Algorithmic Affordances for Productive Resistance
Although overarching if not foundational conceptualizations of digital governance in the field of critical data studies aptly account for and explain subjection, calculated resistance is left conceptually unattended despite case studies that document instances of resistance. I ask at the outset why conceptualizations of digital governance are so bleak, and I argue that all are underscored implicitly by a Deleuzian theory of desire that overlooks agency, defined here in Foucauldian terms. I subsequently conceptualize digital governance as encompassing subjection as well as resistance, and I cast the two in relational perspective by making use of the concepts “affordance” and “assemblage” in conjunction with multiple subjectivities and Foucault’s view of power as productive as well as his view of resistance as an “antagonism of strategies” in his late scholarship on resistance, ethics, and subjectivity. I offer examples of salient modes of what I call “productive” resistance (as opposed to resistance by way of avoidance, disruption or obfuscation), and from a Foucauldian perspective I explain how each mode targets and subverts technologies of repressive power to produce new elements of the digital environment and construct new truths. I conclude by recognizing the agency embodied in resistance as an end in itself, but I also consider that modes of productive resistance can have extrinsic value as they affect the fluid interaction among elements of the digital environment, potentially disrupting the presumed structure of dominance and dependence, and opening our conceptualization of algorithmic life to hopeful possibilities for change.