In this comparative text a basis for understanding performance as an agency of power is introduced in order to look at how online identities and avatars reflect this formation. In “Perform or Else” Jon McKenzie presents how a model of governance and control is mediated through various interpretations of the term ‘performance’ in society. Geert Lovink’s “Networks Without a Cause: A Critique of Social Media” present different essays on the social and political affects of networked culture, the chapter “Facebook, Anonyminity, And The Crisis Of The Multiple Self” reflects on how the performance of self has changed through digital culture and networked communication platforms / devices. By presenting these texts alongside each other I hope to display how the performance of the self within online communities has become a disciplinary register for the formation of power.
In the chapter “Discipline & Perform” McKenzie deconstructs an image from Forbes magazine front cover (dated Jan 1994) that is accompanied by the slogan that became the title of the book; “Perform or Else”. The text is accompanied by a extreme close up of a businessman’s head, neck and shoulders being wrapped by a cane or umbrella - apparently about to be pulled into action by another person. Although the magazine is a compilation of annual business reports it highlights the expanded appropriation of the term ‘performance’ that McKenzie categorizes to 3 different chapters of the book “Performance Management, Performance Studies & Techno-performance”. McKenzie continues to dissect the image to present an anatomy of knowledge circulation that is prescribed through a certain reading of text and image. McKenzie adapts the analytical readings of images and text presented by Michel Foucault in ‘This is not a pipe’, where juxtaposed elements combine to produce active formations of new knowledge. The non – relation or forced co-habitation between the image and the text in the Forbes cover combine to produce an instructional order (or an object of Knowledge in McKenzie’s terms) for the reader.
Michel Foucault is brought into McKenzie’s chapter at this point to contextualize the theoretical background for his argument throughout “Perform or Else”. Foucault’s “Discipline & Punish” (1975) establishes a reading of power formation during 17th and 18th Century Europe that disciplines subjects through time and space codes. The famous example of an archetypal space code is Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican; a design for penitentiaries that creates a system for hierarchal mass surveillance of the individual. To have an understanding of how ontologies of power can be operated through time and space codes forms the basis for understanding how performance is an apparatus for governance the 21st century.
"Performance will be in the twentieth and twenty first century what discipline was to the eighteenth and nineteenth, that is, an onto-historical formation of power and knowledge" (pg 18, McKenzie)
Although the performance stratum is built upon previous knowledge and power forces (Disciplinary society) McKenzie locates its origins in western cold war ideology and its prominence in globalized capitalism.
Like Discipline, performance produces objects of knowledge through encounters with the its coded systems. However the knowledge produced is different to the one created through the mass surveillance of the panoptican. While the disciplinary society operated through a system of repression, the performance power stratum proliferates through desire. This desire modulates encounters with the thresholds and limits of competing systems of power at play. Through performance disciplinary frameworks can be expanded and applied to every aspect of daily life.
"The geopolitical, economic, and technological transformations associated with the performance stratum give insight to the formation of its fractal subjects" (pg 18, Mckenzie)
The performing subject is a de-centered self where the internalized surveillance of the past 100 years of mass observation is fragmented into networked coded systems that create a regime of power and control. Although McKenzie does not explicitly mention Deleuze an association between the ‘performance stratum’ and ‘postscript on societies of control’ can be made, where Facoult’s identification of power formation through time and space codes are expanded into networked, globalised contexts. Although Facoult’s ‘Discaplinary society’ and Deleuze’s ‘Society of Control’ operate simultaneously they can be distinguished, one is sedimentary and rigid, based on physical space while the other is flexible, networked and its temporalities are polyrhythmic rather than non linear.
To briefly summarize this chapter, McKenzie introduces the ‘performance stratum’ as ontology of power that likes the workings of Foucault’s Disciplinary society produces new knowledge through the subject’s interactions with its coded systems. Understanding performance as a numerical spectrum that expands disciplinary mechanisms identified by Facoult within registered time codes. The mechanics of the performance stratum are expanded from physical time and space codes to networked interfaces that regulate and enhance individual efficiency. In the next section I would like to look at how the presentation of self in online culture is anchored to an understanding of performance as a discipline of power.
In “Facebook, Anonymity, And The Crisis Of The Multiple Self” Lovink indentifies the shift in online communication due to the principles of web 2.0. That has lead to an identity based upon self-discovery to one of self-promotion. The increasingly public nature of communication services such as Facebook, Twitter, Et all have made having a performative identity of vital importance in order to survive. Increasing pressure to ‘be ourselves’ with single user identity policies from Google, Facebook etc force the subject to perform an interpretation of our selves that has become increasingly distorted and unstable as our understanding of self is immediately fractured onto multiple representations of the self online.
To understand the effect of single online identities Lovink looks to 90s cyberculture, where multiple online identities were celebrated by theorists like Sheryl Turkle because through anonymous multiple identities the individual was liberated to explore their sense of self more freely. The attitude that there was no true self, just an endless series of interchangeable masks allowed online performance to be an act of discovery like the process of theatre (…). The freedom to perform as other identities was actively damaged at the turn of the millennium with the financial crisis and the 9/11 attacks. Internet culture was aligned to enforce national security agendas where the war on terrorism would be fought through extending mass surveillance to online culture. Single identities were the building blocks for an ideology of trust that helped build the “Walled Garden’ services that dominate the Internet today.
Lovink continues to argue that the public pressure to refrain from anonymity cannot be countered without a better understanding of ‘self management’ that is required to participate modern capitalist society. According to sociologist Eva Illouz, the dissolve between public and private self is reflective of the commodification of emotional culture; as social relation becomes labor in the service economy. We knowingly present appropriated interpretations of ourselves that are more competitive in a capitalist economy as part of our role in the postindustrial information society. Your online profiles are built towards a performance of yourself as a homo-economicus – a subject or unit of the production of labor.
This leads to a forced performance of the self that Lovink terms “The Religion of The Positive”. Digital services are built to reward positive and optimistic attitudes, so the representation of self becomes configured towards capital production and maximized economic functionality. Because of the dominant nature of Google & Facebook and their single user policies our daily communication has transcended into a performative act of economic competition. If an understanding of self is gained through online communication then the current services discipline an exploration of self that is strictly based upon economic performance.
The change in protocols in digital communication and specifically online identity become an agency to govern through the performance of the subject. In ‘Perform or Else’ McKenzie investigates how performing has become an apparatus of power in social, political and economic environments. Lovink presents how online culture celebrated performing anonymously or as detached avatars to the current economically driven single identity performance in web 2.0. networks. Web2.0. single use policies regulate the same process of self discovery that we witnessed in performative cyberculture but the individuality discovered through this process is measured and understood through economic systems.