Dividual

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"dividual"—a physically embodied human subject that is endlessly divisible and reducible to data representations via the modern technologies of control, like computer-based systems. (http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/1_1/williams.html)

Description

"A prolific social theorist and philosopher, Gilles Deleuze sought new ways to theorize the potential for emancipation in an epoch where neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie were the historical agents of liberation (see Patton 2001). In his short, suggestive essay, "Postscript on the Societies of Control," Deleuze sets forth his analysis of how we are controlled by technologies (Deleuze 1992). He continues Michel Foucault's project begun in such works as Discipline and Punish (Foucault 1978). Foucault's disciplinary societies employed technologies, like factory assembly lines or hospital organizational structures, that physically placed people in time and space. By so doing, such institutional arrangements controlled their people. With reference to the panopticon, an architecture of surveillance discussed by Jeremy Bentham, Foucault wrote:


Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. [....] So [with the panopticon] it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of the regulations. [....] He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. (Foucault 1978: III.3)

Such an embodied practice of the disciplinary societies was reinforced in everyday life via what Foucault termed panopticism (Foucault 1980). He held that many people tend to conform to hegemonic norms in their everyday activities and relationships because of the interiorization of such norms via the presence of the gaze. Deleuze argued that the technologies of disciplinary societies are being replaced with technology of a decidedly different type. Close-circuit television (CCTV) and computer monitoring software "scrutinize" our movements and interactions with others and with numerous electronic network interfaces (see also Lyon 1994). Other cases can be offered: the monitoring of computer use and key strokes in the workplace, the CCTV surveillance of traffic infractions, and the spy satellites which orbit the earth. Even Hollywood movies like "Enemy of the State" depict the use and abuse of technologies of control. Such technologies can permit or deny entry through access points, as well as allow or disallow financial transactions at automated teller machines. Wrote Deleuze:


The conception of a control mechanism, giving the position of any element within an open environment at any given instant (whether animal in a reserve or human in a corporation, as with an electronic collar), is not necessarily one of science fiction. Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one's apartment, one's street, one's neighborhood, thanks to one's (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person's position—licit or illicit—and effects a universal modulation. (Deleuze 1992: section 3)

Technologies that open closed doors for us can just as easily keep them shut. Freedom and repression emanate from the same machines. For Deleuze, the data gathered on us through the new technologies did not necessarily manifest our irreducible uniqueness. Rather, the very way that the data can be gathered about us and then used for and against us marks us as dividuals. Deleuze wrote (1992): "The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. [....] Individuals have become 'dividuals' and masses [have become] samples, data, markets, or 'banks.'" For Deleuze, such technologies indicate that we as discrete selves are not in-divisible entities; on the contrary, we can be divided and subdivided endlessly. What starts as particular information about specific people—our selves—can be separated from us and recombined in new ways outside of our control. Such "recombinations" are based on the criteria deemed salient by those with access to the information, be they government officials or corporate marketeers. We live now, Deleuze held, within societies of control. How can we be deemed individual (in its irreducible and autonomous sense of agency) when we are divided into those with and without access. The very notion of individuality itself implies that actors are not only entitled to, but also capable of, effecting their will on the world. Access to resources—and the material social relations that are implicated therein—is thus the prerequisite for the practices and Western philosophical discourses that constitute the core an individual. Indeed, the early thinkers in the social contract tradition (like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke) considered in varying ways how the survival of embodied selves in a hypothetical state of nature faced dangers insofar as a government did not secure the rights of property deemed so basic to the existence of individuality in the first place." (http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/1_1/williams.html)


More Information

The full essay from which the above is excerpted:

Politics and Self in the Age of Digital Re(pro)ducibility. Robert W. Williams

URL = http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/1_1/williams.html

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