Notes for Gilles Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control”

Key concepts: control, modulation, surfing.


Related theorists: Bogost, Burroughs, Foucault, Turkle.

1. Historical

Transience of social forms, from sovereignty to disciplinary to control; like orality to literacy to electracy?

(3) But what Foucault recognized as well was the transience of this model: it 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).

Control has infiltrated everything, including putatively competing social alternatives; need duck/rabbit perspective to overcome this pessimism.

(4) “Control” is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future. . . . There is no need to ask which is the toughest or most tolerable regime, for it's within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another.

2. Logic

Deleuze struggles to produce physical examples embodying modulation control, universal systems of deformation (Zizek curvature of space), even fictional ones, self-deforming cast and transmuting sieve mesh, giving example of corporate salary, which embodies the procedural rhetoric of control.

(4) Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.

Continuous control like Engelbart improving improvement as the more general form, viewed negatively when not critical.

(5) The modulating principle of “salary according to merit” has not failed to tempt national education itself. Indeed, just as the corporation replaces the factory, perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination. Which the the surest way of delivering the school over to the corporation.

Dividual replaces individual/mass pair, consonant with Jenkins collective intelligence, monitorial citizen; monetary mole to serpent as animal metaphor, surfing replacing sports are new philosophical unit operations.

Signature (sign of individual) and number (sign of mass) leads to watchword versus password being of human spirit in world. Gold standard versus stones used in calculation, flexibility in virtual realities that are mostly imagined in reality, like the self-deforming base. Relating to development of robotic moment in Turkle to emphasize not surfboard to continuous input and output of monitoring and responding to data feeds. Marketing at soul of corporation like depravity of style Quintillian deprecates. Instead of focusing on indebtedness, learn to think with the high speed, alien temporalities in which machines operate, and therefore, might think.

Universal system of deformation defines milieu from which technocapitalist networks emerge.

(5-6) the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation. . . . The disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that designates the individual, and the number or administrative numeration that indicates his or her position within a mass. . . . In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password, while on the other hand the disciplinary societies are regulated by watchwords (as much from the point of view of integration as from that of resistance). The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.Perhaps it is money that expresses the distinction between the two societies best, since discipline always referred back to minted money that locks gold in as numerical standard, while control relates to floating rates of exchange, modulated according to a rate established by a set of standard currencies. The old monetary mole is the animal of the spaces of enclosure, but the serpent is that of the societies of control. We have passed from one animal to the other, from the mole to the serpent, in the system under which we live, but also in our manner of living and in our relations with others. The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports.

Deleuze puts it beautifully in stating computers emblematic of societies of control, which are continuous, short-term in contrast to discontinuous, long duration discipline, with jamming, piracy, and viruses as its dangers; indebtedness to maintenance of the environment and socius replaces enclosure of human animal, that implies discontinuous applications of control operations, the rest of the time human animals wandering within confines now constituted by code space in addition to traditional forms.

A grand statement about control versus confinement reflects continuous industrial cybernetic feedback process control enveloping humanity. If this is the closest to a definitive statement by Deleuze on the state of computer technology, then for Derrida it is Archive Fever according to multiple intellectuals. Think at the level of selling services and buying stocks as global will, basic philosophical unit of explanation; corruption because classical definition of rhetoric involves control as well.

(6) Types of machines are easily matched with each type of society . . . the societies of control operate with machines of a third type, computers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy and the introduction of viruses. . . . It's a capitalism of higher-order production. It no longer buys raw materials and it no longer sells the finished products. What it wants to sell is services and what it wants to buy is stocks. . . . Corruption thereby gains a new power. Marketing has become the center of the “soulof the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world. The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt.


3. Program

Acknowledging programmed docility evokes philosophical question how to know to self determine as a person navigating the built environment.

(7) what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person's position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation.

Crisis of institutions is dispersed installation of new system of domination, illuminated by ineptitude of unions; where do the dividuals associate, in what networks, how do they navigate on streams of data? How to study “the mechanisms of control”, which seems necessary to address the “crisis of the institutions” interacting with “a new system of domination”?

Calls for young people to discern the telos of the disciplines; can this need to understand the complex coils of the serpent call for a philosophy of computing, for humanities skills to merge with technical skills, both in individual persons and groups, local and distributed?

(7) The socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere proclaimed. . . . What counts is that we are at the beginning of something. . . . These are very small examples, but ones that will allow for better understanding of what is meant by the crisis of the institutions, which is to say, the progressive and dispersed installation of a new system of domination. One of the most important questions will concern the ineptitude of the unions. . . . It's up to them [young people] to discover what they're being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex than the burrows of a molehill.


Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on the Societies of Control." October (1992): 3-7. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.