On Kittler and the Autopoietic Integration of Identity Data into the Post-Foucault Assemblage Archive

Jamie Saker
European Graduate School, June 2011
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On Kittler and the Autopoietic Integration of Identity Data into the Post-Foucault Assemblage Archive by James R. Saker Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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With the emergence and acceleration of second generation “Assemblage Archives”, heterogeneous, second-order databases of identity, constructed through the linkage and integration of first-order homogenous collections of individual behavior, the problem of the development and evolution of extrinsic and/or intrinsic normative controls at the second-order level appear to exceed the capacity for private and public control.

In his work Gramophone ,Film, Typewriter, media theorist Friedrich Kittler writes of the connection of the emerging digital data sets to the archive, to which theorist and historian Michel Foucault had substantiated provides for the source of power:

History was the homogenous field which, as a subject in school curricula, included only cultures with written language. Mouths and graphisms dropped out into prehistory. Otherwise events and their stories could not have been connected. The commands and judgments, the announcements and prescriptions that gave rise to mountains of corpses – military and juridical, religious and medical – all went through the same channel that held the monopoly on the descriptions of these mountains of corpses. That is why anything that ever happened ended up in libraries. And Foucault, the last historian or the first archeologist, had only to look it up. The suspicion that all power comes from archives to which it returns could be brilliantly illustrated, at least within the legal, medical, and theological fields.
(Friedrich Kittler; Dorothea von Mucke, Phillipe L. Similon. “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.” October, Vol. 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 101-118.)

In the two decades following Kittler’s analysis and connectivity to the archive, the realm of digital commerce and social engagement, as particularly but not exclusively constructed on the Internet, has seen evolution of first generation systems arise in correspondence with the nexus of social engagement. Such assemblages of digital history tend to center around the individual’s engagement with specific and subsequently local regions of social experience: driving histories recorded with the Department of Motor Vehicles, merchant purchases captured at the point-of-sale terminal, course and grade transcripts archived at the school and university.

Each first-generation digital archive experienced its construction of capabilities, practices, processes and norms through their initial closures, provided through the initial closures that defined systemic control of the archive, and from the subsequent emergence of capabilities, processes, norms and other behaviors that followed given the definition of the archive through its intrinsic and extrinsic engagement with social, political and economic actors.

In the second major generation of archive construction, entities that include Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have shifted from the development of homogenous archives centered around a locality of social experience toward the creation of second-order archives, constructed typically through the linkage of social locales through the commonality of the individual. As Heinz von Foerster identifies in his 1993 lecture, this integration of first-order systems causes the question of the rules of integration for the second-order archive to be raised:

I have a System A, I have a System B, and now I’d like to integrate both of these into a System C. What rules consist of that allow a new System C to arise, rules of integration, of composition?
(Heinz von Foerster, “For Niklas Luhmann: How Recursive is Communication??”. Lecture given at the Author’s Colloquium in honor of Niklas Luhmann on February 5, 1993 at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld. The German version was published in Teoria Soziobiologica, 2/93. Franco Angeli, Milan, pp 61-88 (1993))

According to German systems theorist Niklas Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic closure and control, these first-order archives described by Kittler realized regulations, norms, practices and processes through their engagement within the actors and participants of the homogeneous practice. Actors within the first-order had close proximity to its practice, experientially understood its attributes, requirements, risks, threats and norms. Recurring and frequent interaction by the actors within the first-order provided for the evolution of responsible norms, policies and controls.

Architects, administrators and archivists in the engagement with the first-order “Archive of the Motor Vehicle Driver”, for example, would have had close proximity with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Federal, State and Local auditors, political and citizen-led feedback, and other agents with substantial subject-matter experience to the locality of the first-order archive. As such, the architecture, definition, development and maintenance of these initial digital archives was conducted in close proximity to its stakeholders and realized pragmatic normative practices through this proximity.

Given the premise of the accelerated emergence of second-order Assemblage Archives (or “System C’s” to approximate Foerster’s model), where the individual is no longer defined in relation to a specific field of practice or locality of engagement, but rather through and across the multiplicities of first-order archives in the construction of a second-order archive, and given the extra-jurisdictional detachment this second-order archive realizes through its disconnection from the nexus of practice and actor experience, what are the anticipated consequences and corresponding responsibilities societies have in ethically managing this second-order assemblage?

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One response to “On Kittler and the Autopoietic Integration of Identity Data into the Post-Foucault Assemblage Archive

  1. Beyond about 1980 many 1st order archives are missing due to microfiche decay and destruction of originals. After 1980, many 1st order archives cannot be retrieved because the equipment to read them are in museums or landfills, or the tapes decayed.

    What was that about the poverty of historicism?

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