A/Prof. Colin Koopman (University of Oregon), “The Infopolitics of Race: Segregation by Data, 1923-1938”

Contemporary political assemblages from mass surveillance to finance capitalism to big data suggest that we may be in the midst of new political conditions. Many have sought to conceptualize these assemblages in such terms as “the information society” or “new media culture” while others would amalgamate them as an ideological effect of “neoliberalism”. But a different conceptualization of the stakes of our contemporary political transformations would enable us to attend to new modes of power that are redefining the very terms of the politics of the now. Are we in the midst of emerging political landscapes that cannot be comprehended under previous conceptualizations of power, such as the sovereign power of the state, the disciplinary power of training, and the biopower of regulation? If so, we may need an analytics of an emergent infopower at the intersection of information and power. Infopower would focus on how we have come to recognize ourselves in the flurry of data that is constantly being produced by and about us.

By deploying Foucault’s genealogical methodology, this work investigates the history of how we became the informational persons we are today. The focus is on an array of practices from the 1910s to the 1930s which precipitated the emergence of the total informational vision of postwar cybernetics. Specifically, the presentation will focus on a particular locale, the United States between 1923 and 1938, in which there emerged residential racial segregation by way of the emergence of real estate appraisal algorithms that explicitly integrated racial data (as well as racist assumptions) into their analytics.

Colin Koopman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. He works primarily through the critical traditions of Pragmatism and Genealogy, with an eye toward using methods and concepts from these two traditions to engage current issues in politics, ethics, and culture. He is the author of Pragmatism as Transition (Columbia UP, 2009) and Genealogy as Critique (Indiana UP, 2013). He is currently working on a project about infopolitics, which focuses on the overlay between information and politics in the context of liberal democratic cultures.

Where and when:

Tuesday 8 December, 11.00am to 1.00pm, Melbourne City Campus, Level 3, 550 Bourke Street.

The seminar is free to attend and all are welcome, but registration is essential. Please email Sean Bowden by December 6: s.bowden@deakin.edu.au

Hosted by the European Philosophy and History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI) and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Lynne Friedli, Robert Stearn, Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes, Medical Humanities 2015;41:40-47


Open Access

Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect. Labour on the self in order to achieve characteristics said to increase employability is now widely promoted. This work and the discourse on it are central to the experience of many claimants and contribute to the view that unemployment is evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit. The use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state—and state-contracted—surveillance to psychological characteristics. This paper describes the coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interventions and considers the implications of psycho-policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations who are its primary targets. We draw on personal testimonies of people experiencing workfare, policy analysis and social media records of campaigns opposed to workfare in order to explore the extent of psycho-compulsion in workfare. This is an area that has received little attention in the academic literature but that raises issues of ethics and professional accountability and challenges the field of medical humanities to reflect more critically on its relationship to psychology.

Rudan, P.
Society as a Code: Bentham and the Fabric of Order
(2015) History of European Ideas, 16 p. Article in Press.

DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2015.1077147


The essay argues that Jeremy Bentham played a major role in the transitional process between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries leading to the ‘discovery’ or ‘invention of society’ as an order, i.e., as an autonomous object of knowledge. By comparing Bentham’s discourse with those developed by select protagonists of that transition, particularly Ferguson, Sieyès, and Mirabeau, it is shown how society emerges as the logical and historical space of a set of relationships that affects both the rationalisation and the practice of government. In contrast with Michel Foucault’s interpretation of Bentham’s role in the genealogy of neoliberalism, recently developed by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, this paper suggests that ‘the new governmental reason’ rose from within the discourse of law. Consequently, the problem of ‘constitution’ was not left behind by the epistemological change of the eighteenth century, as they argue. Rather, the scientific and political understanding of society as a code became the base for an innovative conception of both law and politics. © 2015 Taylor & Francis

Author Keywords

indigence; Jeremy Bentham; social order; social science; society

Casey, M., Mooney, A., Smyth, J., Payne, W.
‘Power, regulation and physically active identities’: the experiences of rural and regional living adolescent girls
(2015) Gender and Education, 20 p. Article in Press.

DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2015.1093098

Drawing on interpretations of Foucault’s techniques of power, we explored the discourses and power relations operative between groups of girls that appeared to influence their participation in Physical Education (PE) and outside of school in sport and physical activity (PA) in rural and regional communities. Interviews and focus groups were conducted in eight secondary schools with female students from Year 9 (n = 22) and 10 (n = 116). Dominant gendered and performance discourses were active in shaping girls’ construction of what it means to be active or ‘sporty’, and these identity positions were normalised and valued. The perceived and real threat of their peer’s gaze as a form of surveillance acted to further perpetuate the power of performance discourses; whereby girls measured and (self) regulated their participation. Community settings were normalised as being exclusively for skilled performers and girls self-regulated their non-participation according to judgements made about their own physical abilities. These findings raise questions about the ways in which power relations, as forged in broader sociocultural and institutional discourse–power relations, can infiltrate the level of the PE classroom to regulate and normalise practices in relation to their, and others, PA participation. © 2015 Taylor & Francis

Author Keywords

Foucault; gender; physical activity; physical education; power relations; sport; techniques of power

Barker-Ruchti, N., Barker, D., Sattler, S., Gerber, M., Pühse, U.
Second Generation Immigrant Girls’ Negotiations of Cultural Proximity in Switzerland: A Foucauldian Reading
(2015) Journal of International Migration and Integration, 16 (4), pp. 1213-1229.

DOI: 10.1007/s12134-014-0386-9

Although overtly racist political discourse in Switzerland has receded, culturalist discourses continue to construct ideal immigrants. Policies define immigrants in terms of “cultural proximity” and contain an implicit distinction between “distant” and “proximal” foreigners. Culturally, distant immigrants have been stereotyped as aggressive and/or lacking interest in education and professional success and while scholars have examined immigrants from Switzerland’s “culturally-near” regions, the experiences of second generation immigrant populations from perceived culturally distant countries have largely escaped attention. Knowledge about girls and women is particularly scarce. Against this backdrop, this paper provides an examination of how six teenage girls living in a German-speaking Swiss city negotiate their perceived cultural distance. By combining interview material with elements of Foucauldian theory, the paper provides insight into (1) the diasporic experiences of girls with second generation immigration backgrounds and (2) the operation and influence of culturalist discourses.

Foucault’s notion of dispositive—the discourses, institutions, laws, and scientific findings that, through various means of distribution (e.g., media texts, policies, education curricula), act as an apparatus that constructs and supports normative ideals—provides a generative analytic tool for this task. The analysis suggests that the ways girls learn to understand their social worlds is a collective process of discipline that places mechanisms of social control within each individual. This process involves the homogenisation and marginalisation of the immigrant population and is circular in nature in that the girls strengthen and maintain the power of existing culturalist knowledge that works negatively on them. The paper concludes with a consideration of how this situation might be challenged. © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

Author Keywords
Culturalist discourses; Dispositive; Foucault; Gender; Perceived cultural distance; Second generation immigrant girls

Llewellyn, A.
Problematising the pursuit of progress in mathematics education
(2015) Educational Studies in Mathematics, 16 p. Article in Press.

DOI: 10.1007/s10649-015-9645-8

In this article, I use a Foucauldian poststructural analysis to examine productions of progress within key discursive spaces of mathematics education. These sites of production are educational policy, mathematics education research and case studies of primary school student-teachers in England. From my analysis, I show how progress governs what is possible in the classroom, as they become constructed around a measurable, linear temporality assumed in educational policy. This encourages comparison to and pursuit of the “normal” mathematical child, which in educational policy is produced as a functional automaton, whilst for much of mathematics education research is produced as the cognitive “natural” child. These over sanitised constructions result in confusion for student-teachers who struggle to take these impossible discourses on board. © 2015 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

Author Keywords
Educational policy; Foucault; Governmentally; Mathematical child; Neoliberal; New labour; Progress

McCarthy, J.
Closing the casket: professionalism and care amongst funeral directors in the Republic of Ireland
(2015) Mortality, 17 p. Article in Press.

DOI: 10.1080/13576275.2015.1100160

In this article, the professional identity of funeral directors is explored through in-depth interview data. The article explores the experiences of funeral directors and ways in which they position themselves in relation to the ritual of the funeral, social and religious values and family structures. The intention is to scrutinise how funeral directors give validity and meaning to their role through various ideas of professionalism, as well as the tensions and contradictions that can arise at certain moments. Accordingly, it seeks to illustrate how funeral directors can contribute to the maintenance of certain normative practices, but also that they can be subjected to particular expectations and tensions in their everyday lives as a result. On this basis, it draws on the work of Michel Foucault to suggest that spaces of uncertainty can give rise to new possibilities in terms of how the role of funeral director is enacted, highlighting the fluid and incomplete nature of the professionalism that many of the participants of this study adhere to.

Author Keywords
death; funeral director; Ireland; professionalism


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