Contribution to a Political Economy of Self-archiving

Yuk Hui —  September 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yuk Hui from Hybrid Publishing Lab will give a talk in the colloquium Compromised Data? New Paradigms in Social Media Theory and Methods, at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada (28-29 October, 2013). The talk entitled Contribution to a Political Economy of Self-Archiving, refers to a self-archiving project launched in HybridPublishing Lab that aims to reconsider the question of archiving and storing in the digital age. It will talk about one of the theoretical concepts of the archive project: starting from an interpretation of Canguillhem’s The Living and its Milieu and reconsider the contribution of Simondon’s associated milieu and Heidegger’s care. Below is the abstract:

We are producing and reproducing more and more digital objects and data in an increasing speed, in response there are more and more cloud computing service providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook and other social media giving users storages of files and data. This paper wants to discuss the problem generated in this stage of digitization, namely that we are losing the ability to archive objects and give control to the clouds. The departure of this article underlies a difference between storing and archiving. Storing is simply putting things on the hard disk drive with certain kinds of index; while possessing more and more objects, we start forgetting what one has, and we tend to download the same objects several times and risk not being able to locate objects one is looking for. The huge storage services seem to produce an illusion that everything can be remembered, but in fact they produce conditions of total forgetting. In contrast, archiving is a practice of creating contexts indicating the relevance between objects and users. To archive is to select, that implies remembering and forgetting. These contexts in turn constitute the milieu of the livings, in the sense as Georges Canguilhem described in The Living and its Milieu[1]. By creating and maintaining these milieux, we learn to orient and to live – “a median situation, a fluid of suspension, a life environment.” Canguilhem borrowed the example of Jakob von Uexküll’s blind ticks, by sensing the smell, the warmth and other elements that constitute the milieu, they know when to fall down from a tree to the back of animals passing by.

Gilbert Simondon has extended the concept of milieu to understand relation between human and machine and underlies a politics between the two, since after all, human beings are not ticks, we live in milieux which become more and more artificial and subject to engineering. Industrialisation constantly povertises our living milieux and generate new milieux that favourite economic exchanges and miseries. We observe that self-archiving tools are largely underdeveloped,while commercial social media such as Google, Facebook don’t provide us with tools to archive but only to store. At the same time, ironically they are constantly archiving our contextual information, e.g. our habits, meetings, participation in events, for marketing uses. This relation between the living and the digital milieu has to be re-accessed and politicised under current situation of industrialisation. For Simondon, before industrialisation, man – the bearer of tools are technical individuals that maintain a stable associated milieu for themselves; while industrialisation destroyed this setting and inversely rendered human workers the associated milieu of machines in the factories. For Simondon, this destruction of milieu is one of the major causes of alienation and proletarianization[2].

What could be further developed from Simondon’s theory is that it also destroys the structure of care by replacing it with economic exchanges. It seems urgent today to address the problem of the milieu under the current technological condition by reconceptualising practices of self-archiving and retackling the question of care in related to digital objects and metadata. By care I refers to three different notions here: Foucault’s proposal to return the care of the self (le souci) as a technic of subjectivation; Heidegger’s care (die Sorge) as a temporal structure; Bernard Stiegler’s proposal of taking care (prendre soin). Hence self-archiving is not only a question of autonomy, but also a possibility to consider new perspectives of deproletarianisation. Within an agenda of self-archiving, we can also re-imagine the question of personalisation and share that have been dominated by social media, for example, what kind of personalisation can be developed through the practice of self-care rather being determined largely by the social milieu? can we imagine new forms of share, for example offline portable digital libraries that are shared among local communities? The question of self-archiving is both a call for technological development, and a call for a politics of archives after Michel Foucault. This paper ends by exposing the current self-archiving tool we are working on and calling for future collaborations.

[1]G. Canguilhem, The Living and Its Milieu, Grey Room, No. 3 (Spring, 2001), pp. 6-31

[2]G. Simondon, Du Mode d’Existence des objects techniques, Aubier, 1958, 2012


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