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Surveillance, Discipline and The Society of Control.

The public reaction to the documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealing the extent of state surveillance in May 2013 in UK and America is to question how such an extensive surveillance program can be driven without an evil dictator at the wheel? The “nineteen eighty four ‘narrative that journalists attempt to throw over the revelations seem to disregard the state of control and surveillance that is easily operated through a moral code of social discipline and computational systems. The self disciplined order of western society and the public networked communication of the information age are systematically built to exercise this level of surveillance without their being any ‘bad guys’. In this short text I will summarise three extracts that go someway to understanding how such a successful state organised surveillance system can be successfully normalised without a cunning espionage or evil dictator. , ‘Crime and punishment’ (Foucault, 1975), ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’(Deleuze, 1992) and ‘Masters of Reality’ (Rushton, 2012).

In “Discipline and Punish” Foucault presents how the training of discipline utilizes the body to sustain power.

‘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, pg 170)

The three instruments Foucault defines implement a social order that facilitate and maintain order, the human then becomes trained to discipline themselves in a correct way through these social instruments.

Normalized judgement Before the 17th century in sovereign countries the body was disciplined by sacrifice, punishments were executed by mutilation of the body; the human form was a docile object that could not be corrected. The introduction of penitentiaries present a different model of human discipline, that through redemption and long-term suffering the individual could be corrected. The term penitentiary is derived from ‘penance’; ‘A voluntary self- punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong’. The act of penance is a disciplinary procedure to adhere to a normalized moral judgment. The self now internalizes discipline; a duty to behave in a correct way is established and can become achieved by training and reformation.

Hierarchal observation Hierarchal observation is then motivates individuals to maintain a normalized judgment and stay within a social discipline. Jeremy Bentham's architectural designs of the panopticon demonstrate how to create a sense of surveillance on society so that the disciplined individual would continue to behave accordingly;


“The Perfect disciplinary apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly”… “A perfect eye that nothing would escape and a centre towards which all gazes would be turned” ((Foucault, 1975, pg 173)


“For a long time ordinary individuality – the everyday individuality of everybody - remained below the threshold of description.”((Foucault, 1975, pg 191)

By describing the human body for health examination averages can be formed, at normalized judgment established and a disciplinary social code of conduct maintained. We now measure our weight against a mass body index, through describing our observations of each other a record of averages can be documented.

The Society of discipline is achieved through an internalized understanding of normalized judgment that is enforced by hierarchal observation and examination. A productive, efficient society is maintained via interactions with space and time codes that regulate this disciplinary order. Schools, military bases, academies, all government offices are space codes that proscribe a disciplined order that is achieved through an efficiency of the self.

In ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ Derrida amends Foucault’s ‘Society of Discipline’ to networked information age where power is now modulated through coded systems.

“In the Societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number but a code: the code is a password” (Deleuze, pg5, 1992)

The individual now carries the codes that grant them access to services that regulate power hierarchy through networked services.

“The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information” (Deleuze, pg5, 1992)

Everytime a password is required for access a disciplinary mechanism of control is activated to maintain the dominant powers in society. It is important to note that the society of control is an expansion of the disciplinary instruments defined by Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish’, that the same instruments to maintain power have been modulated into a socio technical age. The codes that constitute the infrastructure of the information age are systematically regulated and programmed for the user to operate in the same disciplines identified by Foucault. In ‘Foucault and Databases’ (1990) Mark Poster defines the ‘super panopticon’ an infrastructure that serves the same hierarchal observation of the panopticon through the networked digital systems that the individual exchanges data. We enter into coded agreements every time we share something, communicate with friends or buy products from online services. The normalizing of judgment is apparent in every profile and status created by the active subject, who

‘Is no longer a docile body but a body that performs in the database'’(Poster, pg 91)

The active subject’s performance of the self has thus lead to a ‘participatory surveillance’; individuals now examine each other with social networks where a normalized judgment can be maintained through observation. We are now all eyes in the super- panopticon, participatory surveillance allows individuals to manage a collective social discipline that requires no evil dictator to spy on us because power is distributed through controlling the flow of information.

Max Dovey