15 December 2016


In this post I want to introduce the notion of infrasomatization. The intention is to expand the categories of exosomatization and endosomatization developed by Alfred J. Lotka and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in their work on ecological economics and by Karl Popper in relation to what he called objective knowledge (see Lotka 1925; Georgescu-Roegen 1970, 1972, 1978; Popper 1972). The terms exosomatization and endosomatization have more recently deployed in the work of Bernard Stiegler in relation to thinking about human augmentation and digital technologies, particularly in relation to the anthropocene (see for example, Stiegler 2015a). The notion of infrasomatization I want to use as a contribution to thinking about the questions raised by these concepts, but also to move away from a binary between endosomatic and exosomatic, by introducing a third term. First it might be useful to briefly survey the earlier uses of these terms.

Alfred J.  Lotka described the world as a giant engine and argued that man and nature should be understood holistically, particularly to show how human activity had an influence upon the operation of what he called the “world engine” (Lotka, 1925: 331). For Lotka, what he called exosomatic elements are different from genetic, endosomatic organs like arms, legs or hands. Exosomatic elements are tools and other instruments used by man to produce, exchange and consume energy in some form. Exosomatic organs, therefore, are an extension of the natural functions of man and the upshot of economic production. As he argued,
In place of slow adaptation of anatomical structure and physiological function in successive generations by selective survival, increased adaptation has been achieved by the incomparably more rapid development of ‘artificial’ aids to our native receptor–effector apparatus, in a process that might be termed exosomatic evolution (Lotka, 1945: 188).
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen used and developed Lotka's ideas of biophysical economics, particularly in The Entropy Law and the economic problem (1970), Energy and economic myths (1972) and Inequality, limits and growth from a bioeconomic viewpoint (1978). He argued,
Apart from a few insignificant exceptions, all species other than man use only endosomatic instruments — as Alfred Lotka proposed to call those instruments (legs, claws, wings, etc.) which belong to the individual organism by birth. Man alone came, in time, to use a club, which does not belong to him by birth, but which extended his endosomatic arm and increased its power. At that point in time, man's evolution transcended the biological limits to include also (and primarily) the evolution of exosomatic instruments, i.e., of in- struments produced by man but not belonging to his body. That is why man can now fly in the sky or swim under water even though his body has no wings, no fins, and no gills (Georgescu-Roegen, 1972: 81).
We might summarise the distinction drawn by Georgescu-Roegen as between:
endosomatic instruments (legs, claws, wings, etc.) which belong to the individual organism by birth 
exosomatic instruments, that is, of instruments produced by man but not belonging to his body (Georgescu-Roegen, 1972: 81) 
Karl Popper (1972) similarly drew the notion of exosomatisation from biology arguing (against Hume) that the specificity of human reason is related to the exosomatic processes of externalisation of reason as writing, which enables the possibility of criticism and therefore of the correction of incorrect inferences (Popper 1972: 98).  Popper argued that Hume claims that "in practice we make... inferences, on the basis of repetition or habit" a psychology Popper describes as "primitive".  Indeed, Popper further argues, that "without the development of an exosomatic descriptive language – a language which, like a tool, develops outside the body-there can be no object for our critical discussion"  and that through the externalisation of language "a linguistic third world can emerge; and it is only in this way, and only in this third world, that the problems and standards of rational criticism can develop" (Popper 1972: 120). He expands, arguing,
Animal evolution proceeds largely, though not exclusively, by the modification of organs (or behaviour) or the emergence of new organs (or behaviour). Human evolution proceeds, largely, by developing new organs outside our bodies or persons: 'exosomati-cally', as biologists call it, or 'extra-personally'. These new organs are tools, or weapons, or machines, or houses... The rudimentary beginnings of this exosomatic development can of course be found among animals. The making of lairs, or dens, or nests, is an early achievement. I may also remind you that beavers build very ingenious, dams. But man, instead of growing better eyes and ears, grows spectacles, microscopes, telescopes, telephones, and hearing aids. And instead ofgrowing swifter and swifter legs, he grows swifter and swifter motor cars (Popper 1972: 238).
But as Popper was particularly interested in the development of rationality in and through the capacity for the externalisation of the processes of communication, in language and through the materialisation of thoughts in a medium of expression, he argued that "instead of growing better memories and brains, we grow paper, pens, pencils, typewriters; dictaphones, the printing press, and libraries" (Popper 1972: 239).

Similarly, Bernard Stiegler has begun deploying the concepts of endosomatic and exosomatic in his more recent work (see Stiegler 2015a, 2015b), arguing,
Marx and Engels showed at the beginning of The German Ideology (1845) that humanity consists above all in a process of exosomatization that pursues evolution no longer through somatic but through artificial organs (which was already glimpsed by Herder 70 years prior to these two early theorists of the role of technology in the formation of social relations and knowledge). But humankind has discovered to its stupefaction that this exosomatization is now directly and deliberately produced by the market — and, with respect to the immense transformations to which it gives rise, without offering any choice other than, in the best case, the profitability of investment, or, in the worst case, the pure speculation involved in the increasingly tight connection between the casino economy, marketing and R&D conceived according to inherently short-term, and therefore speculative, models of disruption (Stiegler 2015a).
Today of course, we have new forms of externalisation which complicate the picture of mere externalisation of what have been described by Popper as internal thoughts and ideas made exosomatic. Not only do I claim that computational techniques and technologies differ from previous materialisations, but are also troublingly constitutive of and able to frame how those externalisations are made (see Berry 2011, 2014). I haven't the space here to explore the specificities of the materialities of previous mediums and their capacity to shape thoughts and ideas, but I want to highlight the difference of computational forms in their processual shaping and reshaping, that is the very fluidity of the moment of a new kind of externalisation under the conditions of computation. Indeed, this can be detected in terms of the anxiety currently exhibited by a public that has begun to note the automation and datafication of everyday life and the wider effects of a financialized economy and the resultant claims for the capacity for individuation and critical thinking, for example in the development of "fake news" but also the recent use of social media in the election of Donald Trump.

So I want to claim here that data technologies are deployed as what I am calling infrasomatizations. That is, that they are not just exosomatizations, not just the production of tools or instruments. Infrasomatizations are, rather,  the production of constitutive infrastructures. Indeed, infrasomatizations rely on a complex fusion of endosomatic capacities and exosomatic technics to create what we might call algorithmic governance (Berns and Rouvroy 2013). So we might consider the way in which infrasomatizations differ in relation to the claims made by Popper, for example, for the role of exosomatization in the development of the capacity for reason and critical thinking.

By infrasomatization I drawing on the Latin infra as meaning ‘below’ but also its use in anatomy where infra refers to below or under a part of the body. Therefore as I previously explained, infrasomatization does not refer to an instrumental notion of technology, but rather the capacity for framing or creating the conditions of possibility for a particular knowledge milieu. In this sense, certain exosomatizations are actually infrasomatizations, that is when they are built into the lived environment and act to provide context and associations, both material and symbolic.

Through the creation of specific infrasomatic formations, temporary or otherwise, new modes of knowing and thinking, assembling and acting can be made possible by bringing scale technologies together to create infrastructures. Infrastructure is commonly understood as the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise. It is also sometimes understood as the social and economic infrastructure of a country. Indeed, Parks argues, the word infrastructure “emerged in the early twentieth century as a collective term for the subordinate parts of an undertaking; substructure, foundation”, that is, as what “engineers refer to as ‘stuff you can kick’” (Parks 2015: 355). Similarly Easterling argues, "the word infrastructure typically conjures up associations with physical networks of transportation, communication, or utilities. Infrastructure is considered to be a hidden substrate – the binding medium or current between objects of positive consequence, shape or law" (Easterling 2016: 11).

But infrastructure is not just the built environment, the cables and wires, the water pipes and transport networks, it is also the technical a priori created in and through computation. It is also notable that talk of infrastructure seems to allow us to get a grip on the ephemerality of data and computation, its seemingly concreteness as a concept, contrasts with that of clouds, streams, files and flows. So we hear about cables and wires, satellites and receivers, chips and boards, and the sheer thingness of these physical objects. But we also need to consider stacks and layers, software and code, algorithms and patterns, together with shared standards, diagrams, interfaces and organisational structures.

Infrasomatizations can be thought of as social-structuring technologies, they have an obduracy that can be mobilised to support specific instances of thought, rationality and action. They are latent technologies that are made to be already ready for use, to be configured and reconfigured, and built into particular constellations that form the underlying structures for social and psychic individuation. Infrasomatizations also gestures toward a kind of gigantism, the sheer massiveness of fundamental technologies and resources. Their size usefully contrasting with the minuteness or ephemerality of the kinds of personal devices that are increasingly merely interfaces or gateways to underlying infrastructural systems.Today, we talk a lot about data infrastructures, computational materiality for the highly digital sociality we live in today, especially the questions raised in the relations between the social and social media 

The key question for me is how infrasomatizations are created as infrastructure, and more particularly how these new forms of infrastructure are positioned to change or replace existing institutions. This allows us to think about institutions as knowing-spaces, and how they force us to consider the political economic issues of making institutions, combined with a focus on creating specific epistemic communities within them – for example in remaking the university. By institution I am gesturing to specific organizations founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose, such as a university. An institution is a material constellation of bodies, affects, histories, technologies, infrastructures and cultures which is organized but requires infrasomatization to function. By organization I mean a specifically ordered, assembled, and structured group of people for a particular purpose, for example a business or government department or a political organization.

By connecting the knowledge formations, affective and cognitive styles, and performances made possible within an institution, structured by the particular constellations of infrasomatizations deployed, we might begin to create the grounds for political intervention.  For example, Andrew Feenberg has argued that a critical theory of technology requires “counter-acting the tendencies towards domination in the technological a priori” through the “materialization of values” (Feenberg 2013: 613). Thus tactical infrasomatizations are also possible – here gesturing towards the rich theoretical work on tactical media which has been extremely important for media activism and theory (see Garcia and Lovink 1997; Raley 2009). Indeed, as Stiegler has argued,
the reticulated digital infrastructure that supports the data economy... can and must be inverted into a neganthropic infrastructure founded on hermeneutic digital technology in the service of dis-automatisation. That is, it should be based on collective investment of the productivity gains derived from automatisation in a culture of knowing how to do, live and think (Stiegler 2016: 15-16). 
For Feenberg these can be found at specific intervention points within the materialisation of this a priori, such as in design processes. Feenberg argues that “design is the mediation through which the potential for domination contained in scientific-technical rationality enters the social world as a civilisational project” (Feenberg 2013: 613). By ascertaining how infrasomatization effect knowledge formations, we can work to produce new knowledges and practices that contest particular institutional structures.

Understanding the relationship between infrasomatization and organization and then to the form of the institution is crucial to constructing progressive institutions. This provides the possibility of contestation of problematic institutional forms, and particularly of the increasingly computational aspect. Hence, we might consider the need for infrasomatic critique, and the subsequent possibility for contesting the emerging forms of computational technologies, structures, systems and processes.


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Berry, D. M. (2014) Critical Theory and the Digital, New York: Bloomsbury.

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Lotka, A.J., 1925. Elements of Physical Biology, Baltimore: William & Wilkins Company.

Parks, L. (2015) “Stuff you can kick”: Towards a theory of Media Infrastructures. In Between the humanities and the digital, (Eds, Svensson, P. & Goldberg, D.T.) MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 355-373.

Popper, K. (1972) Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, Oxford: University of Oxford Press.

Raley, R. (2009) Tactical Media, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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Stiegler, B. (2015b) Symptomatology of the Month of January 2015 in France, accessed 14/12/2016, https://www.academia.edu/12797208/Bernard_Stiegler_Symptomatology_of_the_Month_of_January_2015_in_France_2015_

Stiegler, B. (2016) The Automatic Society, volume 1: The Future of Work, Cambridge: Polity.

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