Sociology of the docile body

Abstract

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Penguin Social Sciences): Michel Foucault, Alan Sheridan: 8601404245756: Books

Embedded radio-frequency identification, sensor technologies, biomedical devices and a new breed of nanotechnologies are now being commercialized within a variety of contexts and use cases. As these technologies gather momentum in the marketplace, consumers will need to navigate the changing cybernetic landscape. The trichotomy facing consumers are: (1) to adopt RFID implants as a means of self-expression or to resolve a technological challenge; (2) to adopt RFID implants for diagnostic or prosthetic purposes to aid in restorative health; as well as considerations (3) for enforced adoption stemming from institutional or organizational top-down control that has no direct benefit to the end-user. This paper uses the penal metaphor to explore the potential negative impact of enforced microchipping. The paper concludes with a discussion on the importance of protecting human rights and freedoms and the right to opt-out of sub-dermal devices.

Section I. Introduction

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) implant technology, sensor technology, biomedical devices, and nanotechnology continue to find increasing application in a variety of vertical markets. Significant factors leading to continued innovation include: convergence in devices, miniaturisation, storage capacity, and materials. The most common implantable devices are used in the medical domain, for example, heart pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). In non-medical applications, implantable devices are used for identification, [close-range] location and condition monitoring, care and convenience use cases [1].

RFID implants can be passive or active, and predominantly have a function to broadcast a unique ID when triggered by a reader within a specific read range. Sensors onboard an RFID device can, for instance, provide additional data such as an individual's temperature reading, pulse rate and heart rate. Biomedical devices usually have a specific function, like the provision of an artificial knee or hip, and can contain RFID and other specific sensors. An example cited in Ratner & Ratner that demonstrates the potential for nanotechnology to bring together RFID, sensors, and the biomedical realms is to inject nanobots into a soldier's bloodstream. “The sensors would circulate through the bloodstream and could be monitored at a place where blood vessels are closest to the surface, such as the eye… While quite invasive, so-called in vivo sensors could also have other uses in continually monitoring the health of a soldier” [2], p. 42f.

The next step in the miniaturization path for RFID microchips is nanotechnology, which allows for working at the nanoscale, that is the molecular level [3] p. 90. Humancentric implants are discussed [4], pp. 198-214, in the context of nanotechnology ethical and social implications. Regardless of the breakthroughs to come in these humancentric embedded surveillance devices (ESDs), we will soon be moving the discussion beyond, merely how the technologies are aiding humanity, regardless of whether such technologies are mobilized to aid human health or impair it. The fundamental concerns will rest within human willingness to adopt the technology, and not in what the technology claims to eradicate in and of itself. In order to later contextualize the issues surrounding human rights of refusal, this paper will now present a material view of implantable technologies in their nascent stage. A clear distinction will be made between nanotechnologies that can be used as a mechanism of control versus, for example, bio-medical technologies that are freely chosen and designed for the sole purpose of improving human health with no benefit extending beyond the aid of the individual.

Section II. Previous Work

Although cybernetic technologies have boundless potential to surface under an array of interchangeable names, for the purpose of this paper, RFID implants will be investigated given the degree of global attention they have experienced [5]–[6][7][8]. In Western civilization, RFID is being used for tracking merchandise and similar devices are used in our family pets to locate them should they roam astray [9]. Now the RFID is being considered for 24-7 human location monitoring. In order to offer a pragmatic perspective, which does not deviate from one source of research to the other, Hervé Aubert's 2011 article entitled, “RFID technology for human implant devices” [10] is utilized as the primary source of data given its seminal contribution to the field.

A. Experimental Stages of Cybernetic Innovations

Aubert investigates one type of RFID known as the VeriChip™; which is a device presently engineered to provide a data-bank of important records on the individual [5], in particular on the application of a personal health record for high-risk patients (PHR) [11], [12]. In addition, this implantable RFID that is known for its remote identification of persons or animals is being considered for the purpose of protective human surveillance [13]. RFID devices are not only being considered for identifying and locating humans, but for its potential to “remotely control human biological functions” [10], [14], p. 676. According to Aubert, this nano-technology is not conducive as a ‘spychip’ with current-day technologies, as it cannot successfully be connected to a Global Positioning System (which offers real-time tracking), as the GPS would require an implant that far surpasses the size capacity of what could be realistically embedded in the human body, and would therefore defeat the notion of a submicron global surveillance system for monitoring human activity. However, there is nothing to say that off-body data receivers, powered by wireless supplies, cannot be stationed short-range to monitor passive responders, such as subdermal RFID's [15]–[16][17]. Currently the anticipated range is dependent on the inductive coupling measured in MHz [5].

Aubert concludes his findings by arguing that RFID are not suitable for real-time tracking of humans as its capability to transmit the location of the body is too limited in range, permitting receivers to only read passive implanted devices within a free space range of 10 cm or less. This limitation makes communication with GPS satellites in an attempt to locate bodies impossible. Once again, this is not to refute the claim that interrogators, stationed territorially, can transmit its data to a centralized global positioning system inversely. Regardless, researchers are arguing nanotechnologies “[w]ill not exclusively revolve around the idea of centralization of surveillance and concentration of power, […but its greatest potential for negative impact will be centred around] constant observation at decentralized levels” [18], p. 283. In addition, depending on the context, monitoring does not have to be continuous but discrete to provide particular types of evidence. It may well be enough to read an RFID at a given access node point (either on entry or exit), or to know that a given unique ID is inside a building, or even headed in a given direction [19]. Two or more points of reading also can provide intricate details about distance, speed, and time, as equipment readers have their own GPS and IP location [20], [21]. It will be simple enough to tether an implant to a mobile phone or any other device with an onboard GPS chipset. Nokia, for instance, had an RFID reader in one of its units 2004 handsets [22].

Although such technologies are far from perfected, at least to the degree of synoptic centralization, with the exception of concerns surrounding information privacy, subdermal implants that are being designed for surveillance of humans is being identified as a central ethical challenge [23]. In particular, this is an ethical challenge because subdermal chips may be either injected or external tags worn on the body such as a PayBand [24] or FitBit. This in itself is not what is creating the most obvious challenge but rather that such devices have the potential to be implemented with or without the individual's consent and, therefore, provoking discussion around the need to legislate to keep pace with technological advances [25]. Although the chip is being suggested for use in a number of ways, bioethicists suggest that prior to these new applications of nanotechnologies becoming a present day reality, “[w]e need to examine carefully the very real dangers that RFID implants could pose to our privacy and our freedom” [5], p. 27. Despite this concern, skin-embedded devices are being employed in a multiplicity of ways, more recently by the biohacking communities who are increasingly commercialising their ideas and prototypes [26].

Aubert lists various possible health benefits of embedded RFID chips, such as the following: “[t]o transmit measurements of chemical or biological data inside the body”, as well as “[m]onitor biological activity” while modifying physiological functions and offer various therapeutic means, such as patient monitoring, such as for glucose concentrations of patients with diabetes [10], p. 676. Another possible health benefit is the potential for monitoring brain activity through “[t]ransponders embedded within the skull”, [10], p. 681. Increasingly implants are being used in techniques such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to treat a variety of illnesses [27]. As outlined in Aubert's 2011 article, these transponders communicate with implanted probes, enabling the transmittal of localized microstimulation to be administered in response to neuron signals sent.

At this point, it becomes necessary to distinguish that which is engineered to monitor human organs and is freely adopted as a mechanism to improve one's health to that which is in effect through a top-down implementation, in which the individual is given no choice pertaining to adoption. These two scenarios have been demonstrated in a TEDx talk delivered by Katina Michael in 2012 within the “convenience/care” versus “control” contexts [28].

B. Human Versus Machine

Docile Bodies | Vestoj A Chain Gang in South Carolina, c. 1929 - 1931. Doris Umann. http://vestoj.com/docile-bodies/

There is a needful distinction between human and machine. Deciphering between biomedical technology designed for example, to improve human health, or as a means of self-expression (all of which are freely chosen by the individual), versus those designed for a benefit external to the individual and has the ability to be used as a mechanism of control over the citizen. For example, a heart monitor, created to sustain a human, is designed only with the intention to benefit the patient in a life sustaining way; such a device has no apparatus external from this cause that could be used to invoke power over the individual and therefore it is designed with no additional mandate other than improving or maintaining the individual's health [29]. Generally, the decision for adopting such a biomedical implant device is determined by the patient and in most developed nations using a process of consent. Because such a device currently has no mechanism for top-down control, stakeholders (i.e., hospitals, medical device purchasers, inbound logistics managers or buyers) do not have a hidden agenda for adoption. This type of bio-medical device currently possesses no ability to monitor any type of human activity that could contribute to an imbalance of power for the consumer over the user (in this instance the patient).

More recently, one of the largest suppliers of biomedical devices, Medtronics, has begun to blur the line between devices for care and devices for control. Apart from the hard line that most manufacturers of implants hold on who owns the data emanating from the device [30], companies specialising in biomedical devices are now beginning to engage with other secondary uses of their implants [31]. Just like wearable devices, such as the FitBit, are now being used for evidentiary purposes, it will not be long before biomedical devices originally introduced for prosthetic or diagnostic purposes will be used to set individualised health insurance premiums, and more. As noted by [29], even in care-related implant applications, there is an underlying dimension of control that may propel function creep or scope creep. These are the types of issues that bring science and the arts together. George Grant wrote [32], p. 17:

The thinker who has most deeply pondered our technological destiny has stated that the new copenetrated arts and sciences are now proceeding to the apogee of their determining power around the science of cybernetics; […] the mobilization of the objective arts and sciences at their apogee comes more and more to be unified around the planning and control of human activity.

Section III. Research Approach

Hence, while it is important to understand the trichotomy of skin-embedded technologies-deciphering between technology adoption which can be seen as a post-modern indicator of the autonomous self-exercising human rights [33], to that of acceptable bio-Western technologies with its sole function to improve one's existing health conditions (that is also freely chosen of the individual), versus technology which have potential to be used as mechanisms of organizational control-implanted through imposed order [34]. When disambiguating the way in which technology can be used, it is most essential to understand that this differentiation requires no thorough understanding of the purpose of the biotechnology or its utility as the plumb line rests alone, not on the trichotomy of the technology's utility but within the individual's moral freedom and human rights to accept or refuse. Therefore, the plumb line remains, not concerning the device's distinct utility, but rather with freedom of choice.

Currently, the question is being posed as to whether legislation will keep pace, which suggests that either a higher articulation of our former constitution is required or that new legislation be erected that will explicitly defend the rights of the individual to choose for oneself [35].

The ways in which sub-dermal technology may aid correctional facilities' endeavors will be more thoroughly expounded on in the next section. A historical look at a specific top-down and bottom-up institution will be examined, not as a raw set of material facts but, in order to create an inference between the way in which the incremental process of correctional ideologies are the prevailing influence of today and are promoting the individual's outward gaze to self-censorship [36]. Some researchers are arguing it is highly improbable that laws will be erected to enforce subdermal devices, with the exception of use in criminals [37]. Therefore, this next section is being devoted to an investigation of the penal system.

Section IV. The Penal Metaphor

Because the prisoner is being noted as the central focus as a possible industry enroot to legalizing the implementation of sub-dermal RFID's, it becomes imperative to investigate the penal system from an ideological perspective in order to assess its susceptibility [38], pp. 157-249; [39], p. 35. This paper will conclude that there needs to be a distinction between spatial autonomy and moral autonomy as moral freedom is of the higher good and rights to obtain unto this good supersedes loses that could be incurred as a result of the state invoking disciplinary measures [32].

Generation after generation civilization oscillates over freedom of choice, blurring the distinction between freely adopting governing rules of belief, following an individualized interrogation of the ethical underpinnings, versus conforming to systematic ruling government without understanding its fundamental doctrine. Often such systems strive to maintain order through imposing indoctrinations, in which its people accept the ideologies of the dominant class through a constant infiltration of information not conducive to independent thinking of the autonomous self; it is argued that when this knowledge becomes singular it is a form of soft-despotism [40]. Through various mechanisms of social control, such as through a prevailing slant being propagated through the media, it has led an onslaught of persons embodied in space to a place where the individual is losing ability to see the distinction and whereby choose for oneself. The specific slant contained within the dominant message is directing Western society to a place imbued with an external message with its constancy softly-coercing the viewer or listener in one specific direction [32].

A. A Look at the System as an Apparatus of Control

As the high-tech industry evolves, the media continues to endorse such change and those adopting a consumerist mentality continue to commoditize their own body as a source of consumer capitalism [41] through the latest technological upgrade. It will only stand to logic that human adaptation to body modifying devices will become more and more acceptable as a means to live within society, function in commerce and progress in self-actualization [42]. The authors of this paper argue that when any such movement coerces the people in one specific direction it is a form of soft-despotism whether invoked intentionally or otherwise [40].

It is within this investigation of the governing forces over the masses that the focus is taken away from the history of the penal institution in itself to the state's reliance on cumulative rationale. Theorists argue that it is this over reliance on human rationale that is propelling history in one specific direction and thus becomes the force that is evoking a certain type of social order and governance [43].

In order to elucidate Ann Light's notion of how biotechnology can turn us from outside within, she first turns our attention to the penal system [36]. Theorists argue that the open persecution of punishment found within the penal process has radically shifted to become less detectable and more hidden [44]. This is a far cry from the open persecution experienced by, let us say, Joan of Arc [45], as now, largely due to humanitarianism, the public spectacle of the executioner who leads the persecuted to the stake appears an equivalent act of savagery to the public who witnessos, as is the crime itself [44]. Hence the mechanism becomes more hidden and in this sense is argued to be less pervasive [44]. But is it?

Theorists view the apparatus of the persecutor as moving from control over the body to a much more sophisticated apparatus, which slackens the hold on the tangible physical body in exchange for a far more intricate part of the self. This shifts the focus from the external body to the human mind, which is considered as the seat of the soul and the final battleground [46]. Theorists go on to state that these more sophisticated systems of control will only be confirmed to actually exist as history unfolds [36].

The panoptic, for example is a model that can be deemed as a control mechanism which is less pervasive as it moves away from physical punishment to psychological punishment [44]. Specifically the sanctioned individual who believes the monitoring of one's behavior to be constant, whereby shifting the focus of what is believed to be periodic surveillance to a continual presence. The constancy found in this form of surveillance is argued to imprint permanence on the human cognition [36]. It is what M.G. Michael has termed uberveillance—a type of big brother on the inside looking out [47]. In order that the reader may have a clearer understanding of the Panopticon, below is a description of Bentham's institution:

“The hollow interior of the circular Panopticon has an incongruous resemblance to a dovecote with all the doves behind bars. The prisoners' cells are in the circumference, but are open at all times to inspection from the observation tower in the center of the building. The theory of the Panopticon relies on the fiction that each prisoner, alone in his cell, believes that he is under constant observation: yet it is patently impossible that the contractor and his small staff within the central tower could watch 3, 000 prisoners at once. So that the prisoners may not know whom he is watching, or whether he is present at all, the contractor must at all times be invisible; and Bentham thought much about deceptive lighting systems to preserve the illusion of the contractor's permanent presence, a “dark spot” at the center of the Panopticon. Observation of a single prisoner for several hours, followed by punishment for any misdemeanors, would convince all the rest of this constant vigilance. Although the contraptions such as Venetian blinds, pinholes and speaking tubes which delighted Bentham have lost some technological credibility, the general principle is readily applicable to modern methods of surveillance” [48], pp.4-5.

Upon reviewing the detailed description of the institution designed by Bentham, it is easy to see how the panoptic system supports the shift from the body to the mind, which then turns the imprisoned body's gaze inward [36]. Out of fear of punishnent, the embodied experience is to begin to self-monitor.

Although some argue Bentham's Panopticon never came to fruition, Michael Ignatieff views it as a “[s]ymbolic caricature of the characteristic features of disciplinary thinking [of] his age” [48], p. 5. Crowther argues:

[According to] Bentham, the Panopticon was not an enclosed relationship between the prisoner and the state, removed from the outside world, but a prison constantly open to public scrutiny. The contractor in his watchtower could be joined at any minute not only by magistrates, but by the prisoners' relatives, the curious, or the concerned, “The great open committee of the tribunal of the world.

This invokes two types of control of the incarcerated; according to sociology theorists, a top down approach to surveillance is referred to organizational surveillance, whereas a bottom-up approach in which the common citizen becomes the watch-guard is referred to as inverse [49]. Bentham became aware of the possible negative impact that constant surveillance of the state and the public could produce on the prisoners' sensibilities, and therefore suggested that the prisoner wear a disguise. The mask would conceal the individual's identity while each unique disguise, would represent the crime that was committed. Hence, Bentham did make a frail attempt to resolve the way in which the apparatus' constancy could impair one's well-being [48].

The Panopticon illustrated here is merely representational, as the physical apparatus of control is being reflected upon as a means of the reader relating to the modem-day ideological shift within organizational control that is designed to turn the gaze of the end-user, the prisoner, and such, to self-monitoring. Western civilization that once employed an external gaze that had previously sought a voice in politics, for instance, is being turned from outside within. According to Ann Light [36], digital technology is promoting this shift.

Section V. Discussion

A. The Impact of Bio-Tech Constancy on the Human Psyche

Whether this surveillance transpires every moment of every day [50], or just in the sanctioned individual's mind is of little importance as it is the unknown or fear of what is “ever-lurking” that has the greatest potential to negatively impact the human psyche. When the interrogator is no longer human but the receptor is a machine there is something even more demoralizing that transpires as the removing of human contact can be likened to placing the prisoner in a type of mechanical quarantine [36], [51].

Embedded surveillance devices (although currently only engineered to accommodate short-range, such as within a correctional facility), can be considered as the all-seeing pervasive eye, the interrogator. However, the individual being tracked may lack knowledge about what is on the other side; which is the receptor. This can create a greater monster than real-life as it adds insurmountable pressure due to the unknown and the inability to understand the boundaries and limitations of the surveillance technology. This becomes that much more of an infringement when the device is placed under the individual's skin. Illustratively speaking, rather than seeing it as it is, such as, a mark of servitude, a passive information bank, a personal identifier, or a location monitor, the inductive coupling device has potential to be mistakenly deemed as the predator. In support of this notion, modern-day scholars are referring to the reader as the interrogator.

As earlier stated, in this instance, the external public gaze of the community and the state will shift from the external all-seeing eye, to that which is internalized—regardless of whether the device is passive or active. Over and above Foucault's notion of self-policing, this process could be further accentuated due to the person's inability to comprehend the full purpose or limitations of the surveillance ID system in which they are under. This internalization has potential to create a feeling of “the beast within” rather than the threat being from without. The writers of this paper argue that this form of internalization of the gaze within the body will heighten the negative impact on one's psyche—ultimately negatively impacting one's state of consciousness [52].

In this sense Bentham's panoptic vision was never really defeated but now merely considered at a higher level of sophistication or barbarianism—depending on which way it is looked upon. Rather than institutions embracing practices designed to rehabilitate the prisoner, and bring the individual to an eventual state of freedom, bio-tech adoption could impair in the recovery process—its constancy heightening psychological fears—making it near impossible to ever be disabled within the mind of the end-user. Hence, as Bentham's notion of a free-enterprise is accepted on a much more hidden level, and the self turns to policing one's own actions, this utter enclosure can be argued to lead the human body to a state of utter docility. This is a subject of debate for psychologists, bioethicists and social scientists alike, and in support of the phenomenologist must also include the insider's perspective as well.

Section VI. Conclusion

Imprisonment is transpiring on many levels, and can be argued as being the system that has led Western civilization incrementally to the place it is today, where moral relativism is ruling the people, causing the moral voice of conviction designed for political and public engagement, to be displaced for a turning inward to oneself as a forms of self-expression [34]. This may be seen as the result of top-down governing institutes esteeming systematic rationale over the individuals' voice—inadvertently marginalizing the embodied-self over other forces such as the economy. As the ruling system continues to over extend its control, it ever-so-gently coerces society in one direction only, massaging the spirit of Epicureanism which endorses human passion to have it full reign over one's own body, as the final self-embodied means of conveying a message. Whereas the governing institutions can easily rule over a docile society. In this sense bio-tech with its constancy may be seen as just one more apparatus designed to control the mind—although hidden, it most certainly is invasive. With current considerations for adoption it brings Orwell's claim to the forefront when he wrote in 1984: “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull” [53], p. 27.

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Keywords: Radio-frequency identification, Implants, Biomedical monitoring, Global Positioning System, Surveillance, Context, social sciences, cybernetics, prosthetics, radiofrequency identification, docile body sociology, penal metaphor, institutional top-down control, organizational top-down control, restorative health, diagnostic purpose, prosthetic purpose, RFID implants, cybernetic landscape, nanotechnology, biomedical device, sensor technology, human rights, freedom of choice, opt-out, penal control, constancy

Citation: S.B. Munn, Katina Michael, M.G. Michael, "Sociology of the docile body", 2016 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS16), 20-22 Oct. 2016, Kerala, India, DOI: 10.1109/ISTAS.2016.7764047