“Disciplining Perception Through Technology” – Hannah Harder
Jennifer Eisenhauer’s work “Next Slide Please: The Magical, Scientific, and Corporate Discourses of Visual Projection Technologies” (2006) shows how material technology takes on meaning through complex relationships. We can see how discourse changes in historic and cultural contexts such as with the magic or scientific lantern. What interests me is the way that vision seems to be disciplined in order to obtain knowledge. The magic lantern allowed strides in education as classrooms could view an image simultaneously within lectures. Therefore it was seen to, “…extend the capabilities of the human eye toward a perceived kind of scientific seeing, an objective visual extension” (Eisenhauer 2006, 200). This technology was wrapped up in the search for objectivity through specifically visual evidence. She describes this as a linear perspective that desires to clearly delineate “the subject and the world” (Ibid., 206). Vision seems to become disciplined within hierarchical desires to isolate subjectivity and enforce objectivity. This linear perspective then shows a means of control, like Foucault’s panopticon as power is held within the gaze (Ibid., 207).
In Jonathan Crary’s work “Unbinding Vision”, he writes that many disciplines in the nineteenth century reached a crisis in which they realized that vision was subjective and not determined by external objects (1994, 21). Modernity and industrialization revealed these gaps as the need for modern mechanic production had a hand in the obsession with vision and specifically, attention. Industrialization in this time urged a mechanical view of the body in which attention, or one’s gaze, was seen as a crucial point of labor that needed to be controlled and made efficient (Ibid., 22).
In line with Crary’s assessment of perception and attention, the darkened projector seems a way to effectively bind our vision to objectivity. With this legacy in mind of desire for objectivity and disciplinarity, it is interesting to see how contemporary technologies show similar anxieties of perception. With Covid-19, online learning for many students is plagued with new disciplinary ferocity as schools struggle to enforce academic integrity. During exams, digital proctors are given virtual access to view a student’s room, desk, computer activity, microphone feed and even mouse tracking, having access to intimate digital footprints. These modes of digital learning show us a commitment to ‘academic integrity’, something that now seems less noble in the pursuit of objective knowledge as the panopticon becomes more evident. The powerful gaze on a student shows a hierarchical control in which the student becomes the object as opposed to the subject of knowledge. Although these power structures in academia are not new, it is the heightened reliance on technology that reveals such hierarchies and how the binary of subject-object can turn back on itself within such a self-conscious, disciplinary structure. Crary mentions that perception in the emergence of modernity was in a constant state of crisis. Although discourse and technology have changed significantly, our relationships to technology show how attitudes are still concerned with disciplining the senses and highlighting linear objectivity.
- Crary, Jonathan. 1994. “Unbinding Vision.” October 68: 21–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/778695.
- Eisenhauer, Jennifer F. 2006.“Next Slide Please: The Magical, Scientific, and Corporate Discourses of Visual Projection Technologies.” Studies in Art Education 47, No. 3 (Spring): 198-214.