Society of Control

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Society of Control = refers to the interpretation that social power no longer 'disciplines' as in the industrial era, but combines the a priori internalisation of social expectations, with a posteriori control of certain limits. Individuals can move freely within those limits, but not without.


From Gilles Deleuze "Postscript on the Societies of Control," 1990, at


"In disciplinary societies, the individual passes from one closed environment to another: the family; the school; the barracks, the factory ... Now, societies of control, operating with computers, are replacing disciplinary societies ...

Enclosures are molds ... but controls are a modulation ... that continuously change... perpetual training replaces the school, and continuous control replaces the examination.

The numerical language of control is made of codes that [allow or disallow] access to information. We no longer deal with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," samples, data, markets, or "banks."

The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control ... short-term and rapid, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous ..." (quoted from


From William Bogard:

From Discipline to Control

""Postscript on the Societies of Control" in a section contrasting the socio-technical "programs" of control and disciplinary societies. He writes that we have learned a few things about the telos of the disciplines, but much remains to discover about the forces that control societies make us serve. What is clear is that a strategic shift in power relations is underway.

This shift can be framed historically and economically as a problem of capitalist governance involving the limits of enclosure as a tool of capitalist accumulation. Disciplinary institutions, like the factory or the school, physically enclose diverse populations and force their unification. The confinement of labor within the factory and factory-city gave Capital much power over the accumulation process in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also encountered the resistance of bodies to concentrated containment and regimentation. In part, what Foucault calls the modern "crisis of the disciplines" reflects a move by Capital to modify disciplinary forms of enclosure, to counter the resistance they provoke and intensify the accumulation process.

The disciplines reached their height early in the 20th century. After WWII, information technologies make it possible to release populations more into the open. Rather than pack them into closed spaces, Capital begins a new strategy to disperse them. Network controls, like remote surveillance and electronic passwords, allow it to keep its grip on bodies, in fact, to extend and tighten that grip. The new controls promise to counter the resistance of populations to confinement by instituting a kind of mobile and free form of enclosure. The forces of accumulation, exploiting the capacities of openness and accessibility in networks, begin to follow you on the road and, as we have learned in the last few decades, turn "on the road" into work, home into work, play into work, the whole planet into a flexible, controlled space of work.

It is possible that all this means the end of enclosure as a capitalist program and the advent of post-disciplinary, even post-capitalist, society. More likely, as suggested by Deleuze's analysis, is that rigid mechanisms of enclosure are giving way to supple ones that have lost none of their power to constrict the body. The new mechanisms can position and fix the body independently of its location. They expand its territory but more tightly control the information parameters within which it functions. These controls range from the mundane (remote electronic surveillance -- are you where you're supposed to be?) to the extreme (genetic engineering -- you're always there in advance). These are still forms of enclosure, but the walls of the factory give way to the permeating "spirit" of the corporation, the accumulation of things shifts to the accumulation of information, and networked bodies replace the spatial concentration of populations." (

Code as Protocollary Power

"Control societies, Deleuze writes, are organized by codes. Codes are flexible systems of capture in ways that fixed enclosures are not. They can be quickly and easily reconfigured to regulate access to networks. He uses Guattari's example of a passcode that allows you into certain areas of a city at given times of day, but can just as easily be changed to lock you out. Embedded today in technologies like barcoded ID cards, and tomorrow in your genetically modified cells, codes eventually aim to control capitalist accumulation at the haptic or tactile level.

In a sense, we could assert that this is still discipline, updated to new conditions of accumulation. In fact, control societies simulate disciplinary societies -- they have all their "feel" without their walls. Not just discipline by means of optical control, but by direct adjustments of the sensitivity of the body, its capacities to affect and be affected. It is hard to imagine control societies without the extensive preparations made for them by disciplinary societies. But, as Deleuze says, the coils of a serpent are more complex than burrows, and if we have learned something of the complexity of the disciplines, we are still struggling to understand and resist societies of control." (

Additional Background (in French)

An update of Foucault's ideas of disciplinary power, by Gilles Deleuze, explained by Philippe Zafirian:

From disciplinary power to power by control and modulation, by Philippe Zafirian

"Gilles Deleuze, commentant Foucault, a développé une formidable intuition : nous basculons, disait-il, de la société disciplinaire dans la société de contrôle. Ou, pour dire les choses de manière légèrement différente, de la société de contrôle disciplinaire à la société de contrôle d'engagement . Sous une première face, on pourra interpréter ce contrôle comme une forme d'exercice d'un pouvoir de domination, d'un pouvoir structurellement inégalitaire, agissant de manière instrumentale sur l'action des autres. Ce contrôle d'engagement se distingue, en profondeur, du contrôle disciplinaire en ce qu'il n'impose plus le moule des "tâches", de l'assignation à un poste de travail, de l'enfermement dans la discipline d'usine. Il n'enferme plus, ni dans l'espace, ni dans le temps. Il cesse de se présenter comme clôture dans la cellule d'une prison, elle-même placée sous constante surveillance. Selon l'intuition de Deleuze, on passe du moule à la modulation, de l'enfermement à la circulation à l'air libre, de l'usine à la mobilité inter-entreprises. Tout devient modulable : le temps de travail, l'espace professionnel, le lien à l'entreprise, les résultats à atteindre, la rémunération… La contractualisation entre le salarié et l'employeur cesse elle-même d'être rigide et stable. Elle devient perpétuellement renégociable. Tout est en permanence susceptible d'être remis en cause, modifié, altéré.

Mais c'est la modulation de l'engagement subjectif qui me semble être au cœur du basculement. J'ai proposé une image simple : celui du contrôle par élastique. Le salarié peut, librement, tirer sur l'élastique : il n'est pas enfermé, il peut se mouvoir, se déplacer au gré de ses initiatives et de son savoir-faire, de ses facultés propre de jugement. Mais voici que l'élastique se tend, une pression s'exerce sur lui : une force périodique de rappel s'exprime avec intensité. Il doit rendre des comptes à son supérieur hiérarchique, qui lui-même doit, en cascade, en rendre compte à la direction de l'entreprise, qui, le cas échéant, devra en rendre compte aux principaux actionnaires. Rendre des comptes sur des résultats de performance. La force de rappel sera d'autant plus forte et violente que les résultats attendus ont été fixés à un niveau élevé, lui-même périodiquement modulable." (source: )

More Information

See the related entry on Protocollary Power and Haptic Control

Essay on how this mode of power is connected to the emergence of the internet of things, at