Haunted TechnoDemocracy — Research Project Agenda 04/09/2017

The paradoxical relationship between democracy and media technology is not specific to the turn of the millennium. From the days of the eighteenth century pamphlet to contemporary wiretaping, democratic participation has been channeled, interrupted, and inevitably constituted through the same media networks within which our working conceptions of “democracy” consolidate and interrupt themselves. What changed in the twenty first century was the unprecedented speed and scope of user-generated content production/consumption. In 2002, Jacques Derrida wrote on the triad link between writing technology, democracy, and the ways in which “access” to writing (production) has historically served as the classical “condition of citizenship”( Echographies of Television 56). He speculated that the twenty first century had inherited a media ecology which “displaces places” in ways that may one day make it possible to reframe “the question of democracy” to “no longer be that of citizenship” (57). However, the institutional, often violent reification of “citizenship” in the fifteen years since Echographies of Television rebuts Derrida’s speculation that technologically enabled globalization might dissolve the political centrality of “citizenship.” At the same time, these violent reifications of “citizenship” reveal the nation-state’s frantic response to the border disintegration anxiety Derrida identified. Derrida himself was keenly aware that the displacement of “citizenship” was neither a guaranteed outcome nor necessarily a utopian vision. The expansion of technology use does not necessitate its democratization.

Instead, Derrida writes that to “democratize” a “technic event” is to “politicize otherwise” a “politics of memory” — “the future, from the still-to-come [depuis l’a-venir]” (64). “Politicizing otherwise” (Other wise) requires a critique of the “political” “itself.” Rethinking the political requires “a critical culture, for a politicization that would revive what is generally occulted (“depoliticized”) about the political, for a sensitivity to the necessary democratization of all these phenomenon” (64) from “citizenship, border, idiom, place, territory, etc….and by technics in general” (Stiegler Echographies of Television 65). Such a critical culture embarks on this “infinite, even impossible task” (Derrida 64) by beginning with the very concepts of “the political” and “democracy” that “we” have inherited. By working through how these inherited concepts deconstruct themselves through their mutually constituting, interrupting play, we open up ourselves to the ruptures in these concepts that can be strategically, responsibly used to redefine political action and “politics.” 

In this project, I limit my “work through” on these immediate, material practices of democracy by artificially focusing on the 2016 presidental election cycle as a “temporal space” for synchronic analyses. For if Derrida is correct, that we have inherited a technologically mediated, technologically displaced democracy, then we must further examine the affective dimensions of the simultaneity I described in my opening paragraph. On the one hand, this simultaneity appears to engender a sense of “connection” amongst individual “global” “technological” “citizens,” despite, on the other hand, contributing to disintegration anxiety around citizenship.  Jeffrey Scone has noted, the very simultaneity of communication can contribute to a sense of uncanny that Scone describes as “haunted media.” In his book by the same name, Scone traces how socio-historically specific concepts of “uncanny agency”are culturally ascribed to technologies that undermine perceptions of living/dead, human/nonhuman, passive/active, or collective/individuated consciousness.

In what ways do these haunted, “uncanny” technologies impact the sense of agency and community — in other words, citizenship — in the early twenty-first century? What effect, if any, does a sense of “lost agency” in technological participation have upon democratic participation?

This project uses haunted media as a lens to analyze the relationship between different media technologies and American conceptions of democratic participation, with specific attention to the technological uncanny in the 2016 election cycle. There are many sutible case studies that focus on  technologically mediated political “event” driven by non-human agency. These include the role of Twitter bots in political discourse on Twitter in the 2016 presidential election, the “going viral” of the videos of police brutality, “ghosting” tactical media technologies such as Harlo Holmes’ work in activist metadata, and “lo-fi” doxxing on media platforms from Instagram to the street sign post. If successful, this analysis will contribute to the academic conversation around rhetoric, politics, and technology by underscoring technology’s hauntological dimension.

As of April 2017, I am hesitant to disclose more for the time being. Another research update and explanation is scheduled a month from today.