Deleuze – Postscript on the Societies of Control (1992)

Starting in an odd way from the end, I’ll say that after reading through this twice, I wondered when it was published, and when checking the date, also saw that it was published by The MIT Press. I thought that was interesting given the content of the piece re: technology and all, and hadn’t heard of the journal, October, so I looked it up, and its description says, “focuses critical attention on the contemporary arts and their various contexts of interpretation: film, painting, music, media, photography, performance, sculpture, and literature.” Wikipedia adds that it was “an important participant in introducing French post-structural theory on the English-speaking academic scene, and the journal became a major voice interpreting postmodern art.” I guess I was wondering how often this journal deals directly with technology, but since I’m not familiar with it, it’s hard to tell from those descriptions. Anyone else have more info?

Moving on! Well, first I was trying to get a better grip on these differences between “disciplinary societies” and “societies of control,” so I drew myself a picture of the former:

(Of course there are fewer arrows than there should be, but you get the idea. Everything’s separated! And there’s this kind of mostly-linear-progression between completing time in one enclosure and moving on to another.)

…but then I was trying to figure out how I’d draw the latter (societies of control), and just couldn’t figure it out. Much harder to visualize! It made me think, I suppose, of complexity, and complex adaptive systems. Near the end (7) D uses this visual coiling-snake metaphor (while disciplinary societies are a molehill or something), but that doesn’t really work for me. I was thinking maybe more of a web. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen when you drop one node, or one connection, because of the overall non-linearity of the entire system.

I was intrigued by his focus on unions and worry about what’s going to happen to them, particularly from the section talking about this culture of competition and “salary based on merit” (4-5) which seems to give workers less and less incentive to cooperate with each other.

I was a bit confused by the code/password thing (5) on both read-throughs; does anyone else get that?

And then we get to computers & “new” technology. I thought this piece was definitely more optimistic and open-minded than the Bifo, for example (although I did only read that one once, and perhaps didn’t grok it as well). D does suggest early on that “there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons” (4). And I’d say many of these things here can also be used as positive “weapons: “”whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy and the introduction of viruses” (6).

The stuff that interested me most was on page 7. D talks about this idea of a positioning control mechanism, which reminded me of GPS location tagging now: “computer that tracks each person’s position and effects a universal modulation.” Lots of people nowadays use this to, for example, tag their location on facebook every time they make a status update; there are so many different types of pros/cons people have discussed in relation to that kind of thing. Also, since D talks about marketing earlier, this set me off thinking of current and changing internet marketing techniques. I’m kind of obsessed with thinking about facebook lately, after I saw the movie The Social Network. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since watching some interviews with tech people is the relationship between facebook and google. I’d never thought of these two as competitors before, because I thought they had really different functionality. But someone brought up searching for buying a new car. Many people would go on google and do a search, and get a bunch of (fairly random) results from various sources, sorted using google’s algorithms (whether or not those are the best way to sort all types of results). However, now people might go on facebook instead and post a question to their entire group of friends and get response/input there instead. In some ways this is not a new functionality; it’s not like people didn’t ask their friends for input on buying products long before we had computers. But of course, the digitalized form of this is being increasingly utilized in new ways to shape how we buy/desire things, which is really interwoven with how we interact. Just recently there’s been some brouhaha going on about facebook & amazon integrating, so that amazon might give you reminders based on your facebook friends’ birthdays to buy them presents, and mine the data they input on their facebook profile (films they like, books they like, etc.) in order to provide you with gift recommendations. Anyway, I think this is very interesting stuff! And these subtle changes are maybe not really totally distinct from each other or what came before; as D says, they strike me as “inseparable variations” (4). It’s not like other types of ads or product research or searching are going to go away, or are independent, but there’s an explosion of more and more mechanisms of controlling how/why people think about products and social relations.


One response to “Deleuze – Postscript on the Societies of Control (1992)

  1. So i thought a really interesting difference between societies of control and sovereignty was how they present a temporal shift. I was reading “Prison Talk” and Foucault was more explicit about how the shift from penalty to surveillance was a shift imposed upon subjects in how they perceive time. The focus of mgt shifts from focusing on the body retrospectively (by applying penalty) to focusing on the body both in the present (under the eye of a camera) and the future (making the body paranoid about the camera).

    So in the shift from s. of sovereignty to s. of control, there was a shift in the goals of each. The s. of control transcended sovereignty and “succeeded that of the societies of sovereignty, the goal and functions of which were something quite different (to tax rather than to organize production, to rule on death rather than to administer life).”

    The difference between s. of sovereignty and s. of control seemed to be consistent with the difference between administrative laws that are orders and administrative laws that are rules. Orders are factual responses to specific problems (adjudications); whereas, rules are prospective and apply to (shape) everyone presently. So it’s the difference between discipline and modulation respectively.

    So this seems really interesting to me in terms of the effect on subjectivities, because this shift really seems to have created this duality in how subjects understand themselves. And I think that technology’s role in all this are particularly interesting, because technology embodies an extended surveillance have, by which subjects detach/disjunct the future from the present, so though one is concerned about the future impact of this control, one still in the present adheres to the modulation.

    I think technology facilitates this in part by making the future unpredictable — everything moves really fast now and the surveillance is so proliferative. So resistance when should it take place? the future doesn’t seem possible or even predictable, and its lack of predictablity/this disjunct makes the present seem not tangibly related to the future except through s. of control mechanisms of control.

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