The list serves: the apparatuses of security and governmentality

Kenneth C. Werbin
Communication Studies, Concordia University
April, 2008
Kenneth C. Werbin is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Ryerson University's Infoscape Research Lab.


Inspired by taxonomist Jack Goody’s theorizing of ‘ancient lists’ as ‘intellectual
technologies,’ this research analyzes listing practices in modern and contemporary
formations of power, and how they operate in the installation and securing of the
uncertain political economic milieus of circulation that characterize Michel Foucault’s
conception of governmentality. Propelling the list’s critical operations in the delimitation
and policing of ‘threatening’ movements from out of modern history, and into a
contemporary analysis of power, this research demonstrates how the correlation of
computer, statistical, and list technologies and techniques first installed under the Nazi
regime, continues to factor significantly in the segmenting and constitution of a most
critical classification of contemporary homo sapiens: the terrorist class, or homo sacer.
Indeed, in this analysis of how lists serve formations of power, Foucault’s populations
and milieus of circulation installed through the apparatuses of security are reconciled
with Giorgio Agamben’s theorizing of ‘bare life’ as the fundamental political unit of
modern and contemporary sovereignty. Investigating how lists served the emergence of
modern computers, and continue to correlate power/knowledge in contemporary
assemblages like no-fly lists; as well as in a series of increasingly pervasive and
ubiquitous watch-list conjunctures, this research characterizes the technoscientific
cultural construction of the contemporary terrorist as a critical function of no-blank list
culture. In this way, it is argued here that the list is not simply an innocuous tool of
everyday life for administering the minutiae of mundane existence, but rather, operates as
a security technology of contemporary governmentality—a critical support of juridicaldisciplinary
mechanisms and assemblages of police—with the dual role and double
integration effect of self-elaborating and securing the classes of ‘factual’ knowledge it
itself calls into ‘truthful’ reality.
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