On the Internet: The Next Chapter in a Genealogy of Subjecthood
This thesis evaluates the condition of the modern subject. In order to understand what constitutes the subject, how it becomes subjectified and what agency it has, I look to three main theorists who offer unique paradigmatic interpretations. The first, in Chapter One, is Thomas Friedman, whose theory of globalization, as a mostly positive process of flattening the world’s economic and political playing fields through communicative technologies, occupies the contemporary theory of the subject. However, I take issue with Friedman’s cheery, uncritical depiction and look to two critical social theorists to provide an analysis that remedies his flaws. Chapter Two seeks to update Foucault’s conceptions of surveillance and discipline. Given contemporary National Security Agency surveillance tactics, I argue the modern surveillance state has now found a new target in the digital body, which is a new site for the expression of disciplinary power. The surveillance state has become even larger and more problematic than in Foucault’s world through constructing subjects that are constantly monitored in their every day interactions. The late-modern ‘panopticon’ has entered private spaces, making them potentially penetrable by the law and disciplining institutions. This has implications for subjects’ privacy and the individual liberties safeguarded by the US Constitution. More than this, the Internet represents a new sphere where power disciplines, operates on, and constitutes subjects without their even knowing it. Chapter Three seeks to update Marx’s conceptions of alienation and exploitation. I argue that the Internet is a new terrain for capitalist exploitation. The Internet serves capitalism’s consumption goals. A new late-modern digital bourgeoisie has emerged who exploits Internet subjects by profiting from the surplus value they yield online. Internet subjects thus engage in digital labor that makes them exploitable by both traditional capitalists and late-modern data brokers. Due to the overuse of social media, subjects are also alienated from each other and their ‘species being’ in a world where almost everything is mediated through a virtual screen, and engagements with the sensuous world have become increasingly sidelined. Capitalism has found new expression and established unique exploitive relations on the Internet. I conclude by raising further questions and suggesting future areas of study. If we are to continue on this genealogy of subjecthood, what types of digital resistances are available that could complicate my analysis of the Internet’s harms? What should be the next chapter to continue the genealogy of subjecthood I have attempted to start? How should we go about conceiving of our digital subject’s future—both its positive and negative aspects?