The Statistical Order of Discourse: How Information Theory Encoded Industrial and Political Discipline

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Abstract

The mid-century proliferation of communication theories across the
sciences, including Wiener’s cybernetics, represented the far-reaching
generalisation of a new logic of the trace made possible by industrial
communications. Yet the uniformity of that trace – the apparently universal
and standard operations it disclosed within communications – also
encouraged specific forms of power. Communication theories accommodated
political, economic, and cultural communications to the discipline of a single
‘signal economy’. Its search for an integrated and monopolistic management
of communications served empires and nation-states positioned to command
vast technoscientific infrastructures. It likewise consolidated a broader set of
epistemological transformations that rested on the widespread circulation of
statistics, printed numbers, and territorial ambitions of imperial, national,
and colonial powers. These powers embraced a technoscientific strategy
that downplayed the significance of origin, intention, and meaning in
communications in favour of a new conception of the traces of the world
in terms of immanent relations among discrete, serial, and standardised
elements. Pushed to its logical extreme, it encouraged an uncanny conception
of humans as the channels – rather than the authors – of data streams that
subtended machines, nature, economics, and language. As human intentions
waned, information theory positioned a new authority that rose to the
fore, residing in the technoscientific authority of national and industrial
infrastructure.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArticulating Media
Subtitle of host publicationGenealogy, Interface, Situation
EditorsZetter Nathaniel, James Gabrillo
PublisherOpen Humanities Press
Chapter3
Pages56
Number of pages76
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Keywords

  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • cybernetics
  • information theory
  • Warren Weaver
  • technocracy
  • Claude E. Shannon
  • industrial economy

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