Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Securing the social: Foucault and Social Networks | Tiziana Terranova –

From Foucault and the History of Our Present, edited by Sophie Fuggle, Yari Lanci, and Martina Tazzioli


What do we talk about when we talk about social networks? Is it an actu-ally existing social reality, a structuralist paradigm in the social sciences, or a series of web-based services with specific technical features? Or, as a Foucauldian perspective might have it, a new dispositif of power taking the social as its object and the network as its form? One of the most common arguments to be found about the deploy-ment of Foucault’s work in thinking about social networks is that the latter constitutes a contemporary version of Bentham’s Panopticon – a specific organization of visibility that Foucault described in his book on disciplinary societies (Foucault, 1993; Kampmark, 2007; Bucher, 2012). Commenting on the ‘recent exposure of mass surveillance activity’ by the US National Security Agency (NSA), however, William Davies reflects on how such revelations not only expose the ways in which ‘social networks’ have become the object of the state’s gaze, but also seem to point to a larger phenomenon, what he calls the ‘revenge of the social’. Davies reminds us that for a long time neoliberals have opposed ideas of society and the social but argues that recently this trend has reversed into an ‘explosion of new types of accounting, governance and policy interven-tion which come dressed in the rhetoric of the social. Social enterprise, social media, social indicators, social impact bonds, social neuroscience’ (Davies, 2013). Realizing that ‘individuals are quite manifestly unable to operate as isolated, calculating machines, with only the law and the market to guide them’, for Davies, neoliberalism has found a model of the social in social media that suits its epistemic commitments. Social media provide the techniques by which the social can be finally known:

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