Academic journal article New Formations

The Chronic Social: Relations of Control within and without Neoliberalism

Academic journal article New Formations

The Chronic Social: Relations of Control within and without Neoliberalism

Article excerpt

When it is complete, the Hudson Yards real estate development on the West side of Manhattan will be the largest construction project on the island since the Rockefeller Centre. It will consist of sixteen new skyscrapers, containing office space, around 5000 apartments, retail space and a school. Thanks to an alliance between the New York City government and New York University named CUSb it will also be a vast laboratory for the study of community relations and social behaviour. Possibilities for data collection will be anticipated at the outset, and built into the design of this urban environment. CUSP expect to collect data on pedestrian flows, street traffic, air quality, energy use, waste disposal, recycling, and health and activity levels of workers and residents. Residents will also be invited to opt in to more intrusive forms of surveillance, using their smart-phones and homes. CUSP refers to this as a study in 'quantified community'.

Yet the question of why so much data is to be collected may be of secondary concern, resting on a misunderstanding of the politics and epistemology of urban informatics and contemporary 'Big Data'. The use or benefit of quantified community is deemed to emerge only after the surveillance is under way. The President of the real estate company building Hudson Yards has said, 'I don't know what the applications might be ... But I do know that you can't do it without the data'. (1) Within this epistemology, theoretical presuppositions and hypotheses can allegedly be abandoned, along with notions of causality, in favour of blanket surveillance of everyday life, out of which new social scientific discoveries will somehow emerge. (2) The Director of CUSP a physicist by training, has stated that 'disciplines will merge as a result of the data'. In place of the methodological a priori of rival social sciences, surveillance allows for a behaviourist agnosticism and algorithmic pattern spotting. Once they are 'merged', disciplines will cease to be disciplines of profession, and become functions of software: norms of automated data analysis, rather than norms of expert conduct.

Few things demonstrate the prescience of Deleuze's 1990 article, 'Postscript on the Societies of Control', as well as urban informatics. This case of technopolitics exiting 'spaces of enclosure' and flooding open spaces and networks offers an acute confirmation of the shift from 'societies of discipline' to 'societies of control' which he saw underway. Indeed, he notes that his coauthor Felix Guattari:

   ... has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one's
   apartment, one's street, one's neighbourhood, thanks to one's
   (individual) 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. (3)

The concept and construction of the 'smart city' has been driven by corporations such as IBM, in alliance with city governments, facilitated by the necessarily public-private collaborations already established for purposes of 'e-government' projects. (4)

Technologies and techniques of 'control' can be dated back to the rise of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century, when material goods first started to travel faster than people.5 They were refined by corporations, as Deleuze notes, and are now being externalized by those same corporations for profit, often with assistance from state agencies. Behavioural experimentation and management which first occurred within the confines of the corporation (or towards specifically targeted consumer groups) can now be carried out across large communities, as news of the controversial Facebook mood experiment testified. (6)

Where Deleuze's article is perhaps even more pertinent is in anticipating some of the central characteristics of the epistemology and politics of contemporary data analytics. …

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