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Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Frauen- und GeschlechterforschungDr. Antoinette Rouvroy

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Disparition of the unconscious in time of algorithmic governmentality.

«Data intelligence» and algorithmic decision-making processes are gradually becoming the privileged coordinates of social modelisation and uncertainty management in most sectors of activity and government (commercial and political marketing, security and law enforcement, fraud prevention, educational or professional guidance, human resources management, predictive justice…). According to the hypothesis of algorithmic governmentality, the rankings, scores, matches and profiles through which individual behavioural propensities are detected in advance, or the invisible opportunities and dangerousity virtually present in life-forms are rewarded or sanctioned, are based on algorithmic processing of infra-personal data transpiring from behaviours rather than on norms resulting from prior deliberative processes. Opaque, implicit, impersonal and indisputable «profiles» replace a priori  categorizations and qualifications which are always perceived as too general and abstract, politically debatable, ideologically contestable, culturally biased. Whereas algorithmic optimisation of interactions between the individual and his/her surroundings appears to be a «rationalization» of the forms according to which we govern ourselves, this «algorithmic turn», attesting to the transition of a civilization of interpretable signs and texts to a civilization of meaningless but computable signals and algorithms, is above all symptomatic of a radical crisis of representation. In algorithmic governmentality, digital signals (data) are no longer apprehended as secondary instances representing or conveying pre-existing meaning or entities (subjects, objects, truths, activities, inventions,…), they are no longer apprehended as signifiers, as signs, but merely as pure signals emanating from what was, previously, since Kant, excluded from the scope of human reason : things in themselves. As the painter Luc Tuymans once said : “These days the notion of the ‘real’ rules everything – not realistic but ‘real’.”  This mystique of immanence or pure presence, the technical-ideological believe in data as the language of things themselves, and the obsession for «real» time, «real» costs, and for an apprehension of the social in «high digital re/dissolution», denying political space and the limits of representability, or the aporetic dimension of democracy, is not simply the embodiment of the stellar and viral naivety of a few gurus in the Silicon Valley. Rathern-, this “mystique” of pure digital presence pretending to absorb, in the vortex of “real time”, all the past, present and future, is strategic to the (digital-)capitalist project of self-immunization  against all that should/could resist to its extension (collective assemblages of enunciation, political subjects, the organic world itself, materiality…). In this sense, algorithmic governmentality is not the cause, but the symptom or the spectre of what Mark Fisher depicted as “capitalist realism” eternalizing an “undead capitalism” beyond the exhaustion of everything. As Fisher wrote: “it’s much more difficult to kill something that’s “undead” than to kill something that’s alive.” The speculative spaces opened by the gazeless algorithmic vision, allowing for the automatic and anticipative transformation of the virtual into surplus value constitute the immune system of a computational “real” against the incalculable, unassimilable, irreducible, non-marketable, non-finalized, sovereign outside. It is an immune system of “algorithmic realism” against the “real real”, the non-simulated real or, as Lacan would say, “the real as impossible to say”. This obliteration or repression of the «real real» on the pretext of «algorithmic realism» is a liquidation of the «forms» through which we govern ourselves, and an expropriation of individual and collective imagination.



Dr. Antoinette Rouvroy

Antoinette Rouvroy ist ständige wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Belgischen Nationalfonds (FNRS) und leitende Forscherin am Zentrum Information and Law and Society an der rechtswissenschaftlichen Fakultät, Université de Namur (Belgien).



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