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  • From Targets to MatchesThe Digital Anatomy-Politics of Neoliberal Sexuality
  • Andrea Righi (bio)

A remarkable trait of our neoliberal societies is that the widespread discredit of political institutions is counterpoised by an unprecedented expansion of power. Power hides behind ultramodern techniques while simultaneously letting traits that look archaic resurface. On one side, we have extensive deployments of digital technologies and metadata analysis that enable pervasive control, while on the other, we have the institutionalization of practices—infringements of fundamental democratic rights such as due process, torture, secrecy of correspondence and so forth—that modern democracies had abolished, at least in principle, long ago. When describing the forms of power that developed with the advent of capitalism, Foucault argues that we should not restrict our attention to the transformation of legal apparatuses, but rather concentrate on what happens to social technologies and to the series of practices and knowledge that comprise a dispositif. As he argues in the 1979 lecture "Les mailles de pouvoir," which he delivered in Bahia, Brazil, we should move from a juridical conceptualization of the deployment of power to a technological one. This is Foucault's most timely contribution to the understanding of our present: exploring venues for the disciplining of subjectivities that are affirmative rather than negative, modalities of subject formation that while administrating "things and persons right down to the minutest detail, would neither be expensive nor essentially predatory on society."

In "Les mailles de pouvoir," the two chief historical cases that Foucault uses to exemplify this transformation are the military and sexuality. Foucault is particularly interested in the "techniques of training" of the modern Prussian army and in the emergence of sexuality as the discourse that controls population growth. Both are what [End Page 95] he calls "techniques for the individualization of power" that developed methodologies to "monitor [surveiller] someone … control his conduct, his behavior, his aptitudes … intensify his performance, multiply his capacities." The issue of efficacy—that is to say, of the creation of sites of affirmation in which individuals autonomously maximize their existence while optimizing the system as a whole—is truly one of the most pressing problems that neoliberal governmentality presents us with today. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval argue that neoliberal rationality requires "liberty as a condition of possibility." By this they mean that "to govern is not to govern against liberty, or despite it; it is to govern through liberty" (5, 15).1 As we know, this system is far from being aseptically positive: blood runs every second the neoliberal machine ticks. There is a deep connection between killing life and expanding it, if only because of the banal fact that the labor of life is also that of death, as Heraclitus would say. But more poignantly, war and sexuality are terms of comparison insofar as they give shape to a system of positivity that wants to code the movement of matter itself by transcribing it into the language of capital accumulation.

To investigate this correlation, I will briefly discuss the technology of neoliberal war, drawing a parallel with the kind of socio-symbolic environment that digital media reproduce; this is particularly the case with a popular locative media matchmaking app like Tinder. To anticipate my conclusions: I contend that both systems of power are undergoing a transformation that mimics life emergent, self-transformative properties (its potentiality, as we will see) while reprogramming and recording its outputs according to a logic of what Matteo Pasquinelli has called "algorithmic governance"—in other words, the political, economic, and "epistemic space generated by algorithms of data mining" (2015).2 War and sexuality are revelatory of how neoliberalism fashions, in Foucault's terms, "an anatomo-politics, an anatomy that targets individuals to the point of anatomizing them" (n.p.). Although a great deal of work has already been carried out on the epistemological and political implications for modern warfare, scarce attention has been paid to those of the other term of our dispute: sexuality. On the other hand, the growing literature that studies the exhibitionist and permissive outlook of hookup culture and social media seems to be limited to the empiric collecting of scientific evidence—usually [End Page 96] restricted to young...


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pp. 95-121
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