Technologies of Self

Technologies of Self

So Facebook is going to become the church. Which is a mildly clever piece of business spin about as irrelevant as the church. 

But nonetheless presents us with an interesting opportunity to talk about technology. Yes.

Here's the thing. When people ask me "what do you think about technology?", I know what they are asking. They are asking about iPhones and tablets and screens and such things. But, annoying that I am, I always say "what do you mean by technology?" After all, ever since Neanderthal man with his hipster beard and topknot fashioned a piece of rock into a tool for stabbing things or digging, we've had technology. The rock is no more or no less a piece of technology than a smartphone. It is, just like the smart phone or any other piece of 'technology', a prosthetic extension of the self but, also a self shaping tool

I have written much elsewhere about the neurological effects of current digital technology, the plasticity of our brains, and how we are being shaped and changed by the much more invasive forms of technology we currently have. That being said,  Neanderthal man or woman and their environment was shaped just as much by the technology they used as they used their technology to shape. 

The point is a simple one, made very eloquently in a number of ways by philosopher Michael Foucault. The self is shaped and formed through the use of various technologies.

Its the same with Gender. “Wherever an individual is or goes he must bring his body along with him” (Goffman, 1977:327). Goffman perceives the body to be a mobile social canvas, acting out the scripting of gender performance, as it is culturally mapped, by the dominant narratives of advertising, and the spaces in which it acts. In The Arrangement Between The Sexes, Goffman wants to counter what he calls the “doctrine of biological influence” (Goffman, 1977: 304); the biological determination of gender, and instead sees the site of formation for gender identity, and the display of gender, as “every physical surround, every room, every box for social gatherings” which provide the materials “that can be used in the display of gender and the affirmation of gender identity” (Goffman, 1977: 324). Taking him beyond the scope of his work in Gender Advertising, it is the social construction of gender that is his primary concern, which along with the gender scripts portrayed in advertising “are in [a] dynamic relationship to individual bodies and identities”, whereby just as a circuit requires connected parts “to allow the flow of electricity, each of these components [narrative script, social, actors,] is necessary to make sense of contemporary bodies and identities” (Shapiro, 2015: 18).

The bodies of male and female, while biologically different, are canvases upon which the social script of narrative identity is applied and reapplied. It is these bodies — their place and role in the social, and the spaces which they are permitted to inhabit — that become subject to spacial ritual subordination; which then, in turn, narrate how the body presents itself in space; how it acts, moves, and is positioned. It is in the regular performance of these gendering scenes that the actors perform a ritual self-subordination, and thus, engages in re-scripting the narratives under which they live. But it is not just the body in space that becomes the site for ritual-subordination; the way the body performs in space, is presented in space, using certain props or technologies, becomes 1 a means of ritual subordination. In her book, Gender Circuits, Eve Shapiro describes our bodies as, “canvases upon which we, as individuals, enact our wills … Our choices of which technologies to employ are always shaped by, and made within, a larger social context rife with hegemonic ideologies and social structures” (Shapiro, 2015: 105). 

To actualise and legitimise our role as actors within the social space we apply certain technologies to our bodies, further subordinating ourselves to the gender narratives of the dominant script which we are acting out: “technology is always a social endeavour[emphasis mine]” (Mackenzie & Wajcman, 1999). The social endeavour of technology changes our bodies, and can perpetuate the stereotyping of a particular gender performance. Consider then, how for women, the use of cosmetic enhancement (from make-up to the more extreme cosmetic surgery) as a gendering technology subordinates the body. The hyper-ritualisation and coding of certain types of beauty within advertising, which become seen as the accepted script, are used to subordinate the body itself whereby, “women are expected to use new technologies to produce normative bodies, just as they have been expected to ….don corsets as in ages past, and these modified bodies in turn become the new norm to which individuals are held accountable” (Shapiro, 2015: 105).

Connell (2009: 67) explains this when she says that, bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice. The same bodies, at the same time, are both. The practises in which bodies are involved form social structures and personal trajectories, which in turn provide the conditions of new practices in which bodies are addressed and involved. There is a loop, a circuit, linking bodily processes and social structures. In fact, there is a tremendous number of such circuits. They occur in historical time, and change over time. They add up to the historical process in which society is embodied, and bodies are drawn into history. Thus, in the loops and circuits we find a cycle of constant re-scripting, a perpetual ghost writing of the autobiographies of self, where the ghost writer is, in fact, without our knowledge, us. In Marxist terms a false consciousness is maintained under the auspices of a hegemonic ideology of binary gender distinctions — the doctrine of gender differentiation.

There is a powerfully ideology at play in the way that male and female are choreographed in the images of advertising. Just as Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus shifted from the church to the school as a site of producing the labour force (Althusser, 1971); so in Goffman’s theory of ritual subordination we hear the “hey you!” of Althusser’s ‘interpelation’; the quiet whisper of the advertising image producing gender performances. Jean Killbourne puts it well when she says that, For the first time in human history, most of the stories about peoples, life and values are told not by parents, schools, churches, or others in the community …but by a group of distant conglomerates that have something to sell (Killbourne, 2006).

I digress. Google it.

Here's the point: the church is not less a technology than Facebook. 

Stand; sit; behave; sing; kneel; eat this; don't drink that; read this; believe this; attend this; vote that; like this; look like that; comment on this; go here; be there .... 

In a sense 

You get the point.

* the weird digression in the middle is taken from here 


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Immanent Texts

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No Bell Tolls