R. Joshua Scannell, ‘Both a Cyborg and a Goddess: Deep Managerial Time and Informatic Governance’, pp.247-273, in:
Behar, K. (Ed.), 2016. Object-oriented feminism. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
[Referencing Jasbir Puar (2012)]
Affective intensities, distributed bodily information, data trails, teletechnology, all commingle in a constantly productive distribution of posthumanist political modulations that are the target of what Gilles Deleuze identified as “the society of control.”
Puar metonymizes these analytics as goddesses and cyborgs. On the one hand, the reified humanist categories of goddess identity and personhood render a political imagination that exotifies both the sub- jects it seeks to represent and the political systems that oppress them. On the other, the teleological technical determinism of the cyborg easily slips into a sort of pseudo-intellectual “disruptive” solipsism. Surely, she claims, there must be cyborg goddesses in our midst.
It is my contention that a figure with the attributes of the cyborg goddess has emerged, but that it is not human.
The becoming-intersectional assemblage of the cyborg god- dess not only already exists but is in fact an organizing principle of an emerging logic of algorithmic governmentality. Contemporary forms of data-driven governance conjure an improbable intermingling of historically constructed social arrangements (the intersectional) and non- human analysis and prediction that, I argue, construct possible future populations in time scales that are not accessible to human cognition (the cyborg).
Rather than envision contemporary data-driven police practices as an extension of old modes of social organizing, I instead argue that they rely on a novel mode of spatiotemporally organizing populations, which is to say matter—and that in doing so, they conjure new social objects.
I argue that the capacity to process data streams on the scale and with the speed that the NYPD’s system facilitates forces a shift in the tar- get and rationale of governance away from the production and modulation of statistical populations in the biopolitical, humancentric sense of the term (what I call deep managerial time). Instead, big data drives governance toward the maintenance of the efficiency of algorithmic processing as an end in itself.
In hailing this logic as an emergent object, rather than a shift in concepts of governance or a move beyond biopolitics (in other words, as an ontological object rather than an epistemological tactic), I hope to highlight a few points.
First, we should not fetishize the “technological exceptionalism” of our expanding present. In many ways, the big data revolution is a question of scale rather than of kind. These new power configurations do, however, concatenate a certain set of forces that are working on neoliberal biopolitics in uncanny and irreverent ways.
Practitioners of big data have concerned themselves with fine-tuning modes of surveillance in an effort to maximize the capacity of ubiquitous information collection to return on a promise of illuminating occulted social relations.
From this perspective, calculative governance is in an easy continuum with neoliberal financial and security practices. After all, making the most efficient use of “information” and “knowledge” to maximize productivity is a central and transhistorical drive of capitalism.
Big data analytics appear to be little more than an intensification of already existing processes. This includes an obsession with statistical detail, commitment to technocratic solutionism (and a corollary “rejection” of political “ideology”), demobilization of human labor, highly speculative capital investment, and financialization.
However, the quantitative jump in scale and computational capacity that emerges out of neoliberal practice produces a new object of calculative governance. This information-dense cyborg goddess, which emerges in relation to technology but is not the technology itself, warps biopolitical logics and confuses neoliberal governmentality.
Second, governance by algorithm inaugurates a series of practices and dispensation toward the care of the algorithm itself—that algorithmic architectures contain a density that draws labor toward them and that this labor is fundamentally predicated on a governing propulsion that is not “toward” the human but toward the mathematical.
Algorithms are material, are real, and are not human.
Labor and capital are drawn to the care of the mathematical and its infrastructure as a field of vision—as a way to materialize the city for intervention. Rather than use computational capacity to maximize labor power, maximum labor power serves caring for the algorithm.
Third, the contours of neoliberal biopolitics demand a much less individuated subject than is often taken for granted. They have in fact necessitated massive population blocks and stabilized subjectivities as targets of state and economic intrusion.
I call this ontological stabilization of populations deep managerial time. I do so in an effort to push back against a narrative of neoliberalism as an individuating practice that upends coherent space-time, and as a reminder that the violent organization of populations subjected to state violence is an inheritance of plantation capitalism given a technocratic veneer.
The ontological requirements of plantation capitalism’s metamorphosis into neoliberalism demanded a putatively “flexible” human subject in order to mask the essential stability of state violence and capital expropriation, particularly against women, people of color, and queer populations.
Neoliberalism’s critics tended, therefore, to focus on how the human subject was constituted for population management through a focus on destabilizing epistemologies. This theoretical intervention is often bracketed as the linguistic turn.
While neoliberalism still exists, the shift toward algorithmic efficiency as an end in itself suggests that there is a change in the ontological object of governance, in which the “human” ceases to be the desired, massified target and is in fact replaced by the massification of the data trail.
In suggesting this, I do not mean to say that this change has inaugurated a practice of governing that is wholly new in the sense of evaporating intersectional realities of distributions of power and vio- lence. Nor do I want to claim that its effects are phenomenologically novel in the sense that denizens of “smart cities” so much as notice the shift.
The NYPD now pursues a policy of “omnipresence” rather than “stop-question-and-frisk,” but white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is alive and well, and tends to target similar bodies over a longue durée. Intersections and their effects, in other words, are real.
Predictive or inferential sociology uses the logics of deep managerial time to produce populations durable enough to solicit prediction in order to mobilize (often state) resources to act on them. First, a subject must be sufficiently stabilized theoretically to justify its interpellation in a survey with reasonable expectation that the hailed subject recognize herself as such. We might think of Judith Butler’s concept of the citational practices of gender formation as an emblematic example of how this operates.
Then, the population parameters of the interpellated subject must be drawn on a naturalized sociality that, while it is perhaps “constructed,” is always constructed by and for “the human.” In other words, to keep with the example: once gender stabilizes as a definite category of investigation, it serves as a methodological organizing point for comparison against a range of social forces. Inferential sociology might ask, for example, What is the relationship between “women” and “wealth” over a “life course”?
In mapping the datafied subjects onto the social terrain (otherwise known as demography), a population emerges (women) as having a logical trajectory over a space-time that is either heteronormative or in a dialectical relation to heteronormativity (life course).
However, in light of the turn to big data, the methodological tools and epistemological justification for the practice of predictive sociology is eclipsed by a mode of data collection and analysis that does not guess at a future but expands the temporal logic of the present into a mode of capturing possible futures.
[…] patterns circulate, emerge, destabilize, robbing “human” temporality of meaning, reaching for virtual life trajectories actualized in the vanishing present of an algorithmic calculation that is already always disassembling and grasping at new objects.
In proposing prehensive sociology as an alternative to predictive or preemptive, there is also a necessary rejection of the notion that sociology’s role is fundamentally one of demystification. Instead, we should consider sociology as a mode of practice for what Deleuze called developing new weapons.
The fact of the matter is that opening up the black box does not explain social ontologies; it reasserts the supremacy of human ingenuity and capacity (one is tempted to say “mastery”) as the only reasonable mode of explaining the social.
Algorithms are largely made by people, for people, to do mundane tasks that people are not good at doing very fast. But algorithms are also generative social actors that proliferate relations in strange and awkward directions, that allure social objects to them and peel off bizarre qualities into their relational matrices.
I want to follow OOO in arguing, forcefully, that these trails are not traces, nor are they immaterial. They are objects of intervention that are every bit as real, as material, as human beings.
Bodies in this alternative prehensive logic are informational, overflowing, never dead (what does it mean for them to be alive? to whom and subject to what conditions does liveliness register?), never outside production.
The absence of particular modes of embodiment from fields of data collection are powerful informatic present absences just as much as the fully capturable data profiles of the networked and ensconced digital classes. Metadata on where credit cards are not being swiped and quantified selves are not being tracked are just as useful information as the metadata on where they are.
This weird logic renders intersections of oppression as computation errors; debility, disability, genetic inheritance move from organizational operative logics of population management to informational glitches of nonoptimal bodily manifestation.
This is a reformulation of a truth that feminist, queer, antiracist scholarship has known and argued for a long time: that, from the governing perspective of societies of discipline and control, “deviant” bodies have always been computation errors, subject to correction.
It is no surprise that the figure of the cyborg has emerged so forcefully out of feminist posthuman scholarship: the cyborg has always been built through a white supremacist heteropatriarchal logic that holds nonnormative (read: not white, not hetero, not male, not able, not wealthy) bodies as always already being-toward-management.
And, indeed, it is the commonsense understanding that these bodies call out for intervention (in their hysteria, in their ill-discipline, in their disease, in their melancholia, in their skin, in their muscles, in their affects, in their bodies themselves) that undergirds Michel Foucault’s periodization of the trajectory of biopolitics.
[Description of NYPD’s Data Awareness System]
The department argues that if it “knows” where the “criminals” will be, when they will be “there,” and what “crimes” they will commit before the “criminals” do, then the department can proactively prevent them.
“Real time” capacity to process massive streams of seemingly innocuous or unrelated bits of surveillance data will, the logic goes, produce patterns in the space-time and human geography of criminality that will allow police personnel and matériel to be applied with maximum efficiency.
While political critics and activists desperately cite the dignity of the human subject as an agent of free will as a necessary condition for sociality, the prison–industrial complex gleefully does away with this basic pretension of the Enlightenment.
The virtual future here actualizes in the pattern recognition of the expanded present. The distinction between the two blurs, as a new emergent object of datalogical analysis compresses and contorts temporality and embodiment into a strange blur of mystifying sorting systems.
What is simultaneously targeted and conjured is not the human but the patterning of capacities and possibilities distributed over networks of digital surveillance.
On the one hand, this datafication of the social world, in order to be circulated in predictive algorithmic architectures, reflects the aim of apparatuses of security to modulate risk at a distance.
Its distributed sensor systems make the fluxes and flows of the city the raw informatic material from which it can build algorithms that produce isomorphic knowledge of “paths to criminal activity.”
Rather than overwhelming disciplinary police presence, the DAS aims to minimize points of contact between urban municipal apparatus and urban disruption. In neoliberal parlance, this minimization of contact points is called “efficiency.”
The orientation of security away from geographically delimited spatiotemporal structures (discipline) and toward diffuse and minimal population modulation (control) does not imply a reduction in applied force. On the contrary, apparatuses of control depend on the maximal application of force at minimal points of contact to most efficiently mobilize population dynamics toward satisfactory ends. Extreme technical governance is necropolitical.
Depending on one’s political disposition and lived intersectional reality, the DAS often reads as either an important new tool in the quest to build a fairer, smarter, safer city or an Orwellian surveillance dystopia. It is, of course, neither.
DAS does not care about the “you” of flesh and bone. It “cares” about making materiality interestingly mathematical. That is to say, once “the world” is a nebula of informational clusters, the interest of sorting algorithms is to see what sorts of relationships can be mapped and what patterns might emerge.
While neoliberalism has been about the devolution of state apparatuses designed to manage the economy, it has never been about the devolution of the state or the dividuation of populations.
Rather, it has always depended on the formulation of explicit and durable populations that are to be subjected to state violence in the interest- smoothing spaces for the flow of capital.
Always indistinguishable from biopolitics, neoliberalism is, before anything else, a set of tactics and strategies that has human populational (re)productive capacity as its target, and the human security state as its weapon. In the service of this mode of organizational logic, neoliberalism has depended on the deep managerial time of populations, with the human subject as its target.
Deep managerial time demands an ontological separation between what is being measured, the population that measurement produces, and the institutional apparatuses that will then be brought to bear.
Under deep managerial time, the orientation of governance and capital is toward the durable replication and modulation of biopolitical categories. This is to say that the nexus of governmental strategies that underwrote the formation and reproduction of a laboring body politic under industrial and postindustrial capitalism imagined sociality as the terrain of the organic, with the human as the figure on which social logics could be drawn.
In other words, the “human” object that is the target of biopolitical governance is a product of its own tautology—produced by exactly the set of techniques that are designed to measure and collate them into probable futures.
For such systems of power/knowledge to “make sense,” they must commit to time scales that are conceivable and knowable.
Deep managerial time, in its solicitation of rational or reasonable assumptions of the relationship between government, capital, and organism, do the work of mystifying and reinscribing the very force relations that are purportedly the subject of measure.
The violent imposition of heterocapitalist space-time has been a fundamental commitment of neoliberal strategies in governance. Rather than see this as aberrant to individuating and anomic economic structures, we might follow Clyde Woods in pointing out that the violent organization of neoliberalism has inherited its logics from southern “plantation capitalism.”
Neoliberalism has, in other words, always been about the production of spatially static and temporally durable populations delibeately exposed and subjected to systematic state violence. The major distinction is that neoliberalism has historically been articulated and defended in purely technocratic language.
The pursuit of totalized technocracy that is governance-by-algorithm has inaugurated a mode of ontological organization that dissolves deep managerial time. It has provoked a disarticulating movement away from biopolitical orientations toward life and its political constructions, and toward the speculative technical management of a granulated universe of datafied things.
This process has several characteristic features that, borrowing loosely from Deleuze’s concept of the diagram, we can analyze to coordinate an emerging mode of calculative governance whose intensity is such that it has instantiated a quantitative shift in the logics of the arrangement of governance and capital that has provoked a qualitative change in the production and management of populations.
This rests precisely on (rather than in spite of) the apparently diagrammatic character of big data analytics technologies across such disparate fields as financial trading, public security, military, weather prediction, and so forth.
Instead of presuming durability, of organisms, social groups, and institutions, and viewing such durability as epistemologically meaningful and practically desirable, policy based on massive data mining explodes temporality and strobes it.
Histories and historically based policies and policing are transformed into mobile data points. Such analytic systems require understanding capital and community as contagious sets of zeros and ones.
This necropolitical heterotopia rests on the built-in total indifference of computational governance to make ontological distinctions.
[Referring to multimedia as incidental – all digital media have the same form]
This flattening of the material into the digitally transactional extends with smart city systems into the materiality of life itself. Objects may exist, endure, and allure one another, but under the regime of informatics, such temporalities become operational formalities rather than ontological substrates.
Objects are, in other words, only as real as their capacity to be made computational. Bodies are dividuated points of recombinable data, and “humanness” is a slowing modulation of data flow.
[Referring to inverse feedback between data and state action]
Gang injunction sites, by enabling and amplifying state violence, and proliferating incarceration, insanely indicate to technicians of data collection centers that violence as such is dropping.
In such a brutally technical logic of the body politic, the urban poor and mentally ill rot in Rikers Island less because of surplus labor than because of surplus life, because they do not make beautiful math.
With the building computational intensity of DAS, most officers are rendered little more than remote controlled enforcers, with limited autonomy to do more than make arrest numbers and inflict violence. They become the prison-industrial-complex equivalent of Amazon warehouse employees, whose labor is monitored and “maximized” by algorithms.
[…] big data discourses have increasingly adopted a tenor normally reserved for theological considerations.
In its uncanniness, it seems a furious media accessible only through enchanted technological interfaces.
Computers are of course hardware. They are nuts- and-bolts counting machines that are easily demystified. Opening the “black box” and looking at its components can bring the mechanism down to earth, and taking apart the algorithm to see its components can remind us of its banality. And yet what they do is apophatic.
Both techno-theological fever dream and heavily capitalized reality, the quantification of everything manifests itself in increasingly ubiquitous technologies of datafication and digital surveillance, of which the DAS is but one example.
The universe of things is constantly generating data and passing through datafied terrains and conjuring calculated ecologies. The datafication of everything is underpinned by a radical reformulation of liveliness as capacity.
A hallucinatory reworking of the possibilities of the body as a field of intervention or ontological object is achieved by a nearly theological encounter with the possibilities of informatics to draw improbable arrangements of technical, modular populations. I call this operational enchantment of the computational “digital mysticism.”
Not mysticism as metaphor but as an accelerative, iterative logic of power. To the extent that there is much left of a human assemblage to be found here, it is certainly a cyborg goddess.
Acting at a distance, governance probes and prods capital’s queer times and places, importing them into its mutable calculus of security.
By way of conclusion, I propose three sets of problematics that the emergent dynamics of data logic suggest.
1. Datalogic is emergent within neoliberal settlements of capital and governance—specifically the consolidating formation colloquially called “big data.”
2. Datalogic performs a praxis of surfaces. It is nonideological in the hermeneutic sense of the term. It is postideological and postpolitical in a way that neoliberalism never has been.
Whereas neoliberalism’s commitment to deep managerial time presupposed to the ontological stability of a human organism from which to launch the interrogation and production of a polity, datalogic dissolves the organismic into an anorganic analytic of computable relations.
This, on the one hand, works as a political nonpolitics. On the other, in its postpolitical technocracy, it depends on a certain dissolution of the body into matrices of analytics and control.
I suggest that we might understand this process as a shift away from the mode of “encounter” in which the body “encounters” the technical or the technological in order to “be” digitized. Instead, under a consolidating mode of informatic production, the body emerges as an onto-epistemological coproduction with data. The “body” stabilizes as a function of human-indifferent techniques of measurement, an ontological haunting of data clouds.
3. Datalogic rests on a biomediated necropolitical logic. Hege- monic techniques of government cannot reduce everything to zeros and ones without an ontology that does not particularly concern itself with the art of distinguishing between life and nonlife. These systems are fundamentally agnostic to the organism.
If life becomes lively only in its capacity to modulate a data set, death becomes just another technical input. Whereas bio-politics, in its own twisted way, is about maximizing life potentials and capacities, this mode of governmentality is about maximizing the algorithmic efficiency of data analysis.