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In this lecture, I will introduce the concept of ‘control society.’ We will examine the management of surveillance and privacy in contemporary time and space. In the end, I’ll ask if we can imagine a ‘New Weapon’ by subverting the mechanisms of surveillance.
You may be familiar with Michel Foucault’s critique of the panopticon, a structure where an all-seeing eye gaze at the subjects. There, the subjects cannot know if and when they are being watched, they internalize the surveillance and discipline. This architectural manifestation of the surveillance became predominant forms of prisons from the early nineteenth-century onward. For example, Millbank Prison in London, which we can find the 1821 floor plan, was a place where prisoners before they were sent abroad. The panopticons, like these, were not simply an architectural plan to maximize surveillance but they were a political statement. They were a recipe for the sovereign to exert its power, and also instruct subjects to become disciplined. Foucault found the same mechanisms in schools, factories, hospitals, and armies. In these spaces, there were clear distinctions between things you can do and things you can’t do, and if you do the wrong thing, you get punished. However, there were gaps between these spaces of discipline, unregulated and unorganized areas where ‘everyday life’ took place. Imagine a Parisian cafe in the early 20th century, where creative writers would come and discuss the politics. There’s a romantic notion that authentic human relationships could flourish in these spaces that escaped regulation, spaces free from the confinement of rules. However, contemporary society lacks such zones for free association, as public spaces are turned into privately owned ones, and community spaces are carefully converted into shopping malls. In the global cities around the world, surveillance cameras are everywhere and workplaces are synchronized through high-speed internet. However, more importantly our friends constantly and instantly share their whereabouts and images, status updates on social network. Is this a multiplication of surveillance? It is no surprise that about hundred years after the Millbank Prison, the spatial mechanics of panopticon were employed by The U.S government began construction of the Pentagon in 1941. The Pentagon’s architectural design is basically a recursive panopticon. Its design reflects different layers of surveillance in tightly knit systems. In this myriad of panopticons, we find the core mechanics for the present day – a society of control.


Gilles Deleuze offers his take on the underlying mechanism of contemporary public and private spaces in “The Postscript on the Society of Control.” It is a special text that reads like an unassuming manifesto for the Digital era. In his analysis, the 19th-century capitalism is associated with disciplinary society, which manifested in spaces such as schools, factories, and prisons. To convey the character of a disciplinary society, Deleuze finds a metaphor in the mole, a small earthbound animal that makes mazes underground. The mole’s environment represents traditional capitalism, a hierarchical structure in which the mole builds its centralized dwelling. This hierarchy is presided over by a patriarchal figure who manages the distribution of labor among the workforce. The distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed is clear in disciplinary society because they occupy different spaces and functions. Deleuze contrasts disciplinary society with ‘control society’ with is associated with the 20th-century capitalism. He uses another metaphor, the serpent, or snake, to convey the systemic conditions that produce the self-contradicting bodies in the control society. The serpent moves smoothly between the terrains, above and underground. This movement represents free-flowing control mechanisms that operate both in and outside of traditionally defined capitalist spaces. With these metaphors, Deleuze encourages us to pay attention to the changing forms of power from discipline to control as we move from analog to digital, module to modulation, and from the barracks of a prison to stacks of code.

The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.
– Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control

Code, here, means both computer programming languages and password. They are the language and rules in a control society. How exactly does code become a form of power in “Society of Control”? Alexander Galloway offers a subtle insight about the word ‘control’ that can be lost in translation.

Recall that the French contrôle carries stresses in meaning that are slightly different from the English control. Contrôle means control as in the power to influence people and things, but it also refers to the actual administration of control via particular monitoring apparatuses such as train turnstiles, border crossings, and checkpoints. The notion, in English, of having to pass through "passport control" gets at the deeper meaning of the word. So when Deleuze talks about les societes de contrôle he means those kinds of societies, or alternately those localized places within the social totality, where mobility is fostered inside certain strictures of motion, where openings appear rather than disappear, where subjects (or for that matter objects) are liberated as long as they adhere to a variety of prescribed comportments.
– Against the Digital, Alexander Galloway

The term ‘control’ also hints Deleuze might have been inspired by Cybernetics. Cybernetics is a study of feedback loops which consist of inputs, outputs and self-regulating system. Cyberneticians, such as Nobert Weiner, found such self-regulating system in machines, animals and humans alike. Cybernetics was enthusiastically adopted to global finance with examples like high-frequency trading on one extreme and the sharing economy (Yelp, Airbnb and etc) on the other end. Our participation in these systems, apps and services, leads to the financialization of social interaction. How does the financialization change the way we create and communicate? The capitalism of the analog era focused on producing commodities from natural resources through the Fordist modes of management. In the digital era of capitalism, our exchange with each other is the main product as well as a mode of production. Management of this exchange, through cybernetic control, is an integral part of ‘Society of Control.’ However, analog modes of production and exploitation have not gone away; instead they exist less visible, relocated to different places or replaced by automation. In reality, analog and digital, 19th-century and 20the-century capitalism, society of discipline and society of control coexist and they are related. The modes of discipline and control are layered on top of each other, amplifying the mechanisms of desire and punishment that influence our behavior. I’d like to ask, how is our sense of self changing in a society of control?

We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become “dividuals,” and masses, samples, data, markets, or “banks.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control

What does ‘dividuals’ mean? For example, people in the societies of control embody the conflicting desires for exploitation and comradery. The question of “who is exploiting who?” cannot be answered easily. The ‘dividuals’ are people divided within themselves, split by the desire to oppress and the desire to resist. In the emptiness created by the division, companies take over emotional space which people can relate to. Deleuze says corporations are like a gas and that companies have a soul. Consider the fact that many people anthropomorphize corporations (“Ask Google about something” or “Facebook is where my friends are”) or equate status updates with presence. All this continuousness of control that takes the form of instant communications is integral to control society. Also, technologies in the societies of control promise extreme personalization. Machine interfaces, operating systems, and content are designed to maximize individual addiction to communication. We are compelled to communicate with each other constantly and immerse in a feedback loop, comprised of retweets and comment threads, reside in an ecstasy of communication. Meanwhile, social networks produce value through monetizing our attention span and by emphatically blurring the boundary between work and leisure. However, there is a dark side of this pleasure. Let’s consider other ways we as individuals, or ‘dividuals’ a la Deleuze, are impacted, managed and monitored by control society. Let’s first look at the idea of privacy.

Control Society: Introduction

Added by Taeyoon Choi
Updated a year ago

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