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Addictive Visibility: Some Thoughts on New Media Uses

I’ve been invited to deliver a lecture on Addictive Visibility at MAGIS – International Film Studies Spring School, Gorizia, 12-21 March 2013. More info at :

Here is my abstract:

What does visibility mean? How does it affect our life? What happens when visibility becomes addictive? These are the puzzles I would like to discuss with you. Over the last few decades, social theorists have interpreted the importance of visibility mainly in the light of the Hegelian notion of recognition. From this perspective, visibility has been regarded as a condition for the empowerment of social subjects through their reciprocal positioning on an equal standing. Since the 1970s, the struggles of various types of sexual, religious and racial minorities have certainly passed through a discourse of becoming visible in the public space and the public sphere, that is, more widely, the public domain.
However, it has also become increasingly clear that there is no possible straightforward equation between visibility and recognition. Twentieth-century mass media research has provided abundant evidence that visibility is patterned, formatted and organized into regimes which determine to a large extent the outcome of single acts of visibilizations. The Situationist critique of the spectacle consisted in denouncing a type of visibility in which supervisibilized spectacular images are severed from real life and transport viewers into a regime of experience expropriation. Both propaganda (the political, pervasive fabrication of truth, which may attain totalitarian levels) and advertisement (the capitalist economic fabrication of myths of consumption and enjoyment) can be allocated to this type of visibility. In a different domain, Foucault’s research into disciplinary rationality finely revealed the existence of a whole set of practices of control, such as the famous “inspection”, or examination, in which subjection to power is obtained through self-conscious (or reflexive) visibilization of one’s body and one’s conduct (subjection through “compulsory visibility”). By absorbing both spectacular and governmental machines, the twentieth-century state has configured itself as both a propagandist and a guardian-voyeur.
Now, new media place us before a further transformation of visibility. On the one hand, at first sight at least, in the new media age visibility-as-recognition seems to gain a new green season over visibility-as-propaganda and visibility-as-surveillance. New media are ‘interactive’ and ‘participatory’ almost by definition: a discourse of openness and empowerment, pivoting around the notions of connectivity and access, has surrounded them. But there is of course a more somber side of the coin, which is the one I am interested in exploring. Foucault had already clearly understood that discipline is participatory, since it works by transforming the subject into ‘the principle of [its] own subjection’. However, he did not think that that process could be fun or playful. On the contrary, the new forms of control, whose possibility is for the most part inscribed in the new media technologies themselves, are made possible by the fact that people engage voluntarily in them. So, why do we do so? Why is visibility so alluring? So seductive? Understanding our relation to new media visibilities and its consequences might help us clarify what is at stake in social transformation, which, at bottom, is a transformation of subjects, technologies, scales and power.

Roundtable | Entre renaissance citoyenne et transparence politique

I’ve been invited at a roundtable at Les Rencontres d’Averroès (Marseille), titled “Entre renaissance citoyenne et transparence politique. Révolution numérique ou contrôle des libertés ?” (19th Edition, La cité en danger? Dictature, transparence e démocratie)


The debate has also been recently broadcasted on the French National Radio, Franceculture :’heure-du-numerique-12-2012-12-11

Posted also on YouTube:

Le nuove politiche di visibilità in rete

Pubblicato in Cosmopolis, VI, 2/2011

La maggior parte delle critiche mosse contro i mass media e la società di massa durante il corso del ventesimo secolo sono state, come ben si sa, critiche rivolte contro la passività, l’anomia e l’alienazione del fruitore. Tali effetti venivano imputati in primo luogo al diagramma stesso del flusso di comunicazione, alla sua forma broadcast, uno-molti (o meglio, pochi-molti, considerato che gli emittenti sono comunque sempre un gruppo, per quanto ristretto, di professionisti organizzati). I mass media erano allora, come si espresse Jean Baudrillard, “parola senza risposta”. In tal senso, la radice comune delle pratiche e delle tecniche di propaganda (la fabbricazione politica della verità che può raggiungere livelli totalitari) e pubblicità (la fabbricazione economica di miti, sive racconti, di consumo e godimento) è stata più volte rimarcata (senza dimenticare, peraltro, che l’origine della propaganda è religiosa, e che la forma gerundiva del termine contiene una precisa istanza di dover-essere). Così ad esempio, per i situazionisti, le immagini della comunicazione mediata davano vita a una forma sociale che essi chiamarono “spettacolo”, un regime di separatezza dell’immagine dalla vita quotidiana e di conseguente espropriazione dell’esperienza vissuta: le immagini spettacolari, per così dire supra-visibilizzate, si diceva, costituivano un nuovo stadio del capitale, in cui ogni rapporto sociale era definitivamente sussunto al dominio.
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Visualising the riverbank

(co-authored with Cristina Mattiucci) ‘Visualising the riverbank’, in  City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, Volume 16, Numbers 1-2, 1 April 2012 , pp. 221-234


Drawing on ethnographic observation of a tract of urban riverbank in the city of Trento, in northern Italy, we attempt to link phenomenological observation of social interaction in public places with larger political concerns about contemporary urban public space. While agreeing with Low et al. (Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space & Cultural Diversity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005) that in order to foster public spaces it is necessary to accommodate the differences in the ways social classes and ethnic groups use and value urban sites, we also argue that one should be wary of planning hubris—which can occur in even `good-willed’ planning, and leads to the creation of domesticated and formalised, but also inherently restricted, spaces for encountering differences.


A workshop | Öffentlichkeit und Gemeinschaftlichkeit messen / Misurare pubblico e comune

Symbolische Aktionen für unsere Gegenwart
Azioni simboliche per il nostro presente
Jederland presents

Fr, ve 02.12.2011 // h 15-17.30 // Lungomare Bozen-Bolzano
Öffentlichkeit und Gemeinschaftlichkeit messen
Misurare pubblico e comune

Workshop mit, con Andrea Mubi Brighenti (Soziologe, sociologo)
& Pierangelo Schiera (Staatshistoriker und Politikwissenschaftler / storico dello stato e politologo)

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