Hull, Gordon, Infrastructure, Modulation, Portal: Thinking with Foucault about how Internet Architecture Shapes Subjects, SSRN (January 22, 2021).
Following Foucault’s remarks on the importance of architecture to disciplinary power, this paper offers a typology of power relations expressed in different models of Internet governance. Infrastructure governance understands the Internet as a common pool or public resource, on the model of traditional infrastructures like roads and bridges. Modulation, which I study by way of Net Neutrality debates in the U.S., understands Internet governance as traffic shaping. Portal governance, which I study by way of data collection policies of dominant platform companies, understands the Internet as creating a user experience that facilitates data mining. The latter two are forms of architectural disciplinary power that undermine the first. I then argue that the rise of portal and modulation governance primarily serves to remake parts of civil society by fostering market norms of consumption and entrepreneurialism. In that sense, efforts to shape Internet architecture need to be understood as techniques of subjectification.
Keywords: infrastructure, platform, portal, net neutrality, disciplinary power