From XPUB & Lens-Based wiki

(group: Lídia, Tamas and Chen)


There’s a debate going on whether the Internet has become a totalitarian state, which we should fear given the information it holds about us. According to one of the many narratives today about this subject matter, we shouldn’t be worried about this power being used against us, because the good guys are in charge - liberal democracy saves us from state control. The problem only begins if this powers falls into the wrong hands. However, are they really good guys? Doesn’t the whole concept of surveillance devices completely obliterate the whole control-for-altruistic-reasons (if there really is such a possibility) discourse? But this is not a surveillance state, it is something else. This is what we might call participatory surveillance or participatory capitalism. What this means is that we become performing, we make ourselves visible with our online personas, making our data available to the market economy. And this is one of the reasons why in his article “The Internet is Not a Surveillance State”, B. Gottlieb argues that “the qualms one has about permitting unmitigated and unmonitored access to one’s social life are discounted as a mere inconvenience one must endure so that the machines can “serve us better”.The state likewise asks us to put up with the invasion of privacy in order to provide us with such things as “security” and “democracy”.”

And here we might introduce the concept of panopticism (Michel Foucault): we have internalized the surveillance system, we both participate in and contribute to it. But, according to Gilles Deleuze, we no longer live in a disciplinary society where individuals move from one enclosed space to another (e.g. school, military, prison and factories, which have very clear and obvious power structures, so anyone within such a structure knows where they stand, who has power over them, and their behavior will be influenced by knowledge of and participation within the structure - these institutions reform the subject). The paradigm has shifted towards a control society, in which these places are no longer independent molds ( albeit sharing a common language), controlled by a distinguishable power (either state or private), but a vast and continuous modulation network, where all spaces merge, coded by the needs of a mutable market.


“The success of disciplinary power derives no doubt from the use of simple instruments; hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement and their combination in a procedure that is specific to it, the examination.” (Foucault, 1975)

The Panopticon is a very important concept for the surveillance era and it consists of a round physical structure: in the middle there’s a man on a tower who watches everything, making people behave because this they are being monitored. This happens because people start internalizing this surveilled behavior, which contributes to subject formation. From a utilitarian point of view this is aimed at making us more efficient, so that this subject normalization is perceived as being in our best interest. In order to better participate in society we should reform ourselves, The Panopticon, then, provides a paradigm for power and disciplined behavior.

“Thanks to the techniques of surveillance, the ‘physics’ of power, the hold over the body, operate according to the laws of optics and mechanics, according to a whole play of spaces, lines, screens, beams, degrees and without recourse, in principle at least, to excess, force or violence. It is a power that seems all the less ‘corporal’ in that it is more subtly ‘physical’” (Foucault, 1975)

During the classical age (XVII/XVIII centuries), the body was a subject of power through punishment. Behavior was modified by punishing subjects who exhibit “incorrect” behaviors. In the modern age, the body is trained, transformed. The more you (as a subject) invest in this transformation, the more you fall into these norms, the more you are rewarded (usually in the form of greater efficiency at navigating the structures you live in). The disciplinary system works through space and time codes, routines which shape subjectivity and determine ranking. The concept of biopower refers to this distribution of bodies in space and time. Discipline societies encourage their subjects to become docile. The more docile you are and the more you allow society to train you in a particular manner, the less resistance you will encounter from your environment. Punishment, or disciplining, in a disciplinary society is not intended just to correct people for their sins, losing its expiatory value, but primarily to discourage inefficient behavior--to train subjects to fit into the society better, exercise in order to correct. Disciplinary Societies are possible regardless of the political structure they exist in. A disciplinary society is possible in democracies, monarchies, etc. In all cases, power is distributed.

The Means of Correct Training in a Disciplinary Society

1) Hierarchical Observation
2) Normalizing judgement
3) Examination- Classify, qualify, punish and diagnose

In the later years of his life, Foucault introduced the concept of governmentality, which allows for governing from a distance. We don’t need big brother anymore because power is distributed, and we have internalized the values and goals of our government. We enforce many rules on ourselves.

Photography as a means of normalization

Photography allows for normalization as a means of quantifying data about human form and appearance. Once we can document the appearance of a group of people, we can classify others by their appearance. On the other hand, individuals who display particularly high efficiency at an activity which can be photographed can also be used to measure others against, to evaluate how well they excel at various activities.

This mechanism fits well in the category of examination, which works towards the construction of a economy of visibility. This means that the subjects have to be constantly seen, allowing for power to be mantained. It is this constant visibility that permits individual subjection.

Muybridge was a photographer who made many studies of human motion. For example, a series of photographs documenting the way in which someone walked or ran. This could be seen as a means of normalization since a given walk could now be analyzed and determined to be “normal” or “abnormal.” For example, from one of Muybridge’s studies on the running method of an athlete another man once attempted to replicate the athlete’s style by studying the photos and mimicking the movements of the athlete. This is another example of normalization working in favor of efficiency.

Foucault and the Individual

“The disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that designates the individual, and the number or administrative numeration that indicates his or her position within a mass. This is because the disciplines never saw any incompatibility between these two, and because at the same time power individualizes and masses together, that is, constitutes those over whom it exercises power into a body and molds the individuality of each member of that body.” (Deleuze, 1992)

Power is distributed over a series of mechanisms, which create subjects. What is social construction? Are we constructed by the system, opposed to being Cartesian subjects (“ I think, therefore I am”)? Where is the individual in this disciplinary system? If we are a product of the system,where is our own self? As stated before, individuals are programmed into giving up on subjectivity for their own interest. Individuals are discouraged by disciplinary systems. To function at maximum efficiency in a disciplinary society you must give up individuality, to allow yourself to be formed by the systems you live in. People who resist discipline may have their individuality, but they will have a hard time functioning in a disciplinary society. If the crime of a disciplinary society is to go against efficiency, then people who value their own individuality are criminals.


“The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous.” (Deleuze, 1992)

When people are all at the same place,they’re easier to control. Deleuze asks about the displacement of this power, the prosaic material control, the idea of a “free floating control” which transposes the idea of a confined space.

We have a regime of discipline similar to the one described by Foucault. What happens when space is no longer a rule? What should we do then to keep the power structures? We move on to controlling access to and the flow of information. Such control is defined by codes. This includes information for which controlled access is in our benefit (requiring a PIN at the ATM or a username/password for your computer) but also information which can be detrimental to an individual when it controlled by another agent (such as the news, or documents detailing the processes by which surveillance is carried out on citizens). In all cases, this control is enacted for the benefit of the system as a whole, not for the benefit of the individual. This leads to a society of control, representing a paradigm shift from a disciplinary society. This difference resides also in the decentralization of power. The all-seeing-eye is disembodied, the database and encoding provide the means for surveillance. The discourse of encoding shapes us, it is part of the discipline system. The discourse of encoding shapes us, it is part of the discipline system. By adding layers of abstraction and opaqueness, the database becomes the organizational system.

“...but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within.” (Deleuze, 1992)

More than a semantic link between economy and our participation in that economy. How do we supply it? We perform, we become commodities, we sell ourselves. Increasingly, we contribute more to the economy (entrepreneurship).

“Behind the label of the independent "self-employed" worker, what we actually find is an intellectual proletarian, but who is recognized as such only by the employers who exploit him or her.” (Lazzarato, 1996)

“This is no longer a capitalism for production but for the product, which is to say, for being sold or marketed.” (Deleuze, 1992)

This sale of the self is marked in two ways: First, in a shift from simply selling your manual labor in exchange for a paycheck to now needing to “market yourself” to a potential employer as an individual. They now want to know if you’re a good fit for the company, what your values are, etc. This can lead to a blurring of the line between work and personal time as employers are continually looking for more and more information about individuals. And second, in the sale of your personal data in exchange for services like Facebook, GMail, etc. Whereas in a Fordist society it was our workforce that we had to sell to the factory, now it’s our data which produces surplus value for the corporation.

In conclusion, we are now living in a control society, and while many disciplinary structures remain (the military, the prison, the school, etc.), these are all migrating toward control structures. In our opinion, there’s no discontinuity between disciplinary and control societies, because we can still perceive some of the former’s mechanisms in the way the latter is being implemented. There is a continuum from pure disciplinary structures, which require a physical space to exist in, and pure control structures which do not. We see many disciplinary structures in our modern society which have adopted advanced means of control that rely on non-physical mechanisms (e.g. network traffic filtering in schools), so it’s unlikely that we will ever be left with no disciplinary structures even as they tend to adopt more and more modern means of control.

Possible things to look at:

"The Internet is not a Surveillance State", B. Gottlieb

"State Capitalism in the Information Age", B.Gottlieb

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein (Key aspects: personality regression through shock therapy, erasing history and memory to reconstruct from the zero. Kubark manuals. State of susceptibility and cooperation induced by shock. Milton Friedman and the economic shock therapy - the spread of neoliberalist ideals being possible because of shocks, emergencies and crisis (Chile, Argentina, etc.))