23 November 2018 from 12:45 to 13:45

PhD defence Evelyn Wan: How digital algorithms govern our daily lives

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How do digital algorithms govern our daily lives and how do they do so without us consciously noticing? That is the central question in the PhD thesis written by Evelyn Wan. She will defend her thesis on November 23 at Utrecht University.

Digital footprints

We leave behind digital footprints in our day-to-day use of devices. This offers valuable data which can be used for big data analysis and prediction, and fed into recommendation engines and personalised ads. Not only are private companies hungry for the chance to monetise our data, governments are also keen to tap into the potential of the digital for better policing, security, and governance. In the digital world, we are placed in a regime of constant surveillance. This project looks behind the screen and opens up the blackbox of technology to investigate what algorithms are, how they operate, and how they evade our human perception through the machinic speeds of micro-temporal processing.

Evelyn Wan MA
Evelyn Wan MA

Clocks, Algorithms, and Biopower

The main subject of Wan's research focuses on the temporal dimensions of twenty-first-century media and traces how bodies are subjected to biopolitical control through time-related technologies. The history of clocks and computing is evoked to provide a material understanding of algorithms through their mechanical counterparts, and to demonstrate how time has been used as a disciplinary tool.

power on the population

Clocks gave rise to a logic of quantification and measurement, a logic which has historically been co-opted into a regime of labour and slave management. This has been examined in light of plantation labour in times of American slavery and in English factories during the Industrial Revolution. Time measurement provides quantification of labour with scientific precision, generating a rhythm that shapes bodies subjected under its control, whose worth may be measured through the value of productivity and output. If clocks were seen as key to the imposition of clock discipline, how do twenty-first-century media, with their mode of beyond-human time mediation, impose power on the population?

new rhythms of work

The works of Michel Foucault and his contemporaries are analysed to show how the theories of discipline and biopower could be updated for the digital era. The technological and chronological dimensions of biopower are highlighted through the proposed concept of ‘techno-chrono-biopolitics’. How does biopower express itself today from the assemblage of codes, apps, and devices? Which bodies are most susceptible to the new logics of microtemporal algorithms? The digital brings about new forms of surveillance and control and introduces new rhythms of work in a 24/7, always-online, on-demand culture.

regimes of biopower

Against the ephemerality and invisibility that define our wireless internet, the work turns the focus back to bodies and the material dimension of technologies. From clock-use in colonisation and slavery to tracking algorithms on the Apple Watch and Quantified Self devices, the project traces the relations of how technology mediates time and inaugurates regimes of biopower.

Start date and time
23 November 2018 12:45
End date and time
23 November 2018 13:45
PhD candidate
Evelyn Wan MA
Clocked!: Time and Biopower in the Age of Algorithms
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Maaike Bleeker