Digital Subjects

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Project Details



Digital Subjects, international symposium

Digital subjects can be many things: a nested set of abstractions assembled by algorithms; a dynamic data aggregate feeding upon the movement of bodies in space and time; an experiential, sensuous presence and performance online. Digital subjects are the subjects of profiles, video channels, search query histories, inboxes, logs of GPS coordinates, traded data of financial transactions or travel card usage.

The reason why it's worth calling them subjects are the new ontological and epistemological demands placed by the rapid development of computational infrastructures and our cyborgian lives. The question of the digital subject is a political question wielded by the disciplinary lines of differentiation. These lines are cut in the thick distance that joins together human, posthuman, nonhuman and the digital. At times, the distance is vast (one can reinvent oneself online). At other times, the distance collapses (one can be assaulted online). Some humanities regard digital subjects from the point of view of the operation of representational data surveillance (data gathered forms a shadow of the human) and a political/legal question; some data sciences ignore the distance and claim that data gives direct access to, in this case, humans (people are equal to their tweets). Many contemporary art practices, especially feminist performances online, explore the distance as a thick field of production that is not fully determined.

The critique of the subject is well established: it is almost a blasphemy to bring the question of the subject up in critical theory. Yet, the question of the subject returns under the guise of digital self, personhood, identity and citizenship. Digital subjects are generated and pertain to the continuum linking them to non-human subjects (trees, animals with sensors; robots) as well as collectives (extremist groups sharing technical devices). Digital subjects could be theatrical or conceptual performances of personae (troll, lurker, idiot) or the actual happenings of events of life. Yet, the ways in which they are produced and managed (in computation and in digital cultures), the ways in which they respond to whatever entities they're linked to, their energies, emergence and dissipation are unclear. Even if digital subjects are entirely generated by self-sufficient computational machines, their forms of unity, generation and power are new and unknown.

At which layers and times do aggregations such as digital subjects operate as enactive subjects? How do digital subjects become subjects? How do we understand and problematise the distance between digital subjects and their generative sources? How does a digital subject acquire its difference, a capacity to enlarge and shrink this distance? What forms of causality operate between subjects and digital subjects? What kind of reason, expression and sense are operative here? What forms of interiority and exteriority, forms of unity and disunity characterise the subject-digital subject continuum?

The aim of the event is to rethink the subject and think the digital subject from the point of view of different genealogies, reasons, expressions and logics. What we aim to work towards is not a return to any previous form of unity, but a way to construct an understanding of computational kinds of subjects and their ways of generation, production, and sustenance.

This is a Royal Holloway’s Humanities and Arts Research Centre event in cooperation with the Department of Media Arts
Effective start/end date12/05/1612/05/16