ABSTRACT

The relationship between information and power forms one of the most ­complex of all information discourses. We are living through a period of profound interest in all things informational, with an unprecedented volume, accessibility, and engagement with information collection, storage, dissemination, and ethics. Peter Burke (2000, p.1) has called it ‘the age of information’, while others have argued that parts of the world at least have ‘always lived in an information age’ (Cortada, 2016, p.xviii). Indeed, The Times newspaper of London was saying exactly the same thing about a new ‘an age of information’ as early as 1853 ( The Times, 1853, p.6). This scholarly interest in such matters is part of what has been called an ‘information turn’ in historical thought (Weller, 2010a, p.1). Parallel to this, the conceptual pervasiveness of ‘power’ shows no signs of losing its fascination, where the magnitude of ‘every possible power relation’ (Michel Foucault, cited in Rabinow, 1984, p.380), makes it a vast subject in its own right. Daniel Headrick (2000, p.4) has made the distinction that computational ‘bits’ of information are in essence patterns, which only become human information if there is a person present who understands them. While there are many studies which focus on the technological drivers of information change or vehicles of power, it is the human element, the emphasis on how people reacted to and were impacted by these concepts, which makes information and power such powerful heuristic tools. Combined, they exert a considerable influence upon our modern society, but they also have long historic precedent.