Hacking Big Data Brother: From Biometrics to Intra-action

In the year 2015 Big Data, the sophisticated processing of infinite data bases, is advancing a new era of ubiquitous control and surveillance that traverse all actual and virtual strata of matter, bodies and affects, configuring a new economy, a new ontology and a new politics that is yet to be accounted for.

In this scenario biometrics, understood as the reduction of bodies, movements and affects to measurable parameters, acquires unprecedented dimensions, while having a long history of biologization of bodies, species, genders and races going at least back to the XVIII century, a moment identified by Foucault as the birth of biopolitics. By the 1870s with the beginning of photography and specially cinema, nature studies, the theory of evolution, eugenics, psychology, anthropology and other sciences,there was a turning point in the processes leading to biometrics.It involved measurementgathering,the interpretation and standardization of gestures and emotions, and their massive dissemination. It also implied theinstallment of the belief that the results (“data”) unquestionably represented what they claimed to measure through technical and aseptic means and that the emotions read in certain gestures-movements were universal.

A new turning point took place with the birth of information in the mid 20th Century and with the emergence of ubiquitous computing, mobile computing and cloud computing in the 21st century. These “data”, whose aim is to portray us actually end up being incorporated into and comprising us, excluding anything that is removed in the process of their creation, and thus creating new behaviors that in turn reinforce biometric theories.

This scenario demands new ontologies, histories and politics, for new modes of hacking Big Data in which it seems of primary importance to understand data, how they come about, what they leave out. It is essential to analyze the origins and changes in biometrics, its practices, tools, performativity, the role of biometric apparatuses in the generation of scientists’ identities, the interpretations involved in the understanding of their results and the gradual conversion thereof into disembodied “data”, alongside the social and cultural implications, whereby what escaped measurements was and is categorized as irrelevant or abnormal.

Is all reality discrete, or is it made discrete by very precise perceptual, epistemological and ontological processes? Is politics reduced to operating within Big Data, visualizing what is yet unrepresented, or can we mobilize a politics of devisualisation in which to become illegible to Big Data Brother?

In this scenario the paradigm of intra-action, as proposed by Karen Barad, points to a relational ontology of agential realism in which agencies, rather than entities, co-constitute in emergent processes. Intra-action as a mode of posthuman performativity that traverses all scales of matter and meaning production, may provide a creative ground for escaping biometrics while reinventing ourselves beyond it, since it potentially questions the very ontology of data, bodies and space-time as given and measurable items.

We will propose to take the paradigm of intra-action further into redefinitions of movement, bodies, space-time, affects and desires: how to build an intra-active architecture for an ontological politics capable of responding to the new challenges of Big Data Brother, for a social ecology to come?


  • Ontology and history of Big Data
  • Ontology and history of data
  • Ontology and history of Biometrics
  • Antibiometrics and Biometric failure
  • Biometric hacking and Big Data hacking
  • Intra-action
  • Posthuman performativity
  • Posthuman queerness
  • Agential realism
  • Intra-active architecture
  • Biometrics, Big Data and ecology

Keynote speaker: Karen Barad

Organizing Committee:
Jaime del Val – Reverso
Eva Botella Ordinas – Depto. Historia Moderna, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid


21 July 10’00-14’00

  • 10’00-10’15 Welcome: proposals for panelists to discuss in groups and audience at the end of each session, and later bring conclusions and questions around shared interests/topics.
  • 10’15-10’30 Kevin LaGrandeur Cybersecurity and the Digitized Human.
  • 10’30-10’45 Jaime del Val Big Data Ontology – Towards a Tecnoethics of Indeterminacy.
  • 10’50-11’50 Karen Barad – Keynote
  • Pause
  • 12’00-12’15 Yvonne Förster Vanishing in the Void – Bodies vs. Data.
  • 12’15-12’30 Stefan Lorenz Sorgner Bioprivacy and Big Gene Data.
  • 12´30-14 :00 Intra-actions : discussions among panelists and audience in groups (dynamics).
    Proposed topics: intra-action, Big Data, embodiment, etc (main topics might be proposed by the panelists)

21 July 16’00-19’00

  • 16’00-16’15 Eva Botella Civilizing biometrics.
  • 16’15-16’30 Beatriz Pichel Biometrics and the performativity of photography.
  • 16’30-16’45 Federica Frabetti Materiality and embodiment in the age of big data.
  • 17’45-18’00 Isabel Valverde Reversing data disembodiment: Posthuman performativity within Senses Places collaborative soma-tech dance ongoing project.
  • Pause
  • 18’15-19’00 Intra-actions : discussions among panelists and audience in groups (dynamics).
    Proposed topics: Biometrics, data and Big Data, embodiment, etc (main topics may be proposed by the panelists).

  • 19’30-20’30 – OUTDOORS – Disalignments-Clinamen metaformance – Illegible behaviours in the urban space – Affect Hackers in the Big Data Era.
  • 21’00 – Dinner

22 July 10’00 a 14’00

  • 10’00-10’15 Adrian Freed Entrainment Accounts of Intra-action for Intermedia and Metabody Cybernetics.
  • 10’15-10’30 Peggy Reynolds Visualizing a Posthuman Ontology.
  • 10’30-10’45 Eleanor Freed Performative Intra-action. Time from the Inside.
  • 10’45-11’00 Shu Lea Cheang Exit the Superhighway, Enter the BioNet.
  • Pause
  • 11’15-12’15 Intra-actions : discussions among panelists and audience in groups (dynamics).
  • Proposed topics: Biometrics, data and Big Data, embodiment, etc (main topics may be proposed by the panelists).
  • 12´15-14´00 Final discussion – Intra-action and the new politics: towards the Metabody Technoethics White Book.


Kevin LaGrandeur – NYIT

Cybersecurity and the Digitized Human

Some of my colleagues at NYIT and I are investigating ways to collaborate on the ethical dimensions of projects that are already under way at our school. The first is a project funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); this project is developing an alternative to password-based methods of validating the identity of computer users. The project, entitled “Investigating Cognitive Rhythms as a New Modality for Continuous Authentication” uses the unique, rhythmic movements users make with their smart devices to identify them. The aim is to develop a scientific method free of human error to prove the identities of computer users. Their findings could be used to validate user identities for government computer systems and eventually be adopted by the commercial sector. The other government-sponsored project is a cybersecurity project that uses decoy files to detect intruders on an internet system; when an intruder is detected, they may be punished in various ways. This work is relevant to Metabody in two ways: the first project above uses body movements and rhythms to identify users; this is relevant because it is a codifying and data-encoding of what otherwise would be spontaneous human movement. What, I ask, are the ramifications of this? The second project also depends on codification of human behavior: that is, how they behave on a network, how they move about when they are within it. Both types of movement—the first literal and the second virtual—are being codified, stratified, and have very probable consequences of intrusiveness into users’ privacy, as well as possibly homogenizing effects on their humanity, an eventuality of central concern to Metabody. I am being called on by them to investigate the ethical dimensions of this. My talk will present the details of all of what I have just outlined above.

Jaime del Val

Big Data Ontology – Towards a Tecnoethics of Indeterminacy

Big data understood as Metabody, as material flow of codes that involves the moving bodies of people connected to an interface, implies de segmentation and capture of continuous movements of human and nonhuman bodies at every scale, its recodification and feedback, modulating behaviour patterns and capitalizing any affect or interaction that is reducible to data. Big Data crosses a new ontological threshold initiated with the birth of information, in a long tradition of biologization of the body and state racism (biometrics) and of formalization of perception (back to euclidean Geometry and Renaissance perspective). If in disciplinary societies one can still trace a platonic ontology of immobile an totalizing forms, with information power takes a radical aristotelian turn to dynamic form production. Big Data radicalizes this new ontology even further. I will argue that current politics, social movements, legal ontologies, attempts of regulation, ethical discourses and so forth are deeply obsolete with regard to this new paradigm. This issue of unprecedented global dimensions, which implies a radical change in the human, the social, and power, demands new kinds of critical engagement and new modes of politics. I will introduce the Big Data Brother subproject of Metabody and propose some frames for the future Tecnoethics White Book that Metabody aims to produce.

Stefan Lorenz Sorgner – Erfurt

Bioprivacy and Big Gene Data

Many people in the USA, Ireland and Island in particular give away their tissue samples for having their genes analysed. In this way, many of them wish to find out more about their personal pedigrees. Thereby, they can also get more information about their capacities in specific fields, the likelihood of getting a specific disease, and their responsiveness to many pharmacological treatments. By storing the data, the associated information permanently becomes more reliable and hence useful for the individual. Thereby, the interest of insurance companies and potential future employers also increases in getting access to this information. Furthermore, it needs to be considered that given today’s capacities of hackers, any digital information might have to be analysed as publicly available already. Given this development, bioprivacy, the privacy of one’s own biometrical data, is being given up. The consequences for our insurance system, the future of employment and how the government will deal with our biometrical data will be enormous. The consequences will be even more dramatic, if someone was able to access one’s genetic data, one’s digital traces in the net and combine them with the information collected by means of big data. In my presentation, I will explain central facets of this development and stress the relevance of specific cultural achievement which should not be given up all too easily.

Federica Frabetti – Oxford Brookes University

Materiality and embodiment in the age of big data

The rise of cloud computing, of Big Datafication, and of new forms of algorithmic control is changing the way in which we perceive and interact with the world and with others, and it is possibly leading to the death of politics – or so it is widely claimed. At the same time, the social sciences and the humanities see the emergence of new techniques based on data mining, cultural analytics and data visualization as an opportunity for a change of paradigm as well as the death of ‘humanism’ and possibly of theory. In this paper I want to ask in whether and in what way these new technologies entail both the end of politics and of theory as we know them. I will look at these questions through an analysis of the forms of (dis)embodiment and materiality entailed by datafication and I will explore the possibility of a critical and politically meaningful approach to big data.

Beatriz Pichel – Wellcome Trust Fellow in Medical Humanities – PHRC, de Montfort University

Biometrics and the performativity of photography

In the last years, much attention has been paid to the emergence of biometrics, and the use of photography by leading figures such as Etienne Jules Marey, Alphonse Bertillon, Francis Galton, Eadweard Muybridge and Albert Londe. Scholars have usually interpreted their inputs as visual data. Consequently, they have focused on the images, and have interpreted them at the light of the ideal of mechanical objectivity and its related values.

While photographic images had a considerable scientific weight, these photographic projects cannot be reduced to them. The analysis of photographic practices alongside the scientific discourses reveals that as important as the final images were the procedures through which the photographs were taken. In some cases, it was precisely the procedure, rather than the image, what had scientific value.

This presentation proposes a theoretical shift in the study of these photographic projects. Following feminist and science studies, as well as new research in photographic history, this paper examines the performativity of photography. In this regard, it does not consider biometrical results as visual representations of certain measures. Rather, it explores how these measures and the related results were the product of the conjunction of performances, technologies and images.

The aim of this research is to reflect on how new perspectives of nineteenth-century biometrics allow a better understanding of contemporary practices. Particularly, its purpose is to redefine problems of big data associated with the online exchange and publication of photographs in social networks. Should we understand these as merely visual data? Or rather as performative material practices that go beyond the image?

Eva Botella-Ordinas – Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Civilizing biometrics

During the second half of the nineteenth century the development of human and animal comparative psychology and criminology went hand in hand with the fixation of species and genera, and, at the same, with blurring frontiers between them in the long term. The standard of civilization and social control were at the base of these disciplines and affected both the conception of international order and scientific research. It is a strongly biometric moment: data collection, employment of new machines and techniques, centrality of the brain in explaining individual and group behavior; a moment of gestural and kinetic definition, we believe, is inseparable from the social canons in which these studies were based and built. Comparative psychology and natural sciences, especially in the study of the “social species” (insects and humans), through the materials used remarkable scientists of the time, such as Galton, Darwin, Forel, Evans, Lombroso, is the main focus of this case study . Nowadays research on so called “complex systems” ants and neural systems are compared, and the comparison remains essential for the concept of “emergence”. We would like to open the question for discussion about the role of “data” in these processes and in research.

Yvonne Förster, Leuphana University Lüneburg

Vanishing in the Void – Bodies vs. Data

In my short paper I will echo some tendencies in the current debate on big data, standardization and alternative conceptions of (post-)human entanglements with the digital. My aim is to reflect on the debate. I will not present another theory. At this point it seems important to see what is at stake and how conceptualization works.

„Existence is not an individual affair.“ (Karen Barad 2007, Meeting the Universe Halfway, IX)

This is what we would subscribe to at least since phenomenology started emphasize the role of the other in constituting a self or the relation o subject and object. It has been the starting point for theories on relational ontologies. What is there are not entities, sets of categories or substances. Ontology has become a theory of entanglements. In the course of this theorization bodies became constructs, selfs dissolved into narratives or neurological fireworks and physical entities may consist of quantum states.

The tendency to dissolve or deconstruct standing categories is a form of critique characteristic for postmodernity, posthumanism and postcolonial studies. One object of dissolution is the body. The concept of the body in theory be it philosophy or empirical science has been extremly ambivalent. From the perspective of postmodern thought, the body is a means to an end, namely standardization, normalization and discrimination. This is what leads to diverse attempts of dissolving this category into other, relational and not naturalistic concepts like movement (Massumi, Manning) or agency (Barad). There bodies play no essential role anymore, which leads to a very abstract way of thinking about bodypolitics. My aim is to show, that big data also tends to open a field of images relevant to our cultural self-understanding that dissolves the concept of the body in a very similar way like its critics. I will call that move of disembodiment into question and suggest a concept of embodiment that can mediate between experience (relevant to constitute new ways of inter/intra-action) and critical theory. I will try to draw some lines to Frederica Frabetti’s concept of software as embodied memory to show how embodiment can be thought of as an essentially open concept.
Adrian Freed – CNMAT – UC Berkeley

Entrainment Accounts of Intra-action for Intermedia and Metabody Cybernetics

This paper explores various formulations of the concept of entrainment as a way to model and operationalize intra-actions in intermedia performance practice. Data (Big or otherwise) in these formulations are subjugated to disposable utterances that serve an accounting role analogous to the roles energy, action, momentum serve in physics.

An important strength of entrainment is that it requires neither telos, a stable presupposition of an arrow of time, nor causality – and yet these elements often enter our accounts and tools of intra-action. I erect exemplary fences against these accounts by adducing common biases that produce them, the anthroposonsorialcentrisms that include: language-induced causality, binarisms and active-systems.

The paper concludes with a series of case studies that show the plasticity of entrainment in describing movement in a transdisciplinary way. These will include a state-free, non-causal description of hysteresis in cybernetic electronics and the nested coupled loops of an intermedia dance and music work encompassing signal flows, ontogenesis of gestures, and emergent production of microsociological space.

Dr. Peggy E. Reynolds – New York

Visualizing a Posthuman Ontology

The turn toward affect as a means by which better to model entities and their relationships is indicative of a larger trend toward a posthuman re-theorization of the object and its boundaries. From speculative realists to social geographers, cultural anthropologists to theoretical physicists, disentangling the feedback loops which instantiate our objects of study has taken on a new urgency. This is driven, in part, by the need to keep pace with the increasing fluidity of objects/entities as made possible by the computational revolution. Developments such as remote sensing, high frequency trading, social media and virtual reality foreground the ephemerality of the object/entity but also the role played by reflexivity and amplification in its stabilization. What becomes clear in the digital age is that dichotomizing strategies and analyses of linear causal chains (philosophical arguments forged largely during the Enlightenment era) no longer help orient the observer as there is no longer an outside to the objective frame. Euclidian-inflected understandings of the relationship of insides to outsides, large to small, simple to complex are beginning to be reconceptualized in the terms, images and geometries provided by the computational revolution itself – rhizomatic fractal structures with no internal parts; quantum field experiments complicating divisions between apparatus and subject; user-generated content created and consumed ouroboros-style. What does afford some stability in this otherwise involuted, non-linear environment, is the recognition of the importance of scale and how its relative nature might be wielded as an analytic tool, an investigation I will undertake in this talk.

Keywords: posthumanism, scale, boundaries, intra-action

Eleanor Freed – Berkeley

Performative Intra-action. Time from the Inside

Time travel is a favorite subject of Sci-fi fantasy movies, a medium which itself is time locked. My experience of the world does not include an interaction with time but rather an intra-action. In other words, I make time as I go whilst engaging my selfness in relations that form from a togetherness in space. Bodies are useful tools for this art form yet not necessary for it. What is created when time is used as an art medium rather than a constraining force of form is expressions of emotion and togetherness and co-creationness that has a life rather than a form, a life of it’s own so to speek. The traces of collective choreographic creation experience, for example exist not only in forms that are videographable and viewable by also within the souls and spirits and bodies of those present in the making co-creation. Such presence is more powerful than time and thereby displaces its dominance. Data collection, tracking, monitoring and ascribing is likewise disabled. Jaime and I adventured in this territory in his U.C. Berkeley Dance workshop. There were fingertip LED fascilitators, spring-loaded net bounded tent-alikes, a wall screen lightshow in dark room with multiple bodies exploring the space. We danced together in no time.

Shu Lea Cheang – Paris

Exit the Superhighway, Enter the BioNet
We are infected. We are the virus. We enter the BioNet.

By year 2060, The Net as we know it has crashed. The Genom Corp. who established itself as Net Porn empire and profited from collected human orgasm data in the late XXth century, takes human body hostage to initiate BioNet, a network made up of micro-computing red blood cells (erythrocytes) programmed to re-condition our sexual desires. This is the brand new Liquid Future in which farmlands are left barren; bodies infused with synthetic liquid food; hackers encrypt with pissing codes, branded tattoo launches channels of communication; biometric scanners embedded in palms; altered databody claims fluid genders. We learn to love the virus. We are the virus, mutated replicated mobilized, we enter the BioNet to sabotage the big daddy within and reclaim stolen orgasm data.

Isabel Valverde and Todd Cochrane

Reversing data disembodiment: Posthuman performativity within Senses Places collaborative soma-tech dance ongoing project

How is the notion of “posthuman embodiment”, proposed by K.Hayles, and the subsequent posthuman corporealities, by myself, taken upon and developing this notion by focusing on intermedia dance and performance artwork processes and theories, towards constituting an alternative critical and hacking approach to the “big data” reduction and instrumentalization of embodied information?
This paper wishes to take the collaborative dance-tech project Senses Places as an example of such alternative approaches, particularly in the way it develops different ways of interfacing, including hacking software and the capture-processing-outputting of different body signals (biometrics) and movement information in terms of changes, towards opening news perceptive channels to learn about ourselves, and how we can communicate with others and the environment. By creating local-global inter-subjective and subject-environment embodied interfaces, through which “data” circulates between collaborators and visiting participants, we are re-shaping big into small, and making of it new modes of perceiving this exchanged info. This contrasts the questionable tendency of control and surveillance targeting and consolidating consumer culture, thus reversing this tendency towards an agency of our very bodies intra and inter perceiving actions that will contribute to balance the disparity of senses and perceptions, bringing kinesthesis and overall somatics into a challenging posthuman performative play.