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When English textile workers were threatened by industrial machines, they chose to destroy them. What can we do today, in the time of algorithms?

This was a question I am asking myself for quite a long time. Finally, it became a text following this train of thought: Digital technologies demand from us to return to Foucault’s text “What Is Critique?,” in which he famously posed the question “how not to be governed like that” (Foucault 1978, 44). Now that digital technologies and computa- tion shape the realities of the overdeveloped world, what does it mean to ask “How not to be governed like that”? How are we being governed? Are we being governed with digital technology, that is, has this technology become an instrument of power? Or are we governed by that technology, is that technology a power of its own right? And if so, how does its power operate differently? After all, politics counts (Rancière 1995, 6) while the algorithms running our digital technologies calculate.

Asking these questions, this chapter seeks to explore how digital technologies shift the power mechanism by returning to Foucault’s inquiry into power and critique to show that the process of digital calculation obscures the power exercised on the individual and the individual’s subjugation. Now there can be power, but that does not automatically mean anymore that there also can be individual resistance.
Faced with this problem, the second part of this text searches for a different way of critiquing digital technologies, turning to Deleuze for philosophical support and to computer scientist Philip E. Agre for techno-theoretical assis- tance. Can Agre’s concept of a “critical technical practice,” which evolves from a situation instead of from a subject, become a way to insist “not to be governed like that” in the technical realities we live in today? To follow our desire “not to be governed like that” by our digital technologies, however, one first needs to return to the conceptual beginnings of this quest.

Download the text here.

The chapter is part of an edited volume dedicated to The end(s) of critique, edited by Birgit Mara Kaiser, Timothy O’Leary, Kathrin Thiele. London: Rowman & Littlefield (open access version here under ‘Features’.

It has been translated to Spanish and was published by Laurel (see here); it can be bought at the usual places online.

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