"database politics"

Posted by Rhizome | Thu May 8th 1997 1 a.m.

More from the Tech90s Jeremijenko discussion (www.tech90s.net). Text in
reference is excerpted after the dialogue:

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Nick Stone (stone@spacelab.net) wrote:

Jeremijenko and the Bureau of Inverse Technology indict technology in
fascinating and hilarious ways. Hers is art that sharpens vision and
critical thinking rather than informing and pleasing. Yet, it was so
much fun. What was the most difficult to grasp about her work, which to
my mind is a reasonable price to pay, were the complexities and
socio-political conditions which it reflected and in which it was
produced -- these were foregrounded in her lecture, Jeremijenko is
clearly politically identified, but remained somewhat vague to me. She
is a terrific de-mystifier of technology, and her talk demonstrated an
expert command of irony...

I would like to think more about the politics of the database -- anyone?

GVA posted:

"database politics" strikes me as a brilliant coinage, and I find it
difficult to imagine a more pertinent one for the times we are
experiencing.

I for one am torn between the impulse to build databases for all the
information I value (so I can find it or make it available to others),
and the awareness that there is something very wrong in this...

When Jeremijenko was asked if the Bureau has competitors, she said
"absolutely"-- she saw many entities and individuals involved in the
activity of reducing social problems to their technical components. NB:
the complicity factor

Rachel Greene wrote:

One of the easiest ways to start thinking about the Bureau's database
projects was for me to go a little more macro: My take on the politics
of the database is that iconified categories impact everything -- from
what it means to be a person to what it means to be a Leo. A riveting
and perfect example of this process comes from Foucault's "Introduction
to the History Of Sexuality." Foucault traces the evolution and currency
of the word "homosexual," and how it impacted sexual practices and ideas
of sexual identity. Before the category came into being, there was
probably a lot more social freedom. Once a notion of "homosexuality" was
created, then the way people identified sexually was revolutionized. Not
to mention the social-political repurcussions. One of my fave things
about the Bureau is that they explore this via wonderful, fun art
projects...

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from Jeremijenko's talk:

I begin with the assertion that technologies are tangible social
relations. That said, technologies can therefore be used to make social
relations tangible. Technologies create the material conditions within
which we work, and imagine ourselves and our identities. I am concerned
with how technology is developed within a context where overarching
priority is given to formal systems over content, and where the
complicating and politicizing projects of postmodernity are
marginalized. I am interested in the epistemological work of current
technologies. This includes what gets technological attention and what
does not, what gets counted, and what gets left out. What is the
political fabric of the information age? And what interventions can be
made in a place where economics gets equated with politics, where
diversity is rendered in homogeneous database fields, and where
consumption forms identity? I will use a number of my own projects to
make the above assertions meaningful, and then go on to introduce the
Bureau of Inverse Technology. I will screen the Bureau's "Suicide Box,"
which is currently showing in the Whitney Biennial [New York City], and
then deliver some excerpts from the Engineer's Report on the project's
implications and applications. Engineering is where social reality is
made.

[...]

Consider the slogan used to advertise a new database package,
"information is power." This slogan represents a common view -- though,
testifying to its cultural saliency, it's not explicit about the nature
of the relationship between nature and power, except that the purchase
of the database product assures you both. The received view of the
relationship of power to information goes something like this. First,
applying information can achieve power. That is, descriptions of how
things are and how they function can create opportunities for
manipulation or control. Secondly, the misapplication of power can
distort the correctness of data, hiding or concealing information or
generating false information. Thirdly, information can liberate us from
the repressive effects of power, uncovering the distortion that power
imposes on information. Truth of falsity of something is seen as a
property of the information such that power is the distorting lens of
the information camera. Power and information are presumed extrinsic to
each other and somehow independent. Fundamentally, power is not seen to
affect the truth of the information, and power is not seen to contribute
constructively to information. However the account of power and
information which the Bureau's research demonstrates is one in which
power does not simply impinge on information from without -- rather that
information arises from power relations. The very technological
attention to suicide is the critical element in its existence as
information -- it simply did not exist in this form prior to the
bureaucratic eye lent to it by the Bureau. And the subsequent
information is better understood not in a static correspondence,
non-correspondence, truth, falsity, but in how and what it is used for,
Therefore, the information is not fully abstractable in representational
theories. It is partial, and contingent on how it is framed, rather than
neutral, empirical, and comprehensive.

Natalie Jerimijenko, 1997. Available at http://www.tech90s.net
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