Postscript on Control Societies

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Science fiction is not necessary to conceive a control mechanism that provides at all times the position of an element in an open environment, an animal in a reserve, a man in a company.

By Gilles Deleuze*


Foucault placed disciplinary societies in the 51th and XNUMXth centuries; they reach their apogee at the beginning of the XNUMXth century. They process the organization of large means of confinement. The individual never ceases to pass from one closed environment to another, each of which has its own laws: first the family, then the school (“you are no longer at home”), then the barracks (“you are no longer at school ”), then the factory, from time to time the hospital, eventually the prison which is the means of confinement par excellence. It is the prison that serves as an analogical model: the heroine of Europe XNUMX can scream, when she sees workers: “I thought I saw convicts…”.

Foucault analyzed very well the ideal design of the means of confinement, particularly visible in the factory: to concentrate; distribute in space; order in time; compose in space-time a productive force whose effect must be greater than the sum of the elementary forces. But what Foucault also knew was the brevity of this model: it succeeded societies of sovereignty, whose purpose and functions were different (anticipating rather than organizing production, deciding death rather than managing life); the transition took place gradually and Napoleon seemed to effect the great conversion of one society into another. But the disciplines, in turn, would experience a crisis, to the benefit of new forces that slowly appeared on the scene and that would precipitate after the Second World War: the disciplinary societies, that was what we were no longer, what we ceased to be.

We are in a general crisis of all means of confinement, prison, hospital, factory, school, family. The family is an “interior” in crisis like any other interior, school, professional, etc. The competent ministers have not stopped announcing supposedly necessary reforms. Reform the school, reform the industry, the hospital, the army, the prison; but everyone knows that these institutions are finished, sooner or later. It's just a question of managing their agony and taking care of people, until the installation of new forces that knock on the door. It is the societies of control that are about to replace the disciplinary societies.

“Control” is the name that Burroughs proposes to designate the new monster that Foucault recognizes as our next future. Paul Virilio also never ceases to analyze the ultra-fast forms of open control, which replace the old disciplines operating within a closed system. There is no place here to evoke extraordinary pharmaceuticals, nuclear formations, genetic manipulations, even though they are destined to intervene in the new process. It is not the place to ask which is the hardest or most tolerable regime, since it is in each of them that liberations and subjections are faced. For example, in the crisis of the hospital as a means of confinement, sectorialization, day hospitals, home care could initially mark new freedoms, but also participate in control mechanisms that rival the hardest confinements. There is no place to fear or hope, but to look for new weapons.


The different boarding schools or means of confinement that the individual goes through are independent variables: it is assumed each time to start over from scratch, and the common language of all these means exists, but it is analogical. While the different controls (controlâts) are inseparable variations, forming a system of variable geometry whose language is numerical (which does not necessarily mean binary). Confinements are molds, distinct moldings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming mold that changes continuously, from one moment to another, or like a sieve whose meshes change from one point to another.

This is clearly seen in the question of wages: the factory was a body that brought its inner forces to a point of equilibrium, the highest possible for production, the lowest possible for wages; but, in a society of control, the company has replaced the factory and the company is a soul, a gas. Without a doubt, the factory was already familiar with the system of rewards, but the company makes a deeper effort to impose a modulation of each salary in states of perpetual metastasis that pass through competitions, contests and extremely comical colloquia. If the dumbest television games are so successful, it's because they adequately express the company's situation. The factory formed individuals into a body for the double advantage of the employers who watched over each element in the mass and of the unions who mobilized a mass of resistance; but the company never ceases to introduce an inexpiable rivalry as a healthy emulation, an excellent motivation that opposes individuals to each other and crosses each one of them, dividing it in itself.

The modulating principle of “salary based on merit” does not cease to tempt National Education itself: in fact, in the same way that the company replaces the factory, permanent training tends to replace school and continuous control, to replace the exam. What is the safest way to deliver the school to the company.

In societies of discipline, one never stopped starting over (from school to barracks, from barracks to factory), whereas in societies of control nothing is ever finished, with the company, training, service being the metastable and coexisting states of same modulation, like a universal deformer. Kafka, who was already installed on the frontier of the two types of society, described in The Trial the most fearsome legal forms: the apparent absolution of disciplinary societies (between two confinements), the unlimited moratorium of control societies (in continuous variation) are two very different legal ways of life, and if our law is hesitant, itself in crisis, it is because we left one to enter the other.

Disciplinary societies have two poles: the signature that indicates the individual and the name or registration number that indicates his position in a mass. It is because the disciplines have never seen incompatibility between the two and because, at the same time, power is massifying and individualizing, that is, it constitutes as a body those on which it is exercised and models the individuality of each member of the body (Foucault saw the origin of this double preoccupation in the pastoral power of the priest – the flock and each of the beasts – but the civil power would make itself a lay “pastor” in its turn with other means). In control societies, on the contrary, what is essential is no longer a signature or a name, but a cipher: the cipher is a password, whereas disciplinary societies are governed by slogans (both from the point of view of integration as well as resistance).

The numerical language of control is made up of ciphers, which mark access to information, or rejection. We are no longer faced with the mass-individual pair. Individuals became “individuals” and the masses, samples, data, markets or “banks”. It is perhaps money that best expresses the distinction between the two societies, as discipline has always referred to molded currencies that included gold as the standard name, while control refers to floating exchanges, modulations that make intervene as a figure a percentage of different sample coins. The old money mole is the beast of confinement, but the serpent is of control societies. We pass from one animal to another, from mole to snake, in the regime we live in, but also in our way of living and our relationships with others. The man of disciplines was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is rather wavelike, placed in orbit, on a continuous beam. Surfing has replaced the old sports everywhere.

It is easy to make the types of machines correspond to each society, not because machines are determinant, but because they express the social forms capable of giving rise to them and making use of them. The old sovereign societies operated simple machines, scales, pulleys, clocks; but recent disciplinary societies equipped themselves with energetic machines, with the passive danger of entropy and the active danger of sabotage; Control societies operate with third-party machines, information technology machines and computers whose passive danger is confusion and the active danger is piracy and the introduction of viruses. This is not a technological evolution without being more profoundly a mutation of capitalism.

It is a well-known mutation that can be summarized as follows: nineteenth-century capitalism is one of concentration, for production, and for ownership. He therefore erects the factory in an environment of confinement, the capitalist being the owner of the means of production but possibly also the owner of other means conceived by analogy (the worker's family accommodation, the school). As for the market, it is conquered either by specialization or by colonization or by lowering production costs. But, in the current situation, capitalism is no longer for production, which it often relegates to the periphery of the third world, even in the complex forms of textiles, metallurgy or petroleum. It is a capitalism of overproduction. He no longer buys raw materials and no longer sells finished products: he buys finished products or assembles detached parts. What he wants to sell are services and what he wants to buy are shares. It is no longer a capitalism for production, but for the product, that is, for sale or for the market.

It is also essentially dispersive and the factory has given way to the company. The family, the school, the army, the factory are no longer different analogical means that converge towards an owner, State or private power, but the encrypted, deformable and transformable figures of the same company that has nothing but managers. Even art has left closed media to enter the open circuits of the bank. The conquests of the market are made by taking control and no longer by training a discipline, by fixing courses even more than by reducing costs, by transforming a product more than by specializing in production. Corruption gains a new power there. The sales service became the center or “soul” of the company.

We are taught that companies have a soul, which really is the most terrifying news in the world. Marketing is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent race of our masters. Control is short-term and rapidly rotating, but also continuous and unlimited, whereas discipline was long-term, infinite, and discontinuous. Man is no longer man confined, but man in debt. It is true that capitalism has maintained as a constant the extreme misery of three quarters of humanity, too poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to face the dissolution of borders, but also the explosions of slums or ghettos. .


Science fiction is not necessary to conceive a control mechanism that provides at all times the position of an element in an open environment, an animal in a reserve, a man in a company (electronic collar). Félix Guattari imagined a city where everyone could leave their apartment, their street, their neighborhood thanks to their (individual) electronic card that allowed them to raise this or that barrier; but the card could also be spat out on a certain day, or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier, but the computer that marks the position of each one, licit or illicit, and operates a universal modulation.

The socio-technical study of control mechanisms, caught up in their dawn, should be categorical and describe what is already in the process of being installed in place of the disciplinary means of confinement, whose crisis everyone announces. It may be that old means, borrowed from ancient societies of sovereignty, will return to the scene, but with the necessary adaptations. What counts is that we are at the beginning of something. In the prison regime: the search for “replacement” sentences, at least for minor crimes, and the use of electronic collars that require the convict to remain at home at such times.

In the regime of schools: the forms of continuous control and the action of permanent training on the school, the corresponding abandonment of all research at the University, the introduction of the “company” at all levels of schooling. In the regime of hospitals: the new medicine “without doctor or patient” that eliminates potential patients and subjects at risk, which in no way testifies to progress towards individuation, as they say, but replaces the individual or numerical body with the cipher of a “dividual” matter to be controlled.

In the company regime: the new treatments of money, products and men that no longer pass through the old factory way. These are very tenuous examples, but they would allow a better understanding of what is meant by the crisis of institutions, that is, the progressive and dispersed installation of a new regime of domination. One of the most important issues would concern the ineptitude of the unions: linked throughout their history to the struggle against disciplines or in the means of confinement: will they be able to adapt or will they give rise to new forms of resistance against societies of control? Is it possible already to make sketches of these future forms capable of opposing the joys of marketing? Many young people strangely claim to be “motivated”, they ask for internships and ongoing formation; it is up to them to discover what they are taught to serve, as their ancestors discovered the purpose of disciplines not without pain.

A serpent's rings are even more complicated than a mole's hole.

*Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) was a professor at the University of Paris-Vincennes

Translation: John Adolfo Hansen

Originally published by Gilles Deleuze. Pourparlers 1972-1990. Paris, Minute, 1990.

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