Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Irmgard Emmelhainz, Authoritarianism and the Cybernetic Episteme, or the Progressive Disappearance of Everything on Earth, e-flux journal, Issue #122, November 2021
Open access

Life and society worldwide have been transformed by digital technology, including the fabrics of emotional relationships. Many believed the internet would be the largest ungoverned space in the world with unlimited emancipatory potential, and trusted Big Tech to make the world a better place. Yet power and capitalism filled that space with surveillance systems, the production of private capital, the monetization of data, and the control of human lives. Social media now shape daily life and many have lost faith in the possibility of a shared consensus reality. We are living in a scenario similar to one imagined by Black Mirror: our belief in digital communication and social media creates narcissistic personalities, selves dissociated and dislocated from their reflections online. Digital communication offers an opaque mirror that delivers egos without bodies, eliding alterity.

According to its Greek etymology, an “episteme” is a system of understanding. In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault uses the term “épistemè” to mean the nontemporal or a priori knowledge that grounds what is taken as truth in a given moment. Several epistemes coexist at a given time, as they constitute parts of various systems of power and knowledge. The cybernetic episteme, as defined by the collective Tiqqun some twenty years ago, describes our relationship to technology and machines (which are inseparable from the workings of capitalism). The cybernetic episteme is based on the modern tenet of progress and human-led transcendence achieved through science and technology.

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