On the control society


‘A snake’s coils are even more intricate than a mole’s burrow.’

In this brief essay by Gilles Deleuze, published in L’Autre Journal (May 1990), the discussion of the transition from disciplinary society to control society aims to amend Foucault’s groundbreaking ethnography and sociological analysis of types of disciplinary mechanisms in modern society, ranging from family, prison, school, factory, clinic or hospital, the barracks and other forms of modern confinement techniques.  Deleuze discusses how these modern disciplinary formations have actually given way to a more pervasive network of controls, a transition that would be characterized by ‘a general breakdown of all sites of confinement (“Postscript to Control Society, “in Negotiations, 178).

With the dissolution of boundaries that were traditionally girded to the ends of power whose goal is to instil self-discipline among subjects, with least supervision and control, the advent of what Deleuze describes as control society replaces what could be considered as forms of enslavement with unimaginable allowances for freedom, ‘while at the same time,’ Deleuze argues, ‘contributing to mechanisms of control as rigorous as the harshest confinement’ (ibid.).

Overall, it has to do with the transformation of capital into a highly deterritorialized system on a global scale, dispensing with boundaries, national and geographical, which limit flow or exchange in favor of unimpeded conjugations that know no finality or end, or precisely because with highly deterritorialized entities, the allowances for reterritorialisations are never as huge and affording.  The basic model that allows this mutation is desire itself. Already in Anti-Oedipus capitalism reterritorializes desire to the extent that it acquires an exemplary causality not only in terms of molar economic formations (economic policies on state or nation-state level) but also on the molecular, which means to say highly personalized level (for instance, factories have transformed into businesses that sell services that feed desires that hook up to imaginary ends of gratification that go with [what Walter Benjamin would call the aura that replaces actual products]; the engine needs to keep going by not producing products, in point of fact, or products that are patently girded to use-values). As early as Marx, this movement of capital from use-values to exchange values already constitutes a higher form of labor exploitation. But Marx had factories in mind, not businesses or services. Capital for Marx is a great confinement; whereas in the post-industrial age, capital has emancipated itself even from its traditional correlation with labor. A sudden unexpected reversal unfolds; instead of labor emancipating from necessity, capital, seemingly mimicking labor, frees itself from contingency. In control societies of post-industrialism capital has transformed itself in the guise of the ‘control man’, the new man, ‘moving among a contiguous range of different orbits’ (ibid., 180).  In a sense, what we are witnessing here is the phenomenon of the molar releasing molecular singularities from their traditional confinement never before seen in history.  Already, this dissolves even the lines where molar and molecular intersect. Everything has become virtually one or the same in the guise of the multiple reterritorialized into the expressionism of the indifference of the same.

This is not to say that Deleuze is suddenly abandoning Spinoza, apropos of his tactical appropriation of Spinoza’s expressionism. We learned in Bergsonism that there are only tendencies, potentials, as it were; not actual substances of things. Actual substances are only differences in degrees or intensities that each substance, in its pre-individuated nature, its pre-substantial formation, possesses that affects and also become affected by other entities. In this sense, the multiple, or an assemblage of rhizomes or molecular singularities, can never be neutral. The site of their compositionality is also a site of contestation with certain plans to effectuate on a plane of immanence, such as in this case, the political field. Needless to say, the political field has never been so diffused and fragmented. This allows Deleuze to ask if one ‘can already glimpse the outlines of … future forms of resistance? (ibid., 182).

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