultural perception that changed is the notion of the body. She states about the relation between technological innovation and the concept of the body that:
Especially in times of rapid technological innovation, there are many gaps and discontinuities
embodiment, and enculturated
the dynamic interactions with the flux of which these are
correlated systemic and organized ways, but it takes time, thought and experience these changes to be registered in the mindbody
(Hayles 2004: 233-234).
What can we contribute to this? We might ask ourselves if it is wrong per se to feel watched over by an authority in cyberspace. There are arguments to ground a negative perspective in regards to this question. One might state, for example, that the fear of being corrected by an authority makes one act according to policies instead of according to one's individual references for ethics and morality. One no longer would act for the sake of making positive decisions and being a good citizen but for the sake of obeying a central law-making body. From this perspective, individual morality is replaced with a fear for a central law-making body which means that our distaste for unethical behaviour is delegated to others. Because of the fact that there is an all-seeing eye ruling society, individuals become ignorant of their own role in it. But is being visible negative per se? Can we not look at it from another perspective? Boyle (1997) provides us with another perspective. He states that information can and will always produce harm as well as good (p. 4). Yes, we are subject to observation, as we have been all the way throughout history, and at times at the point of breaching personal privacy. But is this not at a cost for a general benefit? In the great sea of data that is collected and scanned by authorities, they are being given the opportunity to effectively detect the activity of individuals who are guilty of spreading child pornography, bomb recipes or the practising of other law offending activities (p. 14). Secondly, it seems productive to see current power constellations in cyberspace in a historical perspective. This makes it clear how one type of power has slowly given rise to another type of power due to demonstrable developments in a demonstrable world. Loader
(1997) states with respect to this that cyberspace can only be understood in relation to the techno-social restructuring which is occuring in the real world and that ICTs are both driving that restructuring and responding to it (p. 7). Power in cyberspace is thus not taking place in a separate conceptual realm apart from the physical world. To deal with this question, Buchanan suggests to consider that: "It is never a matter of regretting how things have turned out, but always of finding out how to embrace the past such that it can be said to have conditioned the present in the most positive sense" (in Lockwood 2011: 19). Third, visibility does not equal truth. Online activities of individuals being scanned by authorities does not imply that the authorities thus hold the truth about those individuals. I would like to illustrate this by paraphrasing Kosara, Rosling, Sack et al. (2007) who talk about the powerful nature of datavisualization, which is often seen as a technique producing images of truth. Concerning discourses speak of the 'truth claim' that surrounds datavisualizations. Kosara, Rosling, Sack et al. state that what makes datavisualization powerful is its compelling visual nature, which makes it much more interesting and impressive than reading a table with numbersâ€? (p. 128). Datavisualizations however, are in a sense nontransparant images because of the assumptions that are hidden in the techniques and software that are needed in order to produce a visualization. In the process of datacollection there always is a selection bias of the investigator reducing the data to content and in the visualization software there always are tuns of assumptions about the underlying structure of the data, which significantly impacts the final results. But these assumptions cannot be seen. Yet visualizations emanate a semblance of objectivity and truth which may incite a groundless fear (Sculley&Pasanek 2007: 1-2). Braidotti (1994) confirms this when she says that visibility and truth working together rests on a fantasy, that there is always more to things than meets the eye and that no image is a representation of the truth (p. 69). What to do? In my opinion, we should realize that first of all, we are still dealing with the same phenomenon of power, at all times. It evolves, but essentially it stays the same. For it still is that which structures everything, that which is done to regulate the behaviour of peoples. Just in another way. And second, we should get to know this 'another way' by
researching its history to get a clear understanding of it. This perspective may make us see that is does not only produce negative effects. Maybe this would lessen the degree of discordance of the dividual which Lockwood expressed. Hereby I hope to have taken away a small bit of the fear for the phenomenon of technology, in form of having provided an historical context and considerations in regard to changing power relations in cyberspace and the corresponding notion of the body.
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