I picked this piece from Koopman (2019) up from the orgorgorgorgorg.org reading group at UNC. I’m marking it here so I remember the idea of thinking about information without at the same time thinking about communication. The pragmatist in me was initially skeptical about the idea that there could be information absent people communicating. But I think Koopman makes a compelling argument (drawing on Foucault) that formats do work outside of communication, particularly in the ways that they make us into subjects.

A media-genealogical approach, thus, prompts an investigation of how information formats identity, personhood, or subjectivity. To what extent are we made by the formats of our data? What limits does that formatting set for who we can be and what we can do?

Koopman coins the term of infopower (can this really be the first time this is used) directly echoing Foucault’s idea of biopower, or technologies for the control of populations. For Koopman infopower designates the mechanisms by which we are made into informational persons, who are formatted by the data structures that have been deployed for purposes that exceed communication.

It seems like there is a lot in common here with the idea of legibility developed by Scott (1998), and work around standards (Lampland & Star, 2009), especially the idea that standards are deployed as critiques of the existing landscapes that they are engineered to alter. I’ve written a little bit about that here before. What Koopman is saying is that we, as subjects, are part of that landscape that is being altered by formats. I like the idea of a genealogy of formats, and I think it could be useful in an archival setting. In some ways it speaks directly to the mechanics of archives.

References

Koopman, C. (2019). Information before theory: The politics of data beyond the perspective of communication. New Media & Society.

Lampland, M., & Star, S. L. (2009). Standards and their stories: How quantifying, classifying, and formalizing practices shape everyday life. Cornell University Press.

Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press.