Postscript on Control Societies

September 22, 2011

Control societies are taking over from disciplinary societies[1].

Since the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it seems we have found ourselves in the transition from disciplinary societies to control societies, as stated by Deleuze. Disciplinary societies describe the linear process of confinement, from one enclosure/ institution to the other, from the home to school, to university, to work, and possibly the hospital and prison. Control societies offer a multiplicity, a diversity of individual choice that allows one to diverge off the disciplinary line, repeat processes or undergo new paths. Deleuze notes that in  disciplinary societies you were always starting all over again…, while in control societies you never finish anything[2] (179)

Our current digital age composed of codes and passwords describe the efforts of a controlled society, in comparison to the individual’s signature and numbering/ placement within a mass of a disciplined society. We have entered into a consumerist society, of which Jan Verwoert highlights, to be founded on the principle of limitless choice. Our modern technologies such as the internet has become an everyday necessity that promises unlimited, built-in choice options for the individual. However, the irony found here exposes the underlying disciplinary work of the computer’s binary system, operating entirely on zeros and ones. In other words it is a system based on the constant repetition of either/or choices[3] (verwoert 18) This highlights the computer’s false premise and the realisation that you are only able to select predefined options from the computer menu. Similar to our changing society, we may be in the midst of a controlled society, but there will continually be an underlying discipline that ultimately shapes the way we live.

Naomi Brennan

[1] Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’ inNegotiations: 1972-1990,New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. p. 178

[2] Ibid., p. 179

[3] Jan Verwoert, ‘Exhaustion an Exuberance’ in Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want, Sternberg Press, 2010. p.18


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