Essays on the abyss: politics of the gaze, violence, technopolitics.

Receipt: September 12, 2022

Acceptance: January 5, 2023


The essay incorporates three large areas of transformations that have shaken up the contemporary scene: institutional deterioration, the detonation of the social pact(s), and the exhaustion of ecosystems, both biological and sociopolitical. The objective is to think about the impacts of these transformations on our mindsets and address the critical work involved in the production of knowledge about the world. This essay brings the question of methodological imagination to the center of the discussion in an attempt to illuminate an area that often is opaque in academic work. Three dimensions that have marked the work of ros as a researcher and thinker about the modern world are addressed, deepening understanding of the social production of meaning and the dynamics of power.

Keywords: , , , ,

Essays on the Abyss: Politics of Gaze, Violence, Technopolitics.

The essay incorporates three large areas of transformations that have shaken up the contemporary scene: institutional deterioration, the detonation of the social pact(s), and the exhaustion of ecosystems, both biological and sociopolitical. The objective is to think about the impacts of these transformations on our mindsets and address the critical work involved in the production of knowledge about the world. This essay brings the question of methodological imagination to the center of the discussion in an attempt to illuminate an area that often is opaque in academic work. Three dimensions that have marked the work of ros as a researcher and thinker about the modern world are addressed, deepening understanding of the social production of meaning and the dynamics of power.

Keywords: sociocultural studies, politics of gaze, violence, technopolitics, sociodigital analysis....

A good archaeological report does not only indicate those layers from which the objects found come, but above all, those layers that had to be traversed beforehand.
Walter Benjamin

Beyond the intense transformations that have shaken the contemporary scene, which I group - for analytical purposes - into three major areas: institutional deterioration, the explosion of the social pact(s) and the depletion of both biological and socio-political ecosystems, I am interested in reflecting in this essay on the impacts that these transformations have had on our ways of thinking and approaching critical work in the production of knowledge about the world. In other words, I am interested in bringing to the center of the discussion the question of methodological imagination, an expression with which I try to illuminate an often opaque fringe in academic work that - it seems to me - remains tied to a set of canons, procedures and modes that today crash against a reality that is not at all that which saw the emergence of ethnography or participant observation, such as the interview or the survey, to cite some methods that have been central in the development of the social sciences.

From this question, I seek to develop three dimensions that have marked my work as a researcher and thinker of the contemporary: the analysis of images and regimes of visibility; violence and the atrocious; and the analysis of networks through large volumes of data. All three are closely related to my concerns to deepen my understanding of the social production of meaning and the dynamics of power.

Politics of the gaze: understanding (in)visibility

In the collection of essays em>Horizontes fragmentados. El desorden global y sus figuras, that I wrote in 2005, I was interested, among other things, in the question of the gaze and its technologies, that gaze that seeks to unravel, to understand, to produce knowledge. My concern focused and continues to focus on what I will call "regimes of visibility", which I understand as complex socio-historical constructions that articulate to the following points:

a) Particular historical formations, for example: West/East; Europe/Latin America; Modernity/Late Modernity; Center/Periphery. This means that in-visibility is always situated.

b) Socializing and intermediary institutions that model and modulate it: the family, the school, the churches, the media, the cultural industries. One learns to see and this action has cultural and socio-political repercussions.

c) Logics of political power that become cognitive power. Whoever determines what is visible and invisible, configures what is cognizable and enunciable in the world.

At that time I asked myself a question about the technologies of the gaze and their relationship with what I called the sciences of proximity or distance, which were associated with "looking and understanding the far" and "looking and understanding the near", a trail that I followed through the inventions of the telescope and, shortly after, the microscope. But this question gradually became a meta-reflection fundamentally linked to the disputes over the representation of reality. The ways of looking, historically produced and never neutral, interested me insofar as they allowed me to approach the field of social and cultural struggles for the legitimate definition of the real.

In the documentary entitled A Girl like Me,1 several young African-American girls narrate their self-perception, the way they live their racialized identity, their discomfort with their hair, their skin, etc. The documentary recovers the experiment conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark in the fifties called "the doll test", which consists of showing African-American children (one by one) two dolls, one white and one black, and they are asked several questions: "Tell me which doll you like more", "tell me which one is the prettiest", "tell me which one is the ugliest". The test is terrible because the children are inclined to choose the white doll as the prettiest and the black one as the ugliest. The most dramatic part of the test is that in the final part they are asked: "Tell me who you look like" and they select the black doll before qualified as ugly and bad.

From this documentary and other exercises, my interest in the forms of the gaze, which I will call "politics of the gaze", increased. I understand by politics of the gaze that set of tactics and strategies that, on a daily basis, manage the gaze, that which produces effects on the way we perceive and are perceived, that which closes and opens other paths, that which reduces or that which restores complexity. Policies of everyday life that we "do not see" because, through them, we see.

I am interested in three aspects of these policies. First, to understand how the gaze constructs representations that are assumed as "natural orders", "doxas" as Pierre Bourdieu (2002) calls them, those truths that do not admit any refutation or questioning. Secondly, how the processes of masking, of invisibility that tend to domesticate a too real reality are produced, the slogan is not only not to show, it is not to look, to close one's eyes. And, finally, the process of aestheticization and emptying of what is looked at in order to separate it from its context and meaning. To pasteurize the image in order to separate it or, to paraphrase Roland Barthes (1964), to consume the image aesthetically and not politically. It is the political gaze that interests me.

The ways of looking at violence, for example, how to look at images of the atrocious, what someone who looks at a dismembered body intuits that there is a previous scene of torture. In this sense, I am interested in certain images, borderline scenes that disrupt the everyday, insofar as they produce what Georges Didi-Huberman (2016: 32) calls "sensitive knowledge"; it is the entry of what is looked at into an emotional dimension that shocks and transforms. Thus, the gaze is a space of permanent tension, of constant struggle between what enters as sensitive knowledge and what is blocked as emptying.

Barthes (1964: 44) says that "in every society various techniques are developed to fix the floating chain of meanings, in order to combat the terror of uncertain signs: the linguistic message is one of these techniques. At the level of the literal message, the word responds more or less directly, more or less partially, to the question: what is it?" Barthes adds, in a sentence as lucid as it is forceful, that "at the level of the message, the linguistic message guides not identification, but interpretation, it constitutes a sort of pincer that prevents the connoted senses from proliferating towards regions that are too individual (that is to say, it limits the projective power of the image) or towards dysphoric values".

From these two quotations, I am interested in highlighting at least two central ideas for discussion. On the one hand, what Michel Foucault (2009) developed in great depth and which alludes to the obsessive power of control and surveillance that seeks to subdue the irruptive, the anomaly, the uncertainty, the surplus of meaning through different techniques or devices, whose objective - roughly speaking - is to tackle uncertainty and set the precise limits for the exercise of power. And, on the other hand, Barthes alerts us to the artifices of the linguistic (literate) message as a control device over the image, that "pincer" that obturates the interpretative machine, through procedures of social normalization and, above all, through the control of emotions. It would seem then that the image is the intrinsic bearer of an "emotional intensity" that must be subdued by the resources of modernity: literate reason and Cartesian containment of the passions.

Based on these two ideas, I now approach two empirical exercises of image analysis that I developed in 2007 because I consider that, despite the distance in time, they are powerful examples of the disturbing capacity of certain images.

First frame: torture scene

At the beginning of 2004, cbs network presented a series of photographs and videos showing the treatment Iraqi prisoners were receiving in Saddam Hussein's former detention center and renamed by the U.S. government as "Camp Redemption". The photographs were brutal and international outrage was not long in coming.

Seventeen soldiers were implicated in the torture cases; among them Lynndie England, Sabrina Harmon, Charles Graner and Ivan Chip Frederick, the latter of whom was the sergeant in charge of the prison, stand out for their special porn-sadism.

The main information that these photographic documents give us is precisely that of their most overwhelming effect, that of the complicity of the eye that looks and the absence of causality or, better, a causality that is grotesque because of its absurdity: the tortured bodies are at the mercy of the torturer and he or she turns out to be someone's niece, someone's daughter, the husband of one of "us". That is to say, the statute of visibility proposes a reading pact: all those present, even newspaper readers or television viewers, are involved in the scene and it is only possible to resist it by means of transforming the tortured body into an anomaly, suspending any possibility of conferring humanity on the subjected body.

In this photograph, Private Sabrina Harmon, one of several involved in these tortures, drags a naked prisoner by the neck on a leash, as if he were a dog. The sheets and rags on the cell bars indicate that they are occupied, so it is surprising that they are also open. The little tension in the rope and the indifferent look of the woman show that the prisoner is docile, that he does not resist the maneuvers of his "mistress"; that is, the information that the photo gives us is that there is no "brute" force and yet the prisoner's arm reveals a small gesture by which he exerts force to hold his head so that it does not reach the ground. The artificial light prevents us from knowing whether it is day or night, while the papers and garbage scattered on the floor complete the frame.

Image 1: Image from the series of 198 photographs of soldier abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, made public by the Pentagon in 2004 under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to Roland Barthes, we could say that in this photograph there is a punctum; that is, "something random in the photo that punctures", it involves "a detail, a partial object that pulls my gaze, the detail appears in the field of the photographed as an inevitable supplement" (Barthes, 1989: 79). He does not do so to reflect the photographer's art, but to show that he is there and that this is what his vision consists of, which leads him to take the total object, without being able to separate that partial object (punctum) of the scene. The punctum in this photograph it is that gesture of the arm, that minimal gesture of humanity, that almost imperceptible wink of resistance that the photographer's "art" cannot isolate, that becomes in turn an uncomfortable "information". Despite the scenography and the apparent calm of the photographed subjects, the prisoner's arm suggests that there is a line of escape: the domination is not total and this reintroduces the dominated subject into the relation of domination. In other words, the anomaly is not fully established because the subject appeals, through a minimal gesture, to his humanity.

Second frame: the broken body and the war of necropsies

In March 2007, the country was shocked by the news that Doña Ernestina Asencio, an elderly indigenous woman from Zongolica, Veracruz, was brutally raped by members of the army stationed in the town. It was first reported that Doña Ernestina had been brutally raped by soldiers stationed in this critical rural area of Veracruz. The local authorities attested to the act and performed an autopsy which indicated that Ernestina had been raped and that her death was due to multiple traumatisms, which gave rise to an intense "investigation" among federal authorities, in which the role played by the National Human Rights Commission (cndh). But the now former President Calderón declared that there had been no such rape and that 73-year-old Doña Ernestina died of "chronic gastritis and acute anemia caused by digestive bleeding" and added "there are no traces that she had been raped by the Army".

The photograph that circulated profusely in the media at the time is shocking:2 it consists of a forensic table and a close up to Ernestina's face and a bottle of coke to collect the red thread of blood coming out of her skull. The dehumanization of the person, the terrible appropriation of the broken, inert body. Undoubtedly it is a leaked photograph that quickly became the center of the dispute in what I call "necropsy war", the one carried out by the local experts and the one practiced later by federal specialists and personnel of the cndh. The "technical" reports are so different that scientific reason is called into question, because they are two equivalent discourses in clear confrontation: some see gastritis, others see "presence of whitish discharge in the vagina"; some see anemia due to bleeding, the others diagnose "anal region with erythema, recent abrasions and tears, fresh blood". We are, therefore, faced with a severe dilemma, either one or the other are absolutely inefficient or liars. And the question arises as to how an inert body is capable of responding in such a contradictory manner to the questions that "forensic science" asks. With such conflicting reports, it is not surprising that "public opinion is divided" and, once again, the body becomes a motive for dispute and political confrontation and the victim is fixed in that terrible image that freezes her and makes her human condition invisible. The body photographed, studied, measured, sectioned, weighed, observed, becomes in this case the bearer of clues. In the broken body is verified the political dispute to establish the credible, legitimized, comfortable clue. The key issue of this case and the image that represents it is that the body remains tied to the political "truth" that the sovereign establishes to preserve his own body.

It seems to me that the examples presented allow us to affirm with Diego Lizarazo that "Photography thus possesses a structuring principle of events. The purpose of this staging is the framing of the interpretation of both the gaze of the one who sees the photo and the one who produces it". The tortured bodies of Abu Ghraib and the inert body of Ernestina become "lives that do not matter", that are left over, lives that cannot be mourned, lives that cannot be mourned, operations of meaning through which power casts those bodies into the interpretative void or, better, putting them to work in an interpretative register anchored in the normalization of the violence exercised; those bodies as a surface of inscription of the anomaly that would justify or explain what happens to them.

I close this section, but I will return to the broken body in the third part of this essay, in which I will address the study of networks, data mining and data visualization.

Violence, the abyss of atrocities

In 2009, artist Teresa Margolles and curator Cuauhtémoc Medina presented at the Mexican Pavilion of the Venice Biennale the work What else could we talk about?, which consisted of a series of pieces that showed the atrocity of violence in our country: pieces of cloth with blood of victims of executions that the artist recovered from the morgues, blankets in which bodies were delivered, floors that were mopped with fluids. Pieces and activations that brutally connected the spectators with the (real) effects of violence linked to drug trafficking.

Image 2: Card for cocaine snacking by Teresa Margolles.
Image 2: Card for cocaine snacking by Teresa Margolles.

From that series, I am interested in what Margolles called "Tarjeta para picar cocaína", which consisted of handing out these cards in hard plastic -like a bank card-, which on one of its sides showed the body of a murdered person. A repulsive image but also recursive in the sense that it forces the public to become aware of their eventual participation in the blood economy.

To account for the confrontation with the atrocious to which Margolles summons us with this piece, I would like to refer to this quote by Adorno: "In an age of incomprehensible horrors, perhaps only art can give satisfaction to Hegel's phrase that Brecht chose as his motto: truth is concrete" (1984: 33); truth is brutal and the work of Margolles and other artists has been key to make the atrocious speak in a register that is not that of spectacularization or trivialization.

I would like to paraphrase here the title of the extraordinary book by Enrique Díaz Álvarez (La palabra que aparece, 2021): the truth that appears in this piece by Margolles unfolds its full power, that of the effects of violence linked to drug trafficking "overwhelms, is remembered, persists," the author will say about the word.

The question that must be asked is whether this piece-witness can operate a transformation in the sensorium, that techno-social sensibility that interested Walter Benjamin to study the relationship between technique and aesthetics. That is, if the piece-witness can produce reflexivity on what the governmental powers silence or make invisible and what the media powers reduce to statistics.

Throughout many years of research on violence and what in my work I call "counter-machines" (Reguillo, 2011), I can affirm that the art and the performance are able to penetrate areas of experience that traditional journalistic or academic approaches cannot access. I am thinking of the performance by Violeta Luna Réquiem para una tierra perdida3 and the profound impact it had on those of us who lost the condition of spectators to become witnesses of her powerful claim for the dead of violence in this country. Accompanied by María Rivera's poem, read by the poet herself,4 the performance-ritual is the voice of a claim, of mourning, of despair. It activates in a brutal way the pain and anguish in the face of the tearing apart that Mexico has become.

Luna appears on stage, at ground level, surrounded by those of us who will be her witnesses. Dressed in black, her hair tied up and with a bag that says "Mexico 2010", she slowly takes out the objects inside: first some gloves, some white bottles with the Mexican coat of arms, opaque, we cannot guess the content. A deck of small photographs of people's faces, a white tunic, cards with numbers. The solemnity with which he prepares himself, every little detail in which his whole body is activated, is impressive. First she puts on the white robe and paints her arms white, then she lets down her hair and begins to brush it slowly. Her hair spread out on the floor becomes the earth that welcomes the dead, she places the photographs, making of death a tissue articulated by pain, by impotence, by rage. And in that telluric moment, what Didi-Huberman calls "sensitive knowledge" (2016: 32) is produced; it is the entry of what is looked at into an emotional dimension that shocks and transforms. Luna empties two bottles of blood-red liquid over her hair matted by the photographs. At that moment, the spectators, who become witnesses, burst out in different emotions: tears, murmurs, disheveled faces. As Néstor García Canclini would say, "art leaves what it says in suspense" (2010). A condition of suspicion is established, the reality of war encloses a deep suffering.

Subjectivity disrupted

In addition to art, chronicles, investigative journalism and documentary work are also capable of producing sensitive knowledge. The urgent need for other cartographies that allow us to map the geography of our fears, that are capable of producing other languages, other narratives. Grammars of the atrocious that, in the manner of medieval maps in which demons, angels, cathedrals were drawn, that baroque imagination that made the map a place of symbolic representation, can today enable us not only to document tragedy and catastrophe, but also become compasses to find alternatives.

Image 3: Illustration of a baroque map. Digital cartographies and their challenges: registers and algorithms.

Digital cartographies and their challenges: registers and algorithms

The techno-accelerations that we have been experiencing in recent years at a rapid pace and without respite5 have redefined practically all dimensions of social life, from scientific knowledge to everyday life. Information, knowledge, communication, teaching-learning processes in the context of an increasingly connected life-world and the exponential multiplication of data about the world, the region, the locality, have not solved the enormous problems that concern society, but they have created new conditions of possibility to do so.

Today, the evolution of computer sciences, the continuous hybridization between network sciences, data mining, communication theories and social sciences and humanities, are building fertile and promising connections that show their clearest face in the proliferation of university and citizen laboratories, in which curiosity, play, passion and knowledge born from doing -with others- are mixed. The culture of diy (Do it yourself), hacker ethics (to make available to all), p2p production (e.g., peer-to-peer network). Knowledge is increasingly produced in networks, in the combination of knowledge coming from different fields, from the research and dissemination of projects based on forms of experimentation and collaborative learning through different technological tools.

The emergence of social networks has been fundamental for the reconfiguration of the Internet and modes of sociality. Between 2007 and 2009, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter appeared, revolutionizing what we understand today by public space, what we understand by interaction, what we understand by communication and, especially -in my case-, the way we approach different ways of producing knowledge.

In 2016, Signa_Lab, the Laboratory for Technological Innovation and Applied Interdisciplinary Studies of iteso, began its activities, drawing on three fields of knowledge: cybernetics, actor-network theory and technopolitics. These fields guide the work carried out in the laboratory on the relationship between technology, innovation and public space.

From cybernetics to technopolitics in social terms

We know that in an increasingly connected society with an exponential multiplication of data about the world, the region, the locality, technology and digital dynamics have not solved the enormous problems that concern society, but they have created new conditions of possibility to do so.

The network actor theory

Bruno Latour, one of the most prominent sociologists of contemporary science, proposed in the 1980s, together with authors such as John Law or Michel Callon, the "actor-network theory", ant, according to which "the social" is constituted by temporary sets of assemblages of agents/tools/animals that will be reconfigured by both internal and external factors. ant is proposed as a research methodology that considers "sets of associations" that are constantly rearticulated through agglutinating elements. These sets can be nations, groups, parties, collectives, movements that, according to the tarare in themselves empty statements that do not explain the elements that configure or modify them.

For Latour and the practitioners of ant, in this approach, research fails when these associations are taken as closed entities. What is sought through this approach is to produce explanations, that is, to investigate the multiple relationships that a "set of associations" weaves with other elements with which it interacts. Thus, research of a processual nature leaves traces of all these movements in order to understand how a network functions. This is the logic with which we currently analyze the conversation in social networks.

Latour gives as an example of this type of analysis the one he carries out on a group of oyster fishermen, which seeks to demonstrate that in order to understand this "social set" it is necessary to understand its relationship with the oyster, since this undoubtedly has repercussions on the behavior and practice of the fishermen. It is essential to understand that the tools they use to fish are in turn the product of another amalgam of networks that have produced them (companies, distributors, etc.). Thus networks of flat relationships emerge in which the social group "fishermen" will be linked to oystermen, boat manufacturers, fishing net weavers, market vendors, etc., which opens up much more of the spheres of influence and explanation of what was otherwise considered a closed social group (Latour, 2008).

The impact of the ant in the field of social sciences, humanities and complexity theories has been decisive in the transition from partial, self-contained and finished approaches to an open and necessarily relational thinking. In his book Reensamblar lo social: una introducción a la teoría del actor-red (2008), Latour clearly shows that what we call "the social" is far from being a "homogeneous thing"; for the author, the challenge is the reassembly of heterogeneous elements to face "the disconcerting face of the social".

A new vaccine is marketed, a new job is offered, a new political movement is created, a new planetary system is discovered, a new law is voted, a new catastrophe occurs. In each instance we have to rearrange our conceptions of what was associated because the previous definition has become to some extent irrelevant (Latour, 2008: 19).

In other words, the substance of these ideas lies in assuming that the heterogeneity of elements supposedly irrelevant to each other (people posting pictures of their faces, people expressing solidarity with the Afghan people and women, people showing the Afghan flag), are precisely the subject of research: the analysis of the relationships between elements: democracy, feminism, education, learning, human rights, justice, communication, culture, the city, technologies, the public, which represent, from this perspective, relationships that must be reassembled in order to produce situated knowledge. According to Latour, the task of the scientist is not to impose "an order, to teach the actors what they are or to add some reflexivity to their blind practice" (2008: 28). On the contrary, it is to follow the actors (actants for the ant), to attend to the innovations and especially the connections in a historical stage of diverse accelerations.

Gabriel Tarde, a very important precursor of the tar or an alternative sociology, pointed out that Émile Durkheim's mistake had been to replace the understanding of the social bond with a political project aimed at social engineering (Vallejos, 2012). Paraphrasing Latour regarding this debate, it is important to emphasize for the purposes of this project that, for Tarde, there was no need to separate "the social" from other associations such as biological organisms, nor a break with philosophy or even metaphysics. The social, not as a "special domain of reality, but as a principle of connections”.

In the work, from millions of images and emojis, we ask ourselves the following question: What color is a tragedy? What are the emojis with which an idea, a feeling is accompanied? Does tragedy have faces or are they inanimate planes? Asking data for connections, the digital not as a special domain of reality, but as a shaper in the social production of meaning: the digital as space, as object, as practice.

Image 4: These visualizations correspond to the analysis conducted around the 2017 earthquake in Mexico City.
Image 4: These visualizations correspond to the analysis conducted around the 2017 earthquake in Mexico City.

I am interested in highlighting the change of narrative between the first moments of the catastrophe, where the emoji most frequently tweeted was the call to prayer, while once the #Verified19S group was activated, the call to action was paramount. The emojis allow to capture the affective tonalities in digital conversations.


Manuel Castells anticipated this phenomenon at the end of the last century, when he pointed out the growing emergence of what he calls "mass self-communication" (Castells, 2009); that is, the transition from the "one-to-many" of the media and traditional forms of communication to "broadcast yourself" (self-emit yourself), made possible by Web 2.0 and the proliferation of networks, platforms and applications that work in favor of the democratization of the public space by destabilizing the legitimate places of enunciation and changing the rules of content production and circulation of communication.

The term Web 2.0 can be used to understand the possibility offered by new Internet services that allow the active participation of its users, who go from being mere consumers to producing content that can be mixed among them. According to Tim O'Reilly, Web 2.0 platforms allow "building a network based on the architecture of participation" (O'Reilly, 2007). In this sense, different forms of organization through the Internet are multiplying and extending, generating new typologies, techniques, policies and, especially, new forms of citizen participation.

In the collective book Tecnopolítica, internet y r-evoluciones. Sobre la centralidad de redes digitales en el #15m (2012), eight activist-intellectuals from the movement known as #15m (May 15, the date on which the Plaza Sol in Madrid was occupied) or "los indignados" (the outraged) propose as a definition of "technopolitics" the following:

The massive reappropriation of corporate social networks and the invention of new free tools, together with se of large-scale hacktivist strategies for organizing and viral-political communication purposes, has opened up a new field of socio-technical experimentation. This is the field of what we call "Technopolitics". Technopolitics as a collective capacity for appropriation of digital tools for collective action (Alcazan et al., 2012: 8).

Thus, a guiding principle of Signa_Lab's work is to analyze and make visible the "social appropriation of technology and its devices". Faced with the operations of manipulation and disinformation in the networks, we argue that technopolitics operates as a tool of radical transformation in political cultures, in learning, in organizational forms, in communication, which breaks the sender-message-receiver scheme, to become a complex map of multitudes connected and in constant interaction. Interaction in which the subjects become producers of content, critics of information, which favors connectivity and the construction of a collective imaginary on those aspects of reality that are perceived by the subjects as problems of the "common", that which summons us, worries us, challenges us both cognitively and emotionally.

I show as an example of this two emblematic cases of high density and viralization, the #YoSoy132 movement and the movement around the events of #Ayotzinapa:

Image 5: #YoSoy132

Graph showing the interactions on Twitter generated by and around the #YoSoy132 Movement in Mexico and other countries. It shows the relationships of users to hashtags. Data collection period: May-December 2012 nodes: 429,635 edges: 1,373,764 communities: 5,247

Image 6: Visualization on the anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, showing the great participation generated by the case in the digital conversation on Twitter.

Technopolitics is a backbone of the inquiry into the (multiple and complex) ways in which subjects, citizens, young people and adults, students and teachers, specialists and ordinary people, interact in the network-space to make visible, discuss, learn, create, intervene in the public space through these connective technologies.

The basic issue is that today people have (in differential and unequal ways) new possibilities to get involved, participate, build spaces for discussion and contrast with respect to previous periods, in which information, the possibility of enunciation, of asserting their "point of view" were under the monopoly of the guardians and administrators of the public sphere.

In this sense, with the irruption of the Internet, participation, as a connection mechanism, ceases to be located and anchored in a regulated space, the possibilities of participation expand, moving from a single-layer system to a multi-layer one within which "information, attention and affection are concentrated and channeled thanks to multiple devices and layers of communication, which are intertwined with each other" (Toret et al., 2013: 136). These relationships lead to the physical territory becoming a point of reference and digital connections, along with their devices, become entry points to a global space.

Today, by means of the so-called network science (Barabási, 2012), the big data (Magoulas and Lorica, 2009), web epistemologies (Rogers, 2004), accelerated developments involving different disciplines, have increased the questions and possibilities of generating situated, open and reproducible knowledge. From this perspective, technopolitics becomes an approach, a mode of approach, a strategy and a methodology to produce knowledge, experimentation and intervention on sensitive and key aspects of reality.

I return here to the analysis we conducted in the laboratory of the terrible femicide of Ingrid Escamilla, which we titled, for what I will explain later, "Ingrid Escamilla: extinguishing the horror". Ingrid was 25 years old, on February 9, 2020, when her partner brutally murdered her in Mexico City, some photographs of her flayed body were leaked and began to circulate profusely.

In the monitoring we did of the case (in real time), we could see through the first network analysis that there were two competing narratives: one that fought to dignify Ingrid and raise her case as a femicide, and the other that mocked and turned her death into a spectacle: "femicide" versus "photos" alerted us to what was happening with the second narrative. Countless accounts referred to the photographs of Ingrid's broken body and searched for links or links to view them. The horror.

Image 7: Semantic analysis and visualization with cloud of the most used words linked to Ingrid's femicide.

Throughout the morning of February 12, we were able to gather digital empirical evidence that there was a morbid and cruel interest in this specific case.

I would like to show below a visualization obtained through Google Trends, a tool that allows you to see, measure and analyze what people "search" on the Internet through Google, as well as the volume of these searches with different georeferencing parameters. This tool also shows the set of words and the most used websites when performing a specific search. The result could not be more eloquent in documenting the way in which violence has colonized a large part of the imaginary in Mexico.

During the last hours of February 11 and the first hours of February 12, when the discussion was reaching its highest point in networks, the predominant gaze around the femicide of #Ingrid was anchored to the grammars of horror, which I understand as formats of information consumption inherited from "media strategies that tend to attenuate sensitivity to barbarity", and that urge media and audiences to ask ourselves about the ways in which "the victim is constructed" (Reguillo, 2012). In this particular case: the search for images of Ingrid's body. Photographs leaked by the authorities of Mexico City, the exacerbation of the brutality of femicide as a narrative axis in words associated with it, the search for images and videos of the event on sites dedicated to the gore gender and some of the words most used by the media in the coverage (images, leakage) are proof of this.

Given the strong impact of what was happening in the networks, we made the collective decision to ask Monica Vargas, at that time the artist and curator of visual content of the laboratory, to create an illustration with Ingrid's face to accompany the report we were preparing.

Image 8: Analysis of Google Trends searches on the Ingrid Escamilla case Source: Iteso, Signa_lab.
Image 9: Analysis of Google Trends searches on the Ingrid Escamilla case Source: Iteso, Signa_lab.
Image 10: Analysis of Google Trends searches on the Ingrid Escamilla case Source: Iteso, Signa_lab.
Image 11: Illustration by Ingrid Escamilla, made by Mónica Vargas for Signa_Lab.

This "idea" was not exclusively ours: the collective intelligence and especially of a digital/presential community of long-standing affection, which has sought to reverse the terrible story of our violence, managed to place and viralize -in a few hours- thousands of images of natural landscapes, sunsets, live fauna, among others, with tweets that appealed to #IngridEscamilla. The horror was extinguished by the brightness, in a short time, every time #fotosIngridEscamilla was searched, thousands of beautiful and loving images appeared.

Collective resistance in the face of the colonization of horror:

Image 12: Collage with some of the images shared by Twitter users to "turn off the horror", elaborated by Signa_Lab.

Logbooks covid-19

The covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly marked a before and after in the way of doing academic work, since it not only affected what we call field work, but also the way in which the continuity of the school, the university and the academic work networks had to be solved, sometimes in very precarious ways.

From March 25 to April 1, 2020, the Zoom application registered 1.4 million downloads in Brazil and 745,700 downloads in Mexico. It was the second app most downloaded after TikTok. According to Apptopia, among the top ten apps most downloaded (ios and Android) worldwide in 2020 are Zoom in second place, Google Meet in fifth and Microsoft Teams in sixth. These figures are a pale indicator of the transformations brought about by confinement in academia in particular.

With regard to the pandemic, as an analytical strategy, we decided to look at how people talked about the pandemic and its effects on different areas of life, from the most personal to the work or political implications. We decided to open a section on our website entitled: "Bit_acoras Covid19"..

For this essay I will focus on the dimensions or affects mobilized at the beginning of the pandemic, through the tracking and downloading of some key terms that we detected in the daily monitoring carried out in Signa_Lab. Thus, #Cuandoestestoseacabe was the hashtag used by thousands of Spanish-speaking users in the first weeks to express their concerns and, especially, to communicate to other users what they would do when the pandemic ended. The emotionality poured into these conversations was articulated in the expression of wishes: visit parents or grandparents, go to the beach, see work colleagues, etc. That hashtag was linked to another one that also mobilized the conversation or, in other words, that had high traction, as we qualify some trends with mobilizing power (organic, i.e., not manipulated), it was #compralocal, through which people were urged to favor small commerce.

In the following visualization - already leaked - 6,097 unique tweets were isolated, which were downloaded in mid-April.

Figure 13: Graph visualizing the behavior of the hashtag #whenthisisisfinished.

The next step was to follow the affective terms or words. We detected that the conversation around the pandemic brought out very eloquent words to give an account of what society was experiencing, the concerns, the fear. The so-called "quarantine" became a motif for exchanging these concerns. "Insomnia" was one of the first words linked to the pandemic: "And you had insomnia?" "Yes, of course, I just can't...", which signaled an emotionally altered state.

Image 14: Visualization of the word "insomnia" linked to "quarantine".
Image 15: Word cloud of the term "insomnia" on Twitter.

We use two ways of visualizing the data, the graph and a word cloud, which we perform through a semantic analysis:

Image 16: Word cloud with the term "nightmare" linked to "quarantine".

Then the word "nightmare" appeared, it was not only about sharing bad dreams, but also about describing the experience in the face of the pandemic as a nightmare. The death of family and friends, the loss of jobs, the difficulties in accessing connectivity for children.

Then "fear" burst in, as a word, a fundamental noun with which people were talking about their own fears in the face of the pandemic. It can be seen in the graph how the blue color of the "fear" node groups several communities or clusters of interaction.

Fear is followed by sadness; it is a more advanced phase of the pandemic in which the loss of family and friends, the daily count of cases, have already taken their toll on the collective mood. Depression and anxiety were relevant topics. In the case of the word "sadness", it is relevant to note in the graph the optimistic call for collective action, perhaps corresponding to a technopolitical moment.

Figure 17: Semantic analysis of pandemic conversation on Twitter linking the word "fear" with "quarantine".
Figure 18: Word cloud, semantic analysis. Conversation about "sadness" and "quarantine".
Figure 19: Graph showing the relationships between hashtags on Twitter, with the search terms "sadness" (green community) and "quarantine" (purple community or cluster).

We were surprised that the word "hope" did not acquire an algorithmic preponderance in the conversation. This issue leads me to affirm that the pandemic configured a scenario of what Baruch Spinoza (1977) would call the "sad passions" (fear, hopelessness, sadness, frustration), activated by job insecurity or the fear of losing one's job, the experience of exclusion, the continuous experience of vulnerability and, especially, the shadows of uncertainty that loom over an uncertain future and agitate thought.

The analysis of large volumes of data in dialogue and productive tension with qualitative approaches makes it possible to apprehend reality from another perspective. Networks operate as systems of passage, with open trajectories that intersect.

The covid-19 built a new "outside", in the silence of the streets, in the crowding of public transport of those who could not stop and stay at home, an outside that was sustained with precarious jobs and the invisibilization of what is necessary to keep that "outside" working. But when analyzing what happens on the platforms and socio-digital networks, when downloading hundreds of thousands of tweets, of publications on Instagram, what is drawn is a new "inside" in which the affections "have pierced us like arrows".

By way of closing

During the preparation and writing of Necromáquina. Cuando morir no es suficiente (2021), a concept, premise, idea became a kind of mantra; with it I referred to the work of some chroniclers and journalists such as Sergio González Rodríguez, to whom, in addition to admiration, I was united by a fruitful friendship in which we were able to share similar concerns. We owe the formulation to Simon Critchley, who gives the title to his powerful book La demanda infinita. La ética del compromiso y la política de la resistencia (2010).

Critchley calls "ethical demand" the moment in which the subject is confronted with a demand that does not correspond to his autonomy; in other words, that transcends him and leads him to accept, "approve" Critchley will say, that demand, in a constant movement that engages the ethical subject at all times. It is not a one-time gamble. Through Emmanuel Levinas, Critchley shows the moment of asymmetry that arises "with the experience of the infinite demand of the face of the other and that defines the ethical subject in relation to a separation between himself and an exorbitant demand that he can never fulfill: the demand to be infinitely responsible" (2010: 59). This asymmetry has been present in my work for many years, always challenged by "the infinite demand of the face of the other", an ethical and academic, social and aesthetic position, which leads me to become infinitely responsible for our pains and our searches.

To go back to the promised articulation between the three axes of my work that I selected for this collaboration with Encartes, I present a recent analysis we did at Signa_Lab on the murder of journalist Lourdes Maldonado in Tijuana on January 23, 2022; Lourdes was the third journalist murdered in those first days of the year.

One of the central themes in the laboratory's lines of research is "violence against journalists and freedom of expression", so the monitoring around these issues is daily. To pay a digital tribute and at the same time denounce the facts, we made a mural with 283 Instagram posts that made reference to the journalist, and we put together a mural with her (real) image when she went to denounce that she was being threatened during one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's morning conferences.

Image 20: Mosaic made up of 238 publications on Instagram that used the hashtag #LourdesMaldonado. Prepared by Signa_Lab.

The thread with this mural and with information on violence against journalists appeared in the list of top global tweets of Trendsmap ( Beyond the impact achieved with this publication, I close with this topic because it allows me to articulate the politics of the gaze, violence and atrocity and technicality as a laboratory of analysis and production of knowledge.

The murder of Lourdes Maldonado is atrocious. I believe that the visual representation that is achieved in these murals (make zoom or approaches to the small images that shape this photograph is fundamental), summon a kind of "reaction", an empathy, an emotion that derives from what the many images that compose it say, making one see a person, as in the case of Maldonado; or the representation of a person, as in the case of the composition with the image of a woman with a hijab, when the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, 2021, with the predictable impact that their arrival would have for women and girls.

Thus, the visualization of image 21 comes from Instagram and was made with 222 photographs in which users of that network, mostly women, posted on their profiles to show solidarity with Afghan women when the Taliban captured Kabul and expelled women from public space. Zooming in on the mosaic, one can see faces of veiled, bare-faced women and images with the Afghan flag. This is not a neutral or aestheticized representation of the conversation, but just - as the ant- to give an account in a procedural way that leaves traces of how people place themselves in front of an event.

Seeing and making see has been a central part of my concerns. With these new tools and possibilities, new ways of mapping old problems or new approaches that intersect with the experience of increasingly connected subjects open up - in the articulation of knowledge ranging from anthropology to algorithms, from network science to semiotics, from philosophy to datification, from communication to mathematics.

Paraphrasing Jacques Rancière, it is possible to think that these three universes: visuality, atrocity and technicality, are strategies to break the police map of the possible and to trace anew the coordinates that must be traversed for critical knowledge to discomfort, shake, question.

Image 21: Mosaic with the 222 images in Instagram posts mentioning #AfghanWo- men that reached more than 500 "likes" as of August 22, 2021.


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Rossana Reguillo is a national researcher emeritus of the National System of Researchers, a member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, professor-researcher emeritus in the Department of Sociocultural Studies of the itesowhere she coordinates the Signa_Lab Interdisciplinary Laboratory. D. in Social Sciences, with a specialization in Social Anthropology, from the ciesas-University of Guadalajara. She has been a visiting professor at several universities in Latin America, Spain and the United States. Tinker Visiting Professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at Stanford University. Professor unesco in Communication 2004, as well as at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and the Universidad Javeriana, in Bogotá, Colombia. Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Culture and Civilization, New York University, 2011. His most recent book is Necromachine. When dying is not enough. Barcelona: ned/iteso, 2021.

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EncartesVol. 6, No. 12, September 2023-February 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: September 21, 2023.