With devices nearly always in hand, “on,” and connected, we have become increasingly accustomed to being on-grid and locatable. We rarely acknowledge the streams of data we proliferate on a daily basis. We text, we tweet, we Instagram, we Facebook, we email; and we readily announce our location by these means. In the process, we fail to recognize our implication in a mode of governance that utilizes pervasive tracking in order to make the habits of populations predictable and thereby manageable.
In teaching a course on surveillance, I challenge students to interrogate how their everyday media habits serve a biopolitical project of population management. At the same time, I ask them to consider how thinking about their relations with and through their devices might result in new habits of awareness that reveal a subtly altered relation to the status quo. In this regard, we follow Michel Foucault’s shift in focus from institutions, power, and architectures of truth to the problem of ethos, or practice of living (“On the Genealogy of Morals”).
In “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self. Two Lectures at Dartmouth,” Foucault advocates for a way of living that pursues a “politics of ourselves” (223). Such a style or manner of living cultivates a creative relation not only to oneself but also to a population. In this way, he encourages us to stimulate within a community of individuals a sensitivity to shared habits and tendencies as opposed to the shared deliberations emphasized by the liberal democratic notion of citizen-individuals. Ultimately, he suggests how such practices, or habits, morph in relation to a likewise ever-evolving context.
During the course of this semester, students have heeded Foucault’s call. They have confronted surveillance head-on. They have negotiated, in both theoretical and concrete terms, the ways in which surveillance—and governance more broadly—establishes conditions of possibility for living in the mobile, connected present. They have demonstrated the capacity to think toward an awareness of, or sensitivity to, what tends to remain status quo for many of us. Their efforts are to be applauded, their insights appreciated. My thanks to the students who joined me on this venture.
Foucault, Michel. “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self. Two Lectures at Dartmouth.” Political Theory 12.2 (May 1993): 198-227.
Foucault, Michel. “On the Genealogy of Morals: An Overview of Work in Progress.” The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: New Press, 1997. 253-280.