Andre castro/research/1.3/annotation Poster Foucault&Databases

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Mark Poster Foucault and Databases

Mark Poster dedicates this chapter to describing the participatory surveillance discourse in the current mode of information and its chief element, the database. Taking as a module Foucault's analysis of the Panoptical discourse in order to depict its structure of domination, Poster exposes how the current practices of surveillance jointly to form the Superpanoticon.


Poster argues that this new form of domination, heavily mediated by technology, is not constituted through acts, but rather through language formations, through a manipulation of symbols. (p.87)

[get a better understanding; rather than acting upon individual, the database, because of its structure, manipulates symbols (segments of information) to form a picture of the individual?]

Regulations in a capitalist society are not imposed through the brute force - language formations -, but through a constant monitoring of citizens' daily life. This process allows for their constant adjustment to the norm. 'Nominal freedom of action is canceled by the ubiquitous look of the other'(p.91). In this way the discourse of the Panopticon is replicated in all directions the "ubiquitous look of the other" can see.


Nineteenth century panoptical surveillance was only effective due to a systematic recording of the subjects behavior. Today the same is true, but the database has made this recording constant. At every step, either by using our credit card, a school card, browsing an online shop or writing a email, our movements become registered on databases. We are 'at once the source of information and the recorder of the information'(p.93).


Poster argues that due to the way in which the database organizes information it 'imposes a strong reading on it'. And such reading is imposed by (1) a segmentation of information into categories and fields; (2) the possibility to create relationships (a grammar) between segments of information that do not exist outside the database; (3) its efficiency, which allows huge mounts of data to be searched and relations to be created within seconds.


Not only is the individual singularity reduced to a set of data segments, but also is his portrait formed from relations often only existent within the database, plus, the efficiency of the database exponentiates the consequences of its own form.


'the population participates in its own self-constitution as subjects of the normalizing gaze of the Superpanopticon.' (p.97)

[Similarly to the way social media crowd-sources their contents, so is surveillance crowed-sourced. All it is needed is  a database's infrastructure that allow the storage, indexation, and relation of our movements, we are the content generators, who do all the work for free (both creative and surveillance). 	


  • database as seen as additional self

The database base is seen by the individual as forming another individual, an entity formed according to the database knowledge about him, and against who actions are taken, not again the real self, therefore he - the flesh and bone individual - is safe.

[Question #1: Why does this doubling happens? what part of the discourse allow for it to happen?
[Question #2: If he has to pay a bill for something he wasn't responsible for (tax anecdote in my house), but because the database has an error, doesn't he feel that the database is acting upon him, the flesh-and-bones individual??



Interesting quotations:

'We see databases not as an invasion of privacy, ... but as as the multiplication of the individual, the constitution of an additional self, one that might be acted upon to the detriment of the "real" self without that "real" self ever being aware if what is happening '(p.91)



As the discourse of the Panopticon made possible to control the masses for the industrial process (industrial revolution?), so the did the discourse of the databases - the Superpanoticon - in the current postindustrial mode of information.


Foucault:'the methods for administering the accumulation of men made possible a political take-off in relation to the traditional, ritual, costly, violent forms of power, which soon fell into disuse and were suppressed by a subtle, calculated technology of subjection'(Discipline and Punishment pp: 201-202

'One may speak of the reorganization of daily life from the 1920s onwards in which individuals are constituted as consumers and as participants in the disciplining and surveillance of themselves as consumers'(p.93) >> ADAM CURTIS - The Century of the Self

'In capitalist society, regulation takes the form of discourses/practices that produce and reproduce the norm'(p.91)


  • Discursive truth: 'we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth'
  • the cybernetic database - 'In the home networking information loop, one database (product information) generates another database (consumer information) which generates another database(demand information) which feeds the production process. ... [P]roducers have databases about consumers which are themselves commodities that may be sold to other producers'(p.75)