I was at the Engaging Foucault conference, hosted in Belgrade, this month. Half of it, anyway – the other half was spent in two timezones, three airports and some kind of sitcom singularity of missed airplanes. I eventually got there in time to speak about:
The World As We Know It: techniques of the self, phenomenological ‘engagement’ and digital surveillance
How do we engage with the world before ‘public engagement’? That term already invokes subjects who are the public and rightfully bring their interests to engage with political power. Subtending this activity is a more personal mode of engaging with imagined publics – a phenomenological process where our experiences and impressions aggregate into wider beliefs about how the world ‘must be working’. How do we, for instance, develop impressions about ‘government’ or ‘democracy’ that then prefigure beliefs about ourselves as ‘public’ and the kinds of ‘engagements’ that are possible?
This line of questioning extends Foucault’s techniques of the self into phenomenological and affective dimensions, thereby building on Deleuzian readings of Foucault. Foucault’s examples, like self-writing, constituted relatively rational and behaviouristic forms of self-‘control’. I suggest that these are part of a wider range of techniques which intersect reason and affect, habit and discourse, in order to produce the world as we know it – a sense of what regimes of knowledge/power we are living in. Though we strive for a stable and dependable imaginary, this is also how we reach beyond ourselves and into new modes of inhabiting the world; an ‘art of not being oneself’. I will draw on ongoing research into life in the age of digital surveillance to illustrate this relationship.