The Digitally Disposed

Racial Capitalism and the Informatics of Value

2021
Author:

Seb Franklin

The Digitally Disposed

Locates the deep history of digitality in the development of racial capitalism


Seb Franklin shows how the promises of boundless connection, flexibility, and prosperity that are often associated with digital technologies are grounded in racialized histories of dispossession and exploitation. Vital and far-reaching, The Digitally Disposed reshapes such fundamental concepts as cybernetics, informatics, and digitality.

Seb Franklin sets out a media theory of racial capitalism to examine digitality’s racial-capitalist foundations. The Digitally Disposed shows how the promises of boundless connection, flexibility, and prosperity that are often associated with digital technologies are grounded in racialized histories of dispossession and exploitation. Reading archival and published material from the cybernetic sciences alongside nineteenth-century accounts of intellectual labor, twentieth-century sociometric experiments, and a range of literary and visual works, The Digitally Disposed locates the deep history of digitality in the development of racial capitalism.

Franklin makes the groundbreaking argument that capital’s apparently spontaneous synthesis of so-called free individuals into productive circuits represents an “informatics of value.” On the one hand, understanding value as an informatic relation helps to explain why capital was able to graft so seamlessly with digitality at a moment in which it required more granular and distributed control over labor—the moment that is often glossed as the age of logistics. On the other hand, because the informatics of value sort populations into positions of higher and lower capacity, value, and status, understanding their relationship to digitality requires that we see the digital as racialized and gendered in pervasive ways.

Ultimately, The Digitally Disposed questions the universalizing assumptions that are maintained, remade, and intensified by today’s dominant digital technologies. Vital and far-reaching, The Digitally Disposed reshapes such fundamental concepts as cybernetics, informatics, and digitality.

The Digitally Disposed

Seb Franklin is senior lecturer in contemporary literature in the Department of English at King’s College London. He is author of Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic.

The Digitally Disposed

Contents


Introduction: Forms of Disposal


Part I. The Informatics of Value


1. Things Communicated: Messages, Persons, Goods


2. Reliable Circuits, Unreliable Components: How Capital Connects


3. The Informatics of Dispossession


4. Differentiation as Regulation


5. Two Models: Samuel R. Delany’s Neveryóna


Part II. Media Histories of Disposal


6. Human Use, or The Digital-Liberal Person


7. Elemental Space: Coloniality and Flexibility


8. Deplorable Alternatives: “Mechanical Slaves” and Upgradable Labor


9. The Digital Atlantic: Sondra Perry’s Typhoon coming on


10. Redundant Life: Intellectual Workers and Street Nuisances


11. Anatomizing “Freedom”: Carceral Digitality


12. The Cybernetics of Capacity: R.S. Hunt’s “Two Kinds of Work”


Coda: The Human Surge


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index