A Brief Surf of Disciplinary and Control Societies

May 9, 2012

Throughout his essay, Deleuze moves through sections of History, Logic, and Program, to examine a selection of confining institutions including the factory, prison, school, hospital, business, and family. He explains that places of confinement, or – environments of enclosure – include disciplinary societies, and control societies. Foucault associates disciplinary societies with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and leaving them behind, they are today being replaced by control societies. While it may seem that we are “in the midst of a general breakdown of all sites of confinement” we can also expect that in this ‘breaking down’ we are “at the beginning of something new” and will see a “widespread progressive introduction of a new system of domination.” [182] Control is the term Burroughs proposes for this new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future.

A suggested key to understanding the differences between the two societies is through the metaphor of money, which also indicates Deleuze’s relating our monetarily driven capitalist culture to points of control. While disciplinary societies are “related to molded currencies containing gold as a numerical standard,” control societies can be “based on floating exchange rates, modulations depending on a code setting sample percentages for various currencies.” Here, we see controls inherent elusiveness, its intangibility is a result of our digital age; coding, samples, data, markets, information technology… its oscillating mutations are characterized and confused by both restrictions and perceived freedoms. Today, art lies on a circuit of banking, businesses have souls, and the new ’confinement’ is ‘debt.’ Deleuze states “Control is short-term and rapidly shifting, but at the same time continuous and unbounded, whereas discipline was long-term, infinite, and discontinuous. A man is no longer a man confined but a man in debt.” [181]

This fluctuating quality lends itself to the very nature of our protagonist avatar, who also experiences transformations, ‘mutations’ and is in a continuous state of variation. Deleuze offers other creatures to inhabit her environment “If money’s old moles are the animals you get in places of confinement, then control societies have their snakes.” We have passed from one animal to the next, from mole to serpent, in the systems in which we live, but also in our manner of living and our relations with others. These “coded” figures ride the same waves as the avatar, in an ever-changing flow, with unpredictable turns, tricks of power, glides of liberation, and “ultrarapid forms of apparently free-floating control.” [178] Deleuze meets Kafka on the beach, ‘at the point of transition between the two kinds of society’, and declares, “Disciplinary man produced energy in discrete amounts, while control man undulates, moving among a continuous range of different orbits. Surfing has taken over from all the old sports.” [180] But we are warned… “A snake’s coils are even more intricate than a mole’s burrow.” [182]



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