The Banality of Cynicism: Foucault and the Limits of Authentic Parrhēsia
AbstractFoucault’s discussion of parrhēsia – frank speech – in his last two Collège de France lecture courses has led many to wonder if Foucault is pursuing parrhēsia as a contemporary strategy for resistance. This essay argues that ethical parrhēsia on either the Socratic or Cynical model would have little critical traction today because the current environment is plagued by problems analogous to those Plato thought plagued Athenian democracy. Specifically, authentication of parrhesiasts as a technique for authenticating their speech – the specific problem that the move to ethical parrhēsia in ancient Greece was designed to solve – becomes intractable in a social media environment, even with the added Cynical move to pure visibility. The problem is that contemporary society overproduces visibility as a condition for participation, which means that the context for authenticating parrhesiastic speech is one in which visibility is banalized and in which there is a surplus of speech which presents as parrhesiastic. The problem of authentication is thus a serious one, one which social media makes particularly intractable.
Bailey, Jane, "Life in the Fishbowl: Feminist Interrogations of Webcamming," in Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society, ed. Ian Kerr, Carole Lucock and Valerie Steeves, 283-301. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Barocas, Solon, and Andrew D. Selbst, "Big Data's Disparate Impact," California Law Review 104 (2016), 671-732.
Bates, Daniel, "Samsung Ordered to Pay $340,000 after It Paid People to Write Negative Online Reviews About Htc Phones," Daily Mail, Oct. 25, 2013.
Biddle, Sam, "Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence to Predict Your Future Actions for Advertisers, Says Confidential Document," The Intercept, April 13, 2018.
Bond, Robert M., Christopher J. Fariss, Jason J. Jones, Adam D. I. Kramer, Cameron Marlow, Jaime E. Settle, and James H. Fowler, "A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization," Nature 489 (2012), 295. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11421
Cheston, Allison, "Recruiters Say: Avoid Linkedin at Your Peril," Forbes, May 11, 2012.
Citron, Danielle Keats, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
Cohen, Julie E., "The Biopolitical Public Domain: The Legal Construction of the Surveillance Economy," Philosophy & Technology 31:2 (2017), 213-33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-017-0258-2
Cohen, Julie E., Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2012.
Cohen, Julie E., "What Privacy Is For," Harvard Law Review 126 (2013), 1904-33.
Deleuze, Gilles, Difference and Repetition . New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Draper, Nora A., "From Privacy Pragmatist to Privacy Resigned: Challenging Narratives of Rational Choice in Digital Privacy Debates," Policy & Internet 9:2 (2016), 232-51. https://doi.org/10.1002/poi3.142
Drum, Kevin, "Mark Zuckerberg Does Not Like Personal Privacy," Mother Jones, April 10, 2018.
Dyrberg, Torben Bech, "Foucault on Parrhesia: The Autonomy of Politics and Democracy," Political Theory 44:2 (2016), 265-88. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591715576082
Eubanks, Virginia, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.
Ferguson, Cat, "Predatory Behavior Runs Rampant in Facebook’s Addiction Support Groups," The Verge, May 21, 2018.
Folkers, Andreas, "Daring the Truth: Foucault, Parrhesia and the Genealogy of Critique," Theory, Culture & Society (2015). https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276414558885
Foucault, Michel, The Courage of Truth (the Government of Self and Others 2): Lectures at the Collège De France, 1983-1984 , ed. Arnold I. Davidson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison . New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.
Foucault, Michel, The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1982-83 , New York: Picador, 2008.
Foucault, Michel, "On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress," , in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, 340-72. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
Foucault, Michel, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1977-78 , New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Foucault, Michel, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975-76 , New York: Picador, 2003.
Foucault, Michel, "The Subject and Power," in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, 208-26. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Foucault, Michel, "What Is Critique," , in The Politics of Truth: Michel Foucault, ed. S. Lotringer and L. Hochroch, 23-82. New York: Semiotext(e), 1997.
Franěk, Jakub, "Philosophical Parrhesia as Aesthetics of Existence," English] Continental Philosophy Review 39:2 (2006), 113-34. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-006-9009-2
Frischmann, Brett M., and Evan Selinger, Re-Engineering Humanity. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Gillmor, Daniel Kahn. "Facebook Is Tracking Me Even Though I’m Not on Facebook." In Free Future: ACLU.org, 2018.
Glaser, April, "Russian Trolls Were Obsessed with Black Lives Matter," Slate, May 11, 2018.
Haggerty, Kevin D., and Richard V. Ericson, "The Surveillant Assemblage," The British Journal of Sociology 51:4 (2000), 605-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/00071310020015280
Harcourt, Bernard E., "Governing, Exchanging, Securing: Big Data and the Production of Digital Knowledge." In Big data, entreprises et sciences sociales - Usages et partages des données numériques de masse. Paris, 2014.
Hardt, Michael, "The Militancy of Theory," South Atlantic Quarterly 110:1 (2011), 19-35.
Horning, Rob, "Games of Truth," The New Inquiry, November 3, 2013.
Hull, Gordon, "Cultural Branding, Geographic Source Indicators and Commodification," Theory, Culture & Society 33:2 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276415583140
Foucault, Michel, "Successful Failure: What Foucault Can Teach Us About Privacy Self-Management in a World of Facebook and Big Data," Ethics and Information Technology 17:2 (2015), 89-101. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-015-9363-z
Hull, Gordon, and Frank Pasquale, "Toward a Critical Theory of Corporate Wellness," BioSocieties 13:1 (2018), 190-212. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-017-0064-1
Ioannidis, John P. A., "Evidence-Based Medicine Has Been Hijacked: A Report to David Sackett," Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 73 (May 2016), 82-6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclinepi.2016.02.012
Jimroglou, Krissi M., "A Camera with a View: Jennicam, Visual Representation, and Cyborg Subjectivity," Information, Communication & Society 2:4 (1999), 439-53. https://doi.org/10.1080/136911899359493
Kaptein, Maurits, Panos Markopoulos, Boris de Ruyter, and Emile Aarts, "Personalizing Persuasive Technologies: Explicit and Implicit Personalization Using Persuasion Profiles," International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 77 (2015), 38-51. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2015.01.004
Katyal, Sonia K., "Stealth Marketing and Antibranding: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name," Buffalo Law Review 58 (2010), 795-849.
Koopman, Colin, "Two Uses of Michel Foucault in Political Theory: Concepts and Methods in Giorgio Agamben and Ian Hacking," Constellations 22:4 (2015), 571-85. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8675.12153
Kosinski, Michal, David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel, "Private Traits and Attributes Are Predictable from Digital Records of Human Behavior," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:15 (2013), 5802-5805. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1218772110
Kramer, Adam D. I., Jamie E. Guillory, and Jeffrey T. Hancock, "Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111:24 (June 17, 2014 2014), 8788-90. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1320040111
Latour, Bruno, "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern," Critical Inquiry 30:2 (2004), 225-48. https://doi.org/10.1086/421123
Lee, Carol E., and Jo Ling Kent, "Facebook Says Russian-Backed Election Content Reached 126 Million Americans," NBC News.com, Oct. 30, 2017.
Lerman, Jonas, "Big Data and Its Exclusions," Stanford Law Review Online 66 (2013), 55-63.
Liu, Yabing, Krishna P. Gummadi, Balachander Krishnamurthy, and Alan Mislove. "Analyzing Facebook Privacy Settings: User Expectations Vs. Reality." In Proceedings of the 2011 ACM SIGCOMM conference on Internet measurement conference, 61-70. Berlin, Germany: ACM, 2011.
Lupton, Deborah, "The Diverse Domains of Quantified Selves: Self-Tracking Modes and Dataveillance," Economy and Society 45:1 (2016), 101-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2016.1143726
Lupton, Deborah, "Quantified Sex: A Critical Analysis of Sexual and Reproductive Self-Tracking Using Apps," Culture, Health & Sexuality 17:4 (2015), 440-53. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2014.920528
Luxon, Nancy, "Ethics and Subjectivity: Practices of Self-Governance in the Late Lectures of Michel Foucault," Political Theory 36:3 (2008), 377-402. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591708315143
Luxon, Nancy, "Truthfulness, Risk, and Trust in the Late Lectures of Michel Foucault," Inquiry 47:5 (2004), 464-89. https://doi.org/10.1080/00201740410004269
Machkovech, Sam, "Report: Facebook Helped Advertisers Target Teens Who Feel “Worthless”," ArsTechnica, May 1, 2017.
Madejski, Michelle, Maritza Johnson, and Steven E. Bellovin. "The Failure of Online Social Network Privacy Setetings." In Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports, 2011.
Mascaretti, Giovanni Maria, "Michel Foucault on Problematization, Parrhesia and Critique," materiali foucaultiani 3:5-6 (2014), 135-54.
Matz, S. C., M. Kosinski, G. Nave, and D. J. Stillwell, "Psychological Targeting as an Effective Approach to Digital Mass Persuasion," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1710966114
Matzner, Tobias, "Beyond Data as Representation: The Performativity of Big Data in Surveillance," Surveillance and Society 14:2 (2016), 197-210.
Maxwell, Lida, "The Politics and Gender of Truth-Telling in Foucault’s Lectures on Parrhesia," Contemporary Political Theory (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-018-0224-5
Mirowski, Philip, Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Nails, Debra, "Plato's 'Republic' in Its Athenian Context," History of Political Thought 33:1 (2012), 1-23.
Pasquale, Frank, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
Posner, Richard A., "The Right of Privacy," Georgia Law Review 12 (1978), 393-422.
Puar, Jasbir K., "“I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess:” Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory," philoSOPHIA 2:1 (2012), 49-66.
Roberts, Dorothy E., "Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers," UCLA Law Review 59 (2012), 1474-500.
Ross, Alison, "Why Is "Speaking the Truth" Fearless? "Danger" and "Truth" in Foucault's Discussion of Parrhesia," Parrhesia 4 (2008), 62-75.
Shane, Scott, "The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election," New York Times, Sept. 7, 2017.
Shearer, Elisa, and Jeffrey Gottfried. "News Use across Social Media Platforms 2017." Pew Research Center for Journalism and the Media, 2017.
Simpson, Zachary, "The Truths We Tell Ourselves: Foucault on Parrhesia," Foucault Studies 13 (2012), 99-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i13.3461
Sprenger, Polly, "Sun on Privacy: 'Get over It'," Wired, Jan. 26, 1999.
Streitfeld, David, "In a Race to out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5," New York Times, August 19, 2011.
Taub, Amanda, and Max Fisher, "Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match," New York Times, April 21, 2018.
Tufekci, Zeynep, "Engineering the Public: Big Data, Surveillance and Computational Politics," First Monday 19:7 (2014).
Vladeck, David C. "Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the Regulator’s Dilemma: Clueless or Venal?" In Harvard Law Review Blog, 2018.
Wacquant, Loic, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009.
Weibel, Peter, "Pleasure and the Panoptic Principle," in Ctrl [Space]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, ed. Thomas Y. Levin, Ursula Frohne and Peter Weibel, 206-23. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Winnubst, Shannon, Way Too Cool: Selling out Race and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.
Yeung, Karen, "‘Hypernudge’: Big Data as a Mode of Regulation by Design," Information, Communication & Society 20:1 (2017), 118-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2016.1186713
Copyright (c) 2018 Gordon Hull
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors retain copyright to their work, but assign the right of the first publication to Foucault Studies. The work is subject to a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license, but despite these restrictions, authors can take for granted that Foucault Studies will permit articles published in Foucault Studies to be translated or reprinted in another format such as a book providing a full reference is made to Foucault Studies as the original place of publication.