The Segmentation of Citizens


Bernard Steiger, writing in our “post-truth era”, identifies a shift in politics from focusing on citizens, or what might be called citizen-politics, to identifying and targeting audiences, or audience-politics. 

On this model, marketing, in effect, co-opts citizens by advertising to audiences. Deleuze, for his part, warned of this years ago, seeing philosophy, as the creation of concepts, being appropriated by Madison Avenue. As a result of this newly evolved marketing apparatus, a fragmented, disparate politics is created based on identity.

Instead of aspiring to build an aspirational politics based on citizens oriented by a yet to be determined future - lest we call it a utopia, following Plato - what is established on the contrary is a politics rooted in the identification of existing traits and characteristics.

There are many distribution channels by which this message is propagated, especially algorithmically, but the mechanisms by which the audiences are recognized are exactly the same: identifying and targeting users (who comprise an audience) by exploiting specifically collected data points. 

Digital landscapes, then, exacerbated by their social connectivity, become conclaves, meta-destinations architected for desires to be constantly kept in check (or unleashed) by a network that is perpetually refashioning itself to adjust to increasingly static personifications.

As an example, if you click "like" on an ad, you are served up more of these ads, or similar ads based on shared characteristics, until not only does the advertiser readily identify you and define you by these particular traits, you also come to identify yourself by these same modes and habits of thinking and participating in the world.

How quickly and unwittingly we become products, caught in an endlessly evolving and mutating matrix of marketing, where the only thing that stays constant is the targeted audience that we identified ourselves with in the first place. Perhaps unknowingly, we find ourselves entrenched in a position we might not know how to get out of or, worse yet, not even realize we're actually in.

The aspirational city-state of Socrates, so eloquently discussed in The Republic, is levied by brand allegiance (read audience politics). Identification itself has been trumped by identity. Whereas tolerance becomes perceived as indecision - or indifference - divisiveness of other “audiences” is promoted as a decisive, readily identifiable characteristic.  

It's no wonder that the post-Truth rhetoric feels disjointed and even schizophrenic: it's targeted towards specific audiences. What incites one audience calms another and new techniques and styles are required. Communication and truth, per say, haven't broken down, they've been allocated towards perspectival, segmented landscapes. 

The appropriation of analytics by the mechanisms of the market has instigated a divide between citizen-politics and audience-politics, the consequences and repercussions of which we're still trying to comprehend, but that we've already, invariable, felt.


Bobby George