"It's easy to set up a correspondence between any society and some kind of machine, which isn't to say that their machines determine different kinds of society but that they express the social forms capable of producing them and making use of them."
Gilles Deleuze in Negotiations
What theoretical connections can be established between our human behavior, interpersonal relationships, subjectivity and social institutions on the one hand, and present and future technologies of all kinds on the other? This text explores some connections theoreticians and artists can possibly make between the social and the technological. In order to start exploring, society needs to be thought of as an open system whose state is partly defined by the presence of economical, political, legal, scientific, aesthetic, technological and religious processes, or flows. These flows, though, aren't the utmost defining entities within the system. A short examination of the work, thoughts and perspectives of two speakers at the DEAF04 symposium.
Alexander R. Galloway's latest work Protocol: How control exists after decentralization reflects his scholarly interests in computer networks, new media art, critical theory and digital media and -software and can thus be thought of as a piece of critical media theory. Being a critical media theory, Protocol resonates the normative theories of Karl Marx (analysis of capitalist production technology in relation to the proletariat) and the work of The Frankfurter Schule (i.e. Walter Benjamin's rejection of the mechanical reproduction of works of art). Consequentially, the connection between the social and the technological as established by Galloway relates to similar connections established in the theories mentioned above.
One of the main points in Protocol is that we need to revise our ideas about the social organization of society. Galloway argues that previous types of societal organization, or, after Gilles Deleuze, 'diagrams', are no longer accurate in describing the interlinkedness of entities within society and, subsequently, its systemic flows. To provide an alternative diagram, Galloway examines the older diagrams. He first describes the diagram of centralized networks, a diagram corresponding to the sovereign society that maintained a hierarchical management style. In this type of network, all nodes are only connected to the central hub, which explains the hierarchical management style. The second diagram is the diagram of decentralized networks that incorporates the idea of a disciplinary society, managing society through the apparatus of bureaucracy. In a decentralized network, several decentralized hubs are interconnected to which all nodes are connected. Again, the nodes themselves are not connected. In Protocol, Galloway extends this line of thought and introduces the diagram of distributive networks that represents the control society in which the protocol is the management style of societal flows. In distributive networks, both the central and decentralized hub disappear and all the remaining nodes are interconnected.
For this part of the theoretical framework, Galloway thrives on two specific accounts written by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. The accounts respectively deal with 'control societies' and 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham's panopticon. For the purposes of this text, it suffices to state that Foucault proposed the internal logic of the panopticon as an important quality of the management of societal processes in disciplinary societies. Or more generally formulated, the logic behind a specific technology is being used to describe societal features. Starting from Deleuze's ideas about control societies, Galloway connects in a Foucaultian way the concept of 'protocol' as a specific technology to the control societies and the diagram of distributed networks. "Protocol is to control societies as the panopticon is to disciplinary societies." (Galloway, 2004:13) Galloway assigns the protocol, functioning at the very basis of internet architecture, the role of the main entity in the system that controls and restricts every possible freedom of internet users. This principle of protocological control is then treated as a definitive managerial principle in our current society: the control society.
Besides Galloway's identity as media theorist and professor, there is 'another' Galloway: Galloway the digital media artist. With his art collective RSG (Radical Software Group), Galloway produced the award-winning project Carnivore. The project illustrates both the transitional state of our society (from disciplinary society to control society) as well as an actualization of the technological concern with the social. Based on FBI strategies for monitoring the internet, Carnivore is "a surveillance tool for data networks. At the heart of the project is CarnivorePE, a software application that listens to all Internet traffic (email, web surfing, etc.) on a specific local network." In its essence, Carnivore is a software platform that functions as an engine for externally developed clients. The clients are other pieces of software that interpret the data flows Carnivore extracts from the local networks. In doing so clients can potentially comment on both the conventional, or protocological way code is interpreted (i.e. through browsers) as well as current social, political and legal practices referred to as 'The police state'.
The work of Christopher M. Kelty, another speaker at the DEAF04 symposium, covers many of the same topics discussed in Protocol. Like Galloway, Kelty has a clear interest in the connections between the technological and the social, albeit from another disciplinary perspective. Being an anthropologist, Kelty reflects on those topics from the perspective of the social sciences. It is in this manner that he writes about the Free Software movement, the prevalence of 'programmed languages' and the nature of the social relations between humans in computer networks.
In his short article Free Software/Free Science published on First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal on the Internet, Kelty elaborates on two structurally open systems, two communities that each have their own economies of reputation and credit: the Free Software-movement and science. For the purposes of this text, a minor consideration about the nature of these systems will be further examined because it illustrates the openness of the system. Kelty mentions Marcel Mauss's concept of the 'gift exchange' as a defining feature of the two communities mentioned above. In those communities the currency is not a common denominator but a specific gift: for providing the community with free-to-use products software engineers and scientists are not paid money but reputation and credit. This social logic, that is ought to guarantee both the continuous flow within the systems as well as the openness of the systems, seems to be contradicted by another concept out of Kelty's own dissertation.
In that dissertation, titled Scale and Convention: Programmed languages in a regulated America, Kelty seems to be in pursuit of the same kind of argument Galloway uses: being both meaning and action at the same time, programmed languages are designed as a medium for constraining, influencing or controlling actions of actors and changing the configuration of organized society, its symbolic structure and the subjectivities of its inhabitants. (Kelty, 2001) Programmed languages are present in diverse domains: obviously software and network design are such domains, politics (constitution) and law (trademarks, copyright and patents), though less obvious, are clear examples of other domains in which programmed languages constrain, influence or control actions of actors.
The outcome of this exploration then, is the conclusion that a possible theoretical connection between the social and the technological can be established by acknowledging that both the social and the technological can be subjected to and examined by system theory. This also links Galloway's thoughts in Protocol to Kelty's eclectic thoughts throughout his work: one of the goals pursued by these theoreticians is establishing a theory that can clearly derive what apparatus defines the nature of the system's state and its systemic flows. The constraining effect of the programmed languages described by Kelty is politically related to the protocological control that Galloway discusses in the sense that both concepts are presented as a techno-social tool of domination, paving the way for centralized authorities in their efforts to manage, organize and ultimately degrade the open system to a closed system. Galloway and Kelty contribute to the body of knowledge that is concerned with critically analyzing technology and society, aiming to maintain the system's openness by showing the new loci of possible resistance.
Deleuze, Gilles, "Postscript on Control Societies," in: Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995)
Galloway, Alexander R., Protocol: How control exists after decentralization (Cambridge/London: MIT Press, 2004)
Kelty, Christopher, M., "Qualitative Research in the Age of the Algorithm: New Challenges in Cultural Anthropology", on: http://www.rlg.org/annmtg/kelty03.html, last checked: 21-09-2004
Kelty, Christopher, M., "Free Software/Free Science", on: http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_12/kelty/index.html, last checked: 21-09-2004
Kelty, Christopher, M., "Scale and Convention: Programmed languages in a regulated America", on: http://www.kelty.org/or/thesis/introductions/saturated/saturated.html, last checked: 21-09-2004
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About Christopher M. Kelty
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