Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Not the most euphonious word, but gets at a key aspect of neoliberal subjectivity -- getting people to recognize risk throughout everyday life and assume responsibility for managing it themselves, without help from the state, employers, or the community, but entirely by their own wiles through the help of the market (consumer purchasing power and advertising-assisted savviness) and technology. Mark Andrejevic, in his paper "The Work of Watching One Another: Lateral Surveillance, Risk, and Governance" (pdf), brings it together in the conclusion (after discussing some now outdated approaches to peer-to-peer surveillance that have been entirely supplanted by social media and its cult of positivity):
The dissemination of surveillance tools and practices has to be read alongside a climate of generalized, redoubled risk. The conjunction of risk and responsibility derives from another intersection: that of reflexive skepticism with the participatory promise of the market -- the injunction not to trust in discredited social institutions and traditional practices, but to take matters into one’s own hands through the mechanism that has helped corrode them. Management of family, optimization of personal relationships, and maximization of one’s own productivity are modeled on the enterprise model: maximized outcomes, enhance productivity, reduce risk. The market is promulgated as the anti-institutional institution, a big Other that relies neither on faith or tradition, but solely on the intersection and exchange of self-interest. As such, it inoculates itself against savvy critique, conceding before the fact the subterranean agendas revealed by every deconstructive gesture.
The point is that social media allows us to spy on each other, and thus fits the sort of DIY aspect of neoliberal subjectivity -- the part that also fits with the "personal brand" (the enterprise model) and with Žižek's idea of lost "symbolic efficiency" (the loss of trust in communication because of its decontextualization, etc.) and the prevalence of cynicism as an everyday affect, as a street-smart wisdom that thinks it sees through the culture but actually serves it and suits it perfectly. We rely on our ability to get to the bottom of things and think that serves us better than regulation, collectivity, community standards being enforced, etc. The pseudo-community of social media allows us to feel we can draw on a huge wealth of information while participating in social life at our own convenience, controlling it to our advantage as a way of managing risk without having to make any compromises or sacrifices to uphold/participate in communal values.

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