Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Foucault on Wireless Networks (for Kat)

To Kat, who is thinking about wireless networks, a thought, to be treated carelessly:

I don't know your feelings about Foucault—I'm thinking here mainly of the Foucault of the Disciplines, esp. Discipline and Punish. Here, he's describing a historical mode of power, carried within and propagated by particular disciplines (e.g. psychiatry, psychology, criminology, pedagogy, etc.) and directed at the individual and the individual's body as the mobile point of contact between power and society. This target of disciplinarity, the individual, is key, and is what got me thinking about wireless networks, which also seem to focus on the individual (I'm not sure what modes of generality, or grouping, wireless networks engender. Are they networks or societies or communities or populations?).

So, a facet of disciplinary power is that it is very careful about the way it distributes and organises bodies in space. The classroom, with its ordered grid, is one of F's favorite examples. But also: the prison, the military march, the hospital, the factory—and I'd add, now: the office cubicle and (my point here) wired and wireless networks, all seem to me to be methods—architectural or social or institutional or technological—for arranging and administering (disciplining) bodies in space (there are different methods for ordering bodies in time, e.g. course schedules).

And so I'm thinking about computer networks as spatially-ordering disciplinary tactics in this way (although maybe not always only disciplinary). And once you start thinking in that direction, then the shift from wired to wireless networks starts to look interesting for the ways in which it re-orders bodies. Perhaps still governed by disciplinarity, perhaps not. That would be something to be investigated: but the question/method remains: how do re-configured networks re-configure bodies in space, in relation to other bodies and to buildings and to things and etc., and what are the effects of this re-configuration, what consequences does it have for the operations of (what Foucault always calls, vaguely, but importantly) power? Put that way, it will probably sound a lot like questions you're already asking. To which I'd say (if you're at all captured by this approach), if you're not familiar with it, take a look at some Foucault. Maybe start with Disc and Punish, and then move to the stuff on biopower, which he formulated as a new mode of power, differently organized than disciplinarity, organized around populations rather than bodies/individuals, concerned with regulation rather than discipline, but often collusive and co-extensive with disciplinarity. Both modes seem to operate in our current world, and perhaps both are relevant to wireless networks. Or maybe wireless networks are a kind of pivot. This would be the question.

There must be someone who has written on this. I don't know who.