Building Education for the Commons

GCAS Professor Dr. Claudia Landolfi: “The Governmentalization of Emotions”

The Governmentalization of emotions: the Digital Shrift

(this is a topic I faced into my forthcoming book ‘The one and the many: the legal subject and the desiring matter’)

by Dr. Claudia Landolfi

Dr. Claudia Landolfi

Dr. Claudia Landolfi

According to Jaques Donzelot the importance of Foucault’s analysis consists in the original understanding about the intelligence of liberalism, whereas, at his time, liberalism was seen in France as a suspect doctrine. Intellectuals used to think against it rather with it, or by it, missing the deep mechanisms of its functioning. ‘In our determination to think against liberalism, without thinking it through and considering what it can teach us, we fail to grasp the reasons for its strength and unlimited expansion, and we adopt an increasingly rigid and sterile position in the development of the world.’ From Foucault we can learn important conceptual tools about the functioning of power as ‘art of government’ which, through a set of ‘institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, calculations and tactics’ assures the taking in charge of the people and guarantees the ‘government of the living’. Foucault refers to the ability to ‘structure the possible field of action of others’ and then to direct the conduct of others. With the phrase ‘order of discourse’ Foucault means the intent of studying genealogically the material constitution of the speeches in society, where they produce a complex set of ‘effects of truth’, and the previous understanding of their production process as part of the apparatus of power-knowledge within which do work certain mechanisms of control and exclusion of the word.

The discursive level is that in which the subjectivity is produced by the governmental power. Also, we can refer to the psycho-analytical approach which stresses the passionate level and its mechanisms. Another approach can be derived from Deleuze for he wrote about the different shapes of desire.

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Today we see the importance of attitudes, beliefs, motivations: what was called ‘new economy’ that is, the economy and the financial system in digital technology, in fact, is being developed on the basis of an emotional involvement of individuals in networks sustained by passionate participation. Think of the ‘tele-voting’ and digital policy that no longer passes through the traditional selections but is a decision making system which works through a consensus based on impressions and emotional reactions. It does not mind about the true or false, but rather about how much our emotionality is captured so to provoke a reaction of refusal or acclamation. The ‘I like’ is what moves politics and the economy, then the process of subjectivation concerns the public dimension and produces effects beyond our awareness. It is very important to reconstruct the steps by which we have become what we are in a unique global system of ‘conduct of conducts’, normalized behaviours, based on an anthropological paradigm conveyed in media discourses and directed to our affective dimension. In this sense, we can talk about the technological governmentalization of our emotions.

Government is directly related to subjectivity because in the neo-liberalism there is the liberation of the singularity as capital – we think of human and social resources paradigms – and, therefore, it becomes necessary to give directions for the self-development of singularity so as to produce value. The relationship between subjectivity and government is related to these subjective and qualitative dimensions. The point is to comprehend the governmentality as one of the ways in which power is manifested in society. The power is ‘to influence the other’; the power is always power by someone on someone else; it is in the relation, directing the actions of others (giving shape to the subjectivity, or creating laws with authority, with fear). Let’s think of the mode of self-government of the subjects, of the ‘youtube’s tutorials’ as techniques of liberal empowerment. In digital technologies, the tutorials on youtube work by virtue of people who, spontaneously and freely, share videos to show others how to do to improve. These are normative expressions, indicating a standard müssen, i.e. ‘must be’ (such as how one must dress etc.), and this certainly produces new segments of the market, but this is because each singulatim has internalized the voice of the ‘must be’ and then communicate it to others.

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In my opinion, the multiplicity of forms of governmentality anyway is to be bind to a single model that is an anthropological paradigm. It is a process of internalization of a norm, and when we do not adhere to it then the social mechanisms that are pushing to get our bearings in a way rather than another intervene. It is a generalized governmentality running through the acceptance of a belief about our being, about the values ​​of our inner self (which obviously are not universal nor neutral, but western). There is an approval mechanism (see the ‘talent shows’) through which adolescents learn how to be accepted and approved, including an open space and therefore always to be conquered. The inclusion is never final but requires continuous self-empowerment (think of the job market, which is precarious and flexible and requires constant attention of the subject who must always improve to be accepted for a fixed term). It is a wide pedagogy of subjectivity mediated by new media, but that is oriented, although apparently multifarious, and based on an anthropological model that no longer is imposed in an authoritarian manner; in fact, it passes through various social forms of public ‘chat’ (the heir of the agorà). Following Foucault, we can reflect on the sweet ways of government that is always more dangerous because it acts when we are not aware or conscious: we can see its ‘gentle’ action today through the affective dimension of the media.

One could address the production of discourses about the ‘self’ and the emotions into the digital media as a new form of shrift which could be related to Foucault’s analysis of pastoral government of souls into the apparatuses of knowledge-power. The shrift is a means for building and governing the modern and contemporary subjectivity into discourses. In this frame, we would propose the concept of ‘digital shrift’. At the present time, the private shape of shrift has been reversed into a social speech in digital media, but we can trace many similarities between the two phenomena. In fact, the production of statements about the self is finalized to the production of a recognizable identity socially accepted; the production of discourses on the emotions is finalized to the self-control, auto-analysis and comprehension of the others in society. The shifting of the private sphere into the public sphere, in digital media, carries on this same element of production of the identity.

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This entry was posted on January 13, 2015 by .
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