Visual Archive: Instability of Power

“The old power of death that symbolized sovereign power was now carefully supplanted by the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life.” Foucault (1980:139)

In the neoliberal society certain expectations are placed upon us, self-regulation and self power has gained greater importance in our society due to social and governmental monitoring. Foucault’s (1975) concept of The Panopticon can be seen inhernantly as similar to the prisoners being watched in cylindrical jail setting, being watched by social and governmental spectators puts pressure on us to monitor and better ourselves. Rose (1996:160) writes:

‘the self-steering capacities of individuals are now construed as vital resources for achieving private profit, public tranquillity, and social progress, and interventions in these areas have also come to be guided by the regulatory norm of the autonomous, responsible subject, obliged to make its life meaningful through acts of choice. Attempts to manage the enterprise to ensure productivity, competitiveness, and innovation.’

 Along with the neoliberal institution of self-help and self-care literature, an influx of new technologies have been emerging to initiate the collection of data to self regulate and self control our behaviours. We now have apps for smart phones that monitor calorie intake, pregnancy progression and sleep monitors. As I’ve always been overweight, social pressures for me to control my weight and boost my fitness have been growing over time. To try and tackle this issue I decided to purchase a new technology to aid me on this self-regulative journey. A ‘fitbit’ is a device that you wear on your wrist as a watch, the device also monitors how many steps you take, how many stairs you climb, how many miles you’ve walked, how many hours you sleep and how many times your heart beats. On the surface the device seems perfectly innocent in its benefits to health, yet it does raise questions about the collection of sensitive data. I used to wear my fitbit everyday to almost everywhere I went. The map feature on the app that is used in conjunction with the device monitors your everyday movements and how long you spend in one particular place. This directly goes back to the governmental powers at play as this constant collection of sensitive data has to be stored somewhere… Who has access to this information? We are living in a big brother society where all of our moves are being monitored. The introduction of the self-scanning machines for EU passports using eye recognition means they now have a record of when we leave and return to a country. Similarly social media’s increase in facial recognition technology, particularly Facebook and Snapchat it seems almost impossible to escape the feeling of being watched and monitored. Even if you don’t engage in social media practices, facial recognition software is installed into iphones that can identify people in your photographs and compile these photographs into files of the individuals within them. Facial recognition technology is explained in an article by Murray(2016):

capture a person’s facial signature, an algorithm must first encode their facial features using a method called HOG (Histogram of Oriented Gradients) which outputs a simplified image that is basically a flattened-and-centered set of the subject’s primary facial features. That output is then passed through a neural network that knows which 128 measurements to make and saves them.

With our face captured, all the system has to do to identify someone is compare the measurements to those of all the facial measurements captured for other people and figure out which person’s measurements are the closest to find a match.’

It seems almost impossible now to engage with any form of technology without being monitored, Google allegedly listens to your conversations in order to improve tailored advert placement. Do we accept these conditions when using these companies or products or should the use of data collection be more explicitly outlined before use? No one hardly ever reads the terms and conditions of a product before using or engaging with it. Is it the public’s responsibility to understand these conditions or the company’s responsibility to make these more accessible and understandable? Despite these questions public monitoring is becoming more and more widespread and there is nothing we can do about it.

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. trans by. Sheridan, A. New York: Vintage Books

Murray, C. (2017). Is Snap Inc. Building a Wearable Face Recognition Device for the NSA?. [online] Hacker Noon. Available at: [Accessed 9 May 2017].

Rose, N. (1996) Inventing our selves: psychology, power and personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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