Archive for the ‘security’ Category


June 17, 2013 1 comment

“My eyes were burning, and my nose running and my face was also burning”. These are ensations across the body, demonstrating the effectiveness of technologies of security. Your eyes and nose and mouth feel it. It burns across your body, an involuntary body panic from the fear of choking.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 16.04.52

Gas is a rather peculiar weapon. It is atmospheric in the manner German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk talks about: it conditions the environment and breathing and as such invades one of the most intimate areas of our life: our lungs and sense of being alive. Naturally, this is not only a sense of being alive, but its very condition. Gas warfare is not only about biopolitical invasions but also the raw animal life being controlled: the zoe.

Gas is spatial and ephemeral at the same time. The wind can carry it across distances, although it is used as a very localized measure. It divides space in new ways: those able to breath with gas masks, and those suffocating, denied their participation in that space. You can control territories through a control of who is allowed to breath air in there. Tear gas, pepper gas, water cannons infused with chemicals: meticulous information on what the body can just about take. This information is always escorted by the possible deviations from the norm: for instance children’s lungs as well as elderly lungs.

Modern chemical attacks against humans date back to the first World War and the trench warfare.  The Germans started using toxic clouds in April, 1915. As Sloterdijk notes, what makes this manner of suffering and even death more painful is how the suffocating is made to participate in his and her own condition: the body is made to turn against itself, gasping for breath, convulsions. The organic tissue becomes an archive of atrocities, a registering surface of the effects of modern science and technology employed in military and security regimes.

Of course you can shoot and aim with gas canisters, to ensure the good ol’ blunt hit. The effects of this hit can be rather horrific.

Considering gas, Sloterdijk speaks of “terror from the air”, and associates terrorism as a feature of modernity:

“It is crucial to identify terrorism as a child of modernity, insofar as its exact definition was forged only after the principle of attacking an organism’s , or a life form’s, environment and immune defences was shown in its perfect technical explication.”

There is a technological condition of this state of breathlessness and it has to do with the history of modern synthetic biology: the measurement of human capacities for breathing as well as the necessary measures for inhibiting the use of air for the organism.

And in Timothy C. Campbell’s words, referring to Sloterdijk, “terrorism is always ecologically directed”.

We need to turn meditations of air, soul and breathing into a bio- and zoepolitics of breathing and an analysis the systematic ecological and health abuses: from the minuscules particles of gas and dust, to how they constitute more abstract but as real security operations.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 16.03.34

Campbell, T. (2011) Improper Life. Technology and Biopolitcs from Heidegger to Agamben. University of Minnesota Press.
Sloterdijk, P. (2009) Terror from the Air. Semiotext(e).
Images via Twitter.

Teufelsberg – The Listening Post

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Teufelsberg, Berlin.

After the humans had left, what stayed were the ruins of buildings. Time had passed for the place to reach this silence; the graffiti filled walls, beer cans, glass from broken bottles stayed after as such monuments. There was something else too, in the air. A radio signal lost, a ghost signal. It is completely silent for human ears. Only the buildings echo, concrete walls.

The listening post, a Cold War relic. It had that Soviet science fiction quality about it, even if it exactly tried to listen to signals of communist origin. The ferris wheel in nearby Zehlendorf acted as an amplifier of its signals.

If Cold War started in Potsdam, then it primarily took place  in non-places — like on this hill. Itself a monument, built from the rubble from the bombings during the 1940s War. And yet, non-place is hardly the term when you look at the concrete and now weirdly past-utopian looking listening domes. They stand out. You can imagine this as a setting for a Thomas Pynchon novel.

But it is a non-place because probably nothing much happened. Signal traffic, capture, listening. Procedures of monitoring, reporting, and then it starts again. Signals don’t occupy a place anyway, just a time and a pattern of regularity. And yet this place is one of those iconic, media theoretically significant places: Bletchley Park, Peenemünde, etc.


It starts to make sense when you think of it as a network of such posts. ECHELON – characterised by a European Parliament report much later:”If U.K.U.S.A states operate listening stations in the relevant regions of the earth, in principle they can intercept all telephone, fax and data traffic transmitted via such satellites.” There are no borders to national security.

It feels natural to imagine this place without any humans, just like mathematical communication theory works best without them. Only the ghostly shouts and echoes that ensue. Ping, echo request.

Viral Capitalism – redux

July 12, 2011 2 comments

Capitalism is sticky – it is able to attach to such a variety of objects, things, practices, and new fields that it almost seems to be productive in itself. Reading some interesting texts recently, I thought to pick up the concept of “viral capitalism” that I discussed in an earlier piece in 2005 and in Digital Contagions as an attempt to understand how it worked in relation to security politics of software in digital culture. Hence, it played the dual role of referring to virus cultures and anti-virus discourse, as well as pointing to a wider logic outside software of capitalism as that sticky, viral-like mode of spreading – not however just objects that are contagious, but environments, or milieus in which infection becomes possible. In such affective environments, capitalism as a sticky machine is able to operate. As part of the logic of security, then, it relates to how in milieus of (in)security , you are able to modulate affects, actions, practices and discourses so that you can get value even from risks, accidents and insecurity.

As such, one could say that an idea of viral capitalism relates to;

– the attraction power to which capitalism bases so much of its marketing power; this is the power of the affect to draw us in, to create worlds in which we feel natural to live in (capitalist worlds as leibnizian, as analyzed by Lazzarato). This is the aesthetic power of affect/attraction.
– Pass-on-power where social relations are in their already mimetic (Tarde) and infectious nature as if ready for appropriation into for instance marketing; (stay tuned for something we have written together with Tony Sampson – see his piece on Contagion Theory).

– The power of capitalism to turn even adversary practices as part of itself, directly or indirectly.
As a figure of network politics, viral capitalism functions in the aesthetico-technical regime.

An excerpt from Digital Contagions:
In a way, it seems as if capitalism invents such accidents and risks to keep itself busy. This idea that “if it’s not broken, break it” provides, then, an interesting way to approach the functioning of so-called information capitalism. Dangers and risks produce excellent needs and products in the consumer market, which aims to provide tools for controlling the uncertainties and anxieties of everyday life. The previous themes can be synthesized under the notion of viral capitalism, which stems from an idea of capitalism as capable of continuous modulation and heterogenesis. […]

The power of capitalism resides in its capability to appropriate the outside as a part of itself. In a sense, capitalism incorporates the ability to subsume heterogenesis as part of its production machinery, and heterogeneity is turned as part of the capital itself. In its functioning, capitalism is a continuing abstract machine of the new, inventing itself all the time, refusing to tie itself to any transcendent point (even though the actual workings of capital do constantly stop at some intervals of profit-oriented points, such as companies, corporations, and monopolies).

Of course, similar trends occurred in the cultural history of diseases long before viruses. As Nancy Tomes notes in her history of germs in America, the fear of microbes was, from the 1880s onward, turned into a lucrative business, with special goods and services designed for hygiene. This meant, for example, “safeguards against the dangers of sewer gas and polluted water, such as special toilet attachments and household water filters”, and on to antiseptic floor coverings and wall paint as well as sanitary dish drainers and fly traps. Hence, commodity interests were very active long before the media ecology of capitalist network culture.
Massumi argues that in information age capitalism, it is the circulation of things that counts, replacing their mere production as the key energetic principle of surplus value. This amounts to a change also in the commodity’s status where it becomes a self-organizing and living entity—a form of self-reproductive object. “The commodity has become a form of capital with its own motor of exchange (fashion, style, ‘self-improvement’) and cycle of realization (image accumulation/ image shedding (…)). Its value is now defined more by the desire it arouses than by the amount of labor that goes into it.”The commodity works as a virus— and the virus as part of the commodity circuit.


Luciana Parisi has made important remarks concerning the basis of information capitalism and the problems with Hardt and Negri. According to Parisi, the Empire becomes too easily a transcendent apparatus of power opposed to the creative virtualities of the multitude, which leads to a dualism of death and life, organic and inorganic. Instead, she proposes an endosymbiotic conception of capitalism, where it “exposes a machinic composition of molecular bodies involving continual and differential degrees of variation between bodies that capture and bodies that are captured.” Hence, she proposes an ongoing nonlinear symbiosis instead of a dualism. Capitalism, despite functioning as an apparatus of capture, does not proceed in a rigid manner of linear capture but proliferates differences in its wake. As Massumi writes, the rationality of neoliberalism works through a type of pragmatics, not perhaps so much through grounding principles or normative laws. Its cultivation of the metastable systems of markets and affects resides in its focus not on truth but on how the future (the unknown) can be managed on the basis of the data of the past (statistics). What matters is how to keep things running.

Security and Self-regulation in Software Visual Culture

“Not long ago it would have been an absolutely absurd action to purchase a television or acquire a computer software to intentionally disable its capabilities, whereas today’s media technology is marketed for what it does not contain and what it will not deliver.” The basic argument in Raiford Guins’ Edited Clean Version is so striking in its simplicity but aptness that my copy of the book is now filled with exclamation marks and other scribblings in the margins that shout how I loved it. At times dense but elegantly written, I am so tempted to say that this is the direction where media studies should be going if it did not sound a bit too grand (suitable for a blurb at the back cover perhaps!).

I shall not do a full-fledged review of the book but just flag that its an important study for anyone who wants to understand processes of censorship, surveillance and control. Guins starts from a theoretical set that contains Foucault’s governmentality, Kittler’s materialism and Deleuze’s notion of control, but breathes concrete specificity to the latter making it really a wonderful addition to media studies literature on contemporary culture. At times perhaps a bit repetitive, yet it delivers a strong sense of how power works through control which works through technological assemblages that organize time, spatiality and desire. For Guins, media is security (even if embedding Foucault’s writings on security would have been in this context spot on) — entertainment media is so infiltrated by the logic of blocking, filtering, sanitizing, cleaning and patching (all chapters in the book) that I might even have to rethink my own ideas of seeing media technologies as Spinozian bodies defined by what they can do…Although, in a Deleuzian fashion, control works through enabling. In this case, it enables choice (even if reducing freedom into a selection from pre-defined, preprogrammed articulations). Control is the highway on which you are free to drive as far, and to many places, but it still guides you to destinations. Control works through destinations, addresses — and incidentally, its addresses that structure for example Internet-“space”.

Guins’ demonstrates how it still is the family that is a focal point of media but through new techniques and technologies. Software is at the centre of this regime – software such as the V-Chip that helps parents to plan and govern their children’s TV-consumption. Guins writes: “The embedding of the V-Chip within television manifests a new visual protocol; it makes visible the positive effects of television that it enables: choice, self-regulation, interaction, safe images, and security.” What is exciting about this work is how it deals with such hugely important political themes and logics of control, but is able to do it so immanently with the technological platform he is talking about. Highly recommended, and thumbs up.

Richard Grusin on affect, premediation and security — Anglia Ruskin ArcDigital talk

January 16, 2010 3 comments

Talking of anticipation — It’s always wonderful to meet in person people whose texts you have read for years — and admired. Richard Grusin’s visit at Anglia Ruskin finally took place, and was as every bit interesting as I was expecting it to be. His and Jay David Bolter’s Remediation-book and thesis had a huge impact in combining my new media interests with my background and training in history, and now his new stuff on premediation promises to combine such theoretisations of temporality with the very current debates concerning affect, security and media culture.

Grusin’s talk was very much contextualised in his soon forthcoming book Premediation: Affect and Mediation after 9/11 (Palgrave). The book promises to be a mapping of the non-representational and non-cognitive forces of the securetized social media culture where affects (in the sense of also positive “good vibes” as well) and security are complementary states or atmospheres of bodies in relation. This includes not also human bodies (“having feelings”) but relations between humans, nonhumans and in general heterogeneous assemblages. This is the regime of affective flows between such objects/subjects.

The talk had four parts, or sections, that mapped out the various contexts of such flows:

1) premediation and security
2) anticipatory gestures
3) media theoria
4) premediation and politics

The richness of the talk is hard to convey through any summaries so my notes remain fragmented. The easiest would be to say: read the book!

For me, certain key points stood out. The point about our media culture based on the atmospheric affect of “anticipation” instead of e.g. distraction (Benjamin and Kracauer) is certainly one such; and applies in Grusin’s reading both to bodies in social media culture of expected, anticipated, potential social interaction through software-mediated platforms as well as to the inbuilt modes of anticipation in software. This “mediaphilia of anticipation” is a nice way to frame the software promoted anticipatory gestures that often are approached through medicalised conditions (ADD etc), but are in fact generalised modes of subjectification.

Grusin’s critique of Agamben and notions of “state of exception” were important as well, and resonate with recent Hardt and Negri points in Commonwealth. Instead of approaching contemporary constellations of power through such notions that hint of transcendent powers and sovereignty (state of exception and being able to rule such), immanent ways of how power operates take into account the much more “business-as-usual” type of handling events, establishing patterns, managing repetitions, actions and relations in everyday life. That’s software culture.

Affect is a way for Grusin (as for many others) a way to approach the non-cognitive and non-representational ways how media do not (just) signify but do things to us and with us. I think Grusin could have elaborated a bit more on this more virtual and somatic sphere of the affect when talking about gesturality in media culture — and how it is as I have used the word more “atmospheric” preparadness as a potentiality of the body as a tension, attention, than just actual gestures (which are important and through which the atmosphere of virtuality of such anticipation gets articulated). In any case, his critique of some nostalgic accounts of online activities that lie on politics of authenticity were to me spot on) as was Grusin’s discussion of the necessary preformatted modes of living; the patterns of repetition that are necessary for everyday realities. Any kind of resistance has to work immanently within such formations, not neglecting the reality of for example us needing habits. This opens a completely different political horizon.

In terms of how this position relies on rethinking some of the temporal ties — and temporality as a crucial feature of the affect-embedded security regimes — premediation-thesis comes close to for example Greg Elmer’s and Andy Opel’s notions concerning pre-emptive measures of control. Security measures happen pre-emptively, shooting before asking questions, making sure that the state of things is always such that any potential events that are undesirable do not take place. No wonder that Minority Report is here the key film for such social theory. I know that discussing such positions in relation to for example Erin Manning’s “preacceleration” would be fruitful as well (thanks to Andrew Murphie for flagging this potential connection), but I have to admit I have not anything that special to say (and that Manning’s book is at the office shelf at the moment). Her way of discussing movement and dance and bodies-in-movement through preacceleration refers to the primacy of the forthcoming-transformation that the body attunes to continuously. For Manning, bodies are not present but moving, prehending and in this sense ahead of their time a bit paradoxically — a realisation that comes through clearest in dance. Bodies catch wind, and move as part of such attractors that dance is filled with (whether “stable” objects, or dance partners). The anticipatory nature of such preaccelerated bodies is something that ties in with Grusin’s points that I would have to read more about as the mechanisms of anticipation as a way of orienting towards certain intensities and attractors (e.g. again social media culture features as banal as the commenting function and its potentiality to attract comments) is one way of thinking “bodies in speed” (Mackenzie).

Its clear that an increasing amount of accounts that want to articulate a material politics of software culture have to deal with temporality. This is a curious phenomenon and attempts for “solution” come from different directions, sharing a lot with each other. Of course, I could add that to my “things to write” list, but one has to be realistic…

>A guest talk by professor Richard Grusin, the co-author of Remediation, and the author of Premediation

January 10, 2010 Leave a comment

>Thursday 14 January, at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (East Road)
Organized by ArcDigital and sponsored by CoDE — the Cultures of the Digital Economy-institute
4 pm, room: Hel 251

Premediation, Affect and the Anticipation of Security

In this talk professor Grusin will explore how in our current biopolitical regime of securitization, socially networked media transactions are fostered and encouraged by mobilizing or intensifying pleasurable affects in the production of multiple, overlapping feedback loops among people (individually and collectively) and their media. Grusin outlines how, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, social media, like cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, or YouTube, encourage different historical formations of mediated affect. This distribution of affectivity across heterogeneous social networks or assemblages is coupled to the framework of securitization, which helps to explain why these particular socially networked media formations have emerged at this particular historical moment. The talk concludes with a discussion of the political implications of this security regime—what it means for the explosive growth of socially networked media after 9/11 to have as one of its many consequences the proliferation of media transactions or interactions, which help to “vitalize” the political formation of securitization. If mediality today employs the strategies of premediation to mobilize individual and collective affect in a society of security and control, then we need to look at the ways in which premediation deploys an affectivity of anticipation that functions to vitalize the regime of securitization that has replaced surveillance as the predominant disciplinary formation of our control society. Our everyday transactions of mediation, transportation, and communication are encouraged for security purposes not only by making them easy and readily available but also by making them affectively pleasurable—or at least not unpleasurable, by maintaining low levels of affective intensity that provide a kind of buffer or safe space, a form of security, in relation to an increasingly threatening global media environment.

Richard Grusin is Professor of English at Wayne State University. His more recent work concerns historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of technologies of visual representation. With Jay David Bolter he is the author of Remediation: Understanding New Media (MIT, 1999), which sketches out a genealogy of new media, beginning with the contradictory visual logics underlying contemporary digital media. Grusin’s Culture, Technology, and the Creation of America’s National Parks (Cambridge, 2004), focuses on the problematics of visual representation involved in the founding of America’s national parks. He has just completed his new book Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. (forthcoming 2010)

>Trust, Identity, Security seminar at Anglia Ruskin

September 13, 2009 4 comments

>David Skinner pulled together with Claire Preston a very nice event at Anglia on Thursday on Trust, Identity and Security. Even if my particular area relating to software and security was not that much covered, the themes interlinked well with some stuff I have been thinking. In terms of such notions of social “glue” as trust, Marek Kohn kicked off with a very general take on the social basis of trust — although having said “social basis” I need to flag that I was left a bit cold with the too individualized/atomized image of trust that he painted. Too much of the presentation focused on trust outside its historical and institutional settings, using examples that implied it more as a psychological/rationalized/cognitive theme. I disagree with this quite strongly, and was hoping for a discussion more focused on the affective/non-cognitive politics and management of trust in terms of network culture.

In short, my point: a) trust is something guaranteed as a temporal relation in modernity by institutions, b) such institutions have been forced to change and their ability to guarantee the secured future has suffered during what different commentators would call late-capitalism, postmodernity, or for example network culture. This applies to social relations, production and legitimacy of knowledge, economic relations, and huge amount of other key factors. c) Instead of a cognitive relation, institutions have already historically worked on trust as a management of affective states, to put it a bit too broadly. What I mean is that trust works on automation most of the time — its not a cognitive relation of weighting wins and losses. Its an affective relation that involves the management of futurity as something present; a creation of a condition where future seems as if already present and controllable.

In the other session, presentions by for example David Skinner and Greg Elmer touched interestingly also the topic of futurity. David’s talk was on the UK police DNA Database, and very spot on in terms of control through information; not only a creation of “traces” through DNA collection etc., but also through active creation of profiled, targeted “problem groups” — which happens to be very racially loaded practice. The already existing amount of profiles on the database is very much geared towards collecting from the black communities and through “preemptive profiling”, very problematic self-realizing groupings are created. Preempting as a political tool is a good idea/concept that Greg Elmer has been developing (also together with Andy Opel in their book on the topic.) In his video talk, Greg talked about both the concept as one of management of futures, and also on the ongoing online collaboration to create a documentary on the topic. What is preemption? Its about shooting first, asking later — a practice enabled by a range of non-lethal weapons such as tasers; but also more discursively a mode of governing the present through reacting to “inevitable futures” (where risks are treated as if inevitable events, and hence in need of preemptive actions.) This is the logic of the Bush regime in a way, but not limited to a set of tools by the ex-US Government (and also having clear connections with e.g. Richard Grusin’s notion of premediation).

The day ended with Sean Cubitt’s different angle to the topic of databases and security. He gave a brilliant genealogy of management of colors and perception through the histories of the raster screen. The same mode of cutting and organizing perception into discreet units that governs the raster screen approach is apparent according to Cubitt also in the database mode of governing through creating units that are inter-exchangeable etc. In a way, I was after Skinner’s presentation thinking about how modes of racism and racial profile have moved from the visual regime of e.g. orientalism to the informatics of databases and hence non-visual media, but actually Cubitt made me rethink and realize the possible connections between visual and database media. The technicality inherent in modes of management of perception are already hinting towards the logic of computational databases, seems Cubitt to argue and I have to admit his points were quite convincing even if I am not usually the first person to argue for the centrality of the visual in media cultures (esp. technical).

Categories: identity, security, trust