Postscript on the Societies of Control

— Deleuze, Gilles. Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October 59 (1992): 3-7. (First pub­lished in L’Autre jour­nal, no. 1 (May 1990))

Keywords: Corporations, Capitalism, Factories, Prisons, Barracks, Sovereignty, Hospital ad­min­is­tra­tion, Juvenile de­ten­tion cen­ters


Foucault lo­cated the dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties in the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies; they reach their height at the out­set of the twen­ti­eth. They ini­ti­ate the or­gan­i­sa­tion of vast spaces of en­clo­sure. The in­di­vid­ual never ceases pass­ing from one closed en­vi­ron­ment to an­other; each hav­ing its own laws: first, the fam­ily; then the school (“you are no longer in your fam­ily”); then the bar­racks (“you are no longer at school”); then the fac­tory; from time to time the hos­pi­tal; pos­si­bly the prison, the pre-em­i­nent in­stance of the en­closed en­vi­ron­ment. It”s the prison that serves as the ana­logic model: at the sight of some labour­ers, the hero­ine of Rosselini”s Europa”51 would ex­claim, I thought I was see­ing con­victs.”

Foucault has bril­liantly analysed the ideal pro­ject of these en­vi­ron­ments of en­clo­sure, par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble within the fac­tory: to con­cen­trate; to dis­trib­ute in space; to or­der in time; to com­pose a pro­duc­tive force within the di­men­sion of space-time whose ef­fect will bee greater than the sum of its com­po­nent forces. But what Foucault recog­nised as well as the tran­sience of this model: it suc­ceeded that of the so­ci­eties of sov­er­eignty, the goal and func­tions of which were some­thing quite dif­fer­ent (to tax rather than to or­gan­ise pro­duc­tion, to rule on death rather than to ad­min­is­ter life); the tran­si­tion took place over time, and Napoleon seemed to ef­fect the large-scale con­ver­sion from one so­ci­ety to the other. But in their turn the dis­ci­plines un­der­went a cri­sis to the ben­e­fit of new forces that were grad­u­ally in­sti­tuted and which ac­cel­er­ated af­ter the Second World War: a dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­ety was what we al­ready no longer were, what we had ceased to be.

We are in a gen­er­alised cri­sis in re­la­tion to all the en­vi­ron­ments of en­clo­sure—prison, hos­pi­tal, fac­tory, school, fam­ily. The fam­ily is an interior”, in cri­sis like all other in­te­ri­ors—schol­arly, pro­fes­sional, etc. the ad­min­is­tra­tions in charge never cease an­nounc­ing sup­pos­edly nec­es­sary re­form: to re­form schools, to re­form in­dus­tries, hos­pi­tals, the armed forces, pris­ons. But every­one knows that these in­sti­tu­tions are fin­ished, what­ever the length of their ex­pi­ra­tion pe­ri­ods. It”s only a mat­ter of ad­min­is­ter­ing their last rites and of keep­ing peo­ple em­ployed un­til the in­stal­la­tion of the new forces knock­ing at the door. These are the so­ci­eties of con­trol, which are in the process of re­plac­ing the dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties. Control” is the name Burroghs pro­poses as a term for the new mon­ster, on that Foucault recog­nises as our im­me­di­ate fu­ture. Paul Virilio also is con­tin­u­ally analysing the ul­tra-rapid forms of free-float­ing con­trol that re­placed the old dis­ci­plines op­er­at­ing in the time frame of a closed sys­tem. There is no need here to in­voke the ex­tra­or­di­nary phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pro­duc­tions, the mol­e­c­u­lar en­gi­neer­ing, the ge­netic ma­nip­u­la­tions, al­though these are slated to en­ter into the new process. There is no need to ask which is the tough­est or most tol­er­a­ble regime, for it’s within each of them that lib­er­at­ing and en­slav­ing forces con­front one an­other. For ex­am­ple, in the cri­sis of the hos­pi­tal as en­vi­ron­ment of en­clo­sure, neigh­bour­hood clin­ics, hos­pices and day care could at first ex­press new free­dom. But they could par­tic­i­pate as well in mech­a­nisms of con­trol that are equal to the harsh­est of con­fine­ments. There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.


The dif­fer­ent in­tern­ments or spaces of en­clo­sure through which the in­di­vid­ual passes are in­de­pen­dent vari­ables: each time one is sup­posed to start from zero, and al­though a com­mon lan­guage for all these places ex­ists, it is ana­log­i­cal. On the other hand, the dif­fer­ent con­trol mech­a­nisms are in­sep­a­ra­ble vari­a­tions, form­ing a sys­tem of vari­able geom­e­try the lan­guage of which is nu­mer­i­cal (which doesn”t nec­es­sar­ily mean bi­nary). Enclosures are moulds, dis­tinct cast­ings, but con­trols are a mod­u­la­tion, like a self-re­form­ing cast that will con­tin­u­ously change from one mo­ment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will trans­mute from point to point.

This is ob­vi­ous in the mat­ter of salaries: the fac­tory was a body that con­tained its in­ter­nal forces at a level of equi­lib­rium, the high­est pos­si­ble in terms of pro­duc­tion, the low­est pos­si­ble in terms of wages; but in a so­ci­ety of con­trol, the cor­po­ra­tion has re­placed the fac­tory, and the cor­po­ra­tion is a spirit, a gas. Of course the fac­tory was al­ready fa­mil­iar with the sys­tem of bonuses, but the cor­po­ra­tion works more deeply to im­pose a mod­u­la­tion of each salary, in states of per­pet­ual meta-sta­bil­ity that op­er­ate through chal­lenges, con­tests and highly comic group ses­sions. If the most id­i­otic tele­vi­sion game shows are so suc­cess­ful, it’s be­cause they ex­press the cor­po­rate sit­u­a­tion with great pre­ci­sion. The fac­tory con­sti­tuted in­di­vid­u­als as a sin­gle body to the dou­ble ad­van­tage of the boss who sur­veyed each el­e­ment within the mass and the unions who mo­bilised a mass re­sis­tance; but the cor­po­ra­tion con­stantly pre­sents the brash­est ri­valry as a healthy form of em­u­la­tion, an ex­cel­lent mo­ti­va­tional force that op­poses in­di­vid­u­als against one an­other and runs through each, di­vid­ing each within. The mod­u­lat­ing prin­ci­ple of salary ac­cord­ing to mer­it’ has not failed to tempt na­tional ed­u­ca­tion it­self. in­deed, just as the cor­po­ra­tion re­places the fac­tory, per­pet­ual train­ing tends to re­place the school, and con­tin­u­ous con­trol to re­place the ex­am­i­na­tion. Which is the surest way of de­liv­er­ing the school over to the cor­po­ra­tion.

In the dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties one was al­ways start­ing again (from school to the bar­racks, from the bar­racks to the fac­tory), while in the so­ci­eties of con­trol one is never fin­ished with any­thing—the cor­po­ra­tion, the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the armed ser­vices be­ing meta-sta­ble states co­ex­ist­ing in one and the same mod­u­la­tion, like a uni­ver­sal sys­tem of de­for­ma­tion. In The Trial, KAFKA, who had al­ready placed him­self at the piv­otal point be­tween two types of so­cial for­ma­tion, de­scribed the most fear­some of ju­ridi­cal forms. The ap­par­ent ac­quit­tal of the dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties (between to in­car­cer­a­tions); and the lim­it­less post­pone­ments of the so­ci­eties of con­trol (in con­tin­u­ous vari­a­tion) are two very dif­fer­ent modes of ju­ridi­cal life, and if our law is hes­i­tant, it­self in cri­sis, it’s be­cause we are leav­ing one in or­der to en­ter into the other. The dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties have two poles: the sig­na­ture that des­ig­nates the in­di­vid­ual, and the num­ber or ad­min­is­tra­tive nu­mer­a­tion that in­di­cates his or her po­si­tion within a mass. This is be­cause the dis­ci­plines never saw any in­com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween these two, and be­cause at the same time poser in­di­vid­u­alises and masses to­gether, that is, con­sti­tutes those over whom it ex­er­cises power into a body and moulds the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of each mem­ber of that body. (Foucault saw the ori­gin of this dou­ble charge in the pas­toral power of the priest—the flock and each of its an­i­mals—but civil power moves in turn and by other means to make it­self lay priest”.) In the so­ci­eties of con­trol, on the other hand, what is im­por­tant is no longer ei­ther the sig­na­ture or a num­ber, but a code: the code is a pass­word, while on the other hand the dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties are reg­u­lated by watch­words (as much from the point of view of in­te­gra­tion as from that of re­sis­tance). The nu­mer­i­cal lan­guage of con­trol is made of codes that mark ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, or re­ject it. We no longer find our­selves deal­ing with the mass/​in­di­vid­ual pair. Individuals have be­come di­vid­u­als, and masses, sam­ples, data, mar­kets or banks. Perhaps it is money that ex­presses the dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two so­ci­eties best, since dis­ci­pline al­ways re­ferred back to minted money that locks gold in as nu­mer­i­cal stan­dard, while con­trol re­lates to float­ing rates of ex­change, mod­u­lated ac­cord­ing to a rate es­tab­lished by a set of stan­dard cur­ren­cies. The old mon­e­tary mole is the an­i­mal of the spaces of en­clo­sure, but the ser­pent is that of the so­ci­eties of con­trol. We have passed from one an­i­mal to the other, from the mole to the ser­pent, in the sys­tem un­der which we live, but also in our man­ner of liv­ing and in our re­la­tions with oth­ers. The dis­ci­pli­nary man was a dis­con­tin­u­ous pro­ducer of en­ergy, but the man of con­trol is un­du­la­tory, in or­bit, in a con­tin­u­ous net­work. Everywhere surf­ing has al­ready re­placed the older sports.

Types of ma­chines are eas­ily matched with each type of so­ci­ety—not that ma­chines are de­ter­min­ing, but be­cause they ex­press those so­cial forms ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing the m and us­ing them. The old so­ci­eties of sov­er­eignty mad use of sim­ple ma­chines—levers, pul­leys, clocks; but the re­cent dis­ci­pli­nary so­ci­eties equipped them­selves with ma­chines in­volv­ing en­ergy, with the pas­sive dan­ger of en­tropy and the ac­tive dan­ger of sab­o­tage; the so­ci­eties of con­trol op­er­ate with ma­chines of a third type, com­put­ers, whose pas­sive dan­ger is jam­ming and whose ac­tive one is piracy and in­tro­duc­tion of viruses. This tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion must be, even more pro­foundly, a mu­ta­tion of cap­i­tal­ism, an al­ready well-known or fa­mil­iar mu­ta­tion that can be summed up as fol­lows: nine­teenth-cen­tury cap­i­tal­ism is a cap­i­tal­ism of con­cen­tra­tion, for pro­duc­tion and for prop­erty. It there­fore erects the fac­tory as a space of en­clo­sure, the cap­i­tal­ist be­ing the owner of the means of pro­duc­tion but also, pro­gres­sively, the owner of other spaces con­ceived through anal­ogy (the worker”s fa­mil­ial house, the school). As for mar­kets, they are con­quered some­times by spe­cial­i­sa­tion, some­times by coloni­sa­tion, some­times by low­er­ing the costs of pro­duc­tion. But in the pre­sent sit­u­a­tion, cap­i­tal­ism is no longer in­volved in pro­duc­tion, which it of­ten rel­e­gates to the Third World, even for the com­plex forms of tex­tiles, met­al­lurgy, or oil pro­duc­tion. It”s a cap­i­tal­ism of higher-or­der pro­duc­tion. It no longer buys raw ma­te­ri­als and no longer sells the fin­ished prod­ucts; it buys the fin­ished prod­ucts or as­sem­bles parts. What it wants to sell is ser­vices and what it wants to buy is stocks. This is no longer a cap­i­tal­ism for pro­duc­tion but for the prod­uct, which is to say, for be­ing sold or mar­keted. Thus it is es­sen­tially dis­per­sive, and the fac­tory has given way to the cor­po­ra­tion. The fam­ily, the school, the army, the fac­tory are no longer the dis­tinct ana­log­i­cal. spaces that con­verge to­wards an owner-state or pri­vate power—but coded fig­ures—de-formable and trans­formable—of a sin­gle cor­po­ra­tion that now has only stock­hold­ers. Even art has left the spaces of en­clo­sure in or­der to en­ter into the open cir­cuits of the bank. The con­quests of the mar­ket are made by grab­bing con­trol and no longer by dis­ci­pli­nary train­ing, by fix­ing the ex­change rate much more than by low­er­ing costs, by trans­for­ma­tion of the prod­uct more than by spe­cial­i­sa­tion of pro­duc­tion. Corruption thereby gains a new power. Marketing has be­come the cen­tre or the soul” of the cor­po­ra­tion. We are taught that cor­po­ra­tions have a soul, which is the most ter­ri­fy­ing news in the world. The op­er­a­tion of mar­kets is now the in­stru­ment of so­cial con­trol and forms the im­pu­dent breed of our mas­ters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also con­tin­u­ous and with­out limit, while dis­ci­pline was of long du­ra­tion, in­fi­nite and dis­con­tin­u­ous. Man is no longer man en­closed, but man in debt. It is true that cap­i­tal­ism has re­tained as a con­stant the ex­treme poverty of three-quar­ters of hu­man­ity, too poor for debt, too nu­mer­ous for con­fine­ment: con­trol will not only have to deal with ero­sions of fron­tiers but with the ex­plo­sions within shanty towns or ghet­tos.


The con­cep­tion of a con­trol mech­a­nism, giv­ing the po­si­tion of any el­e­ment within an open en­vi­ron­ment at any given in­stant (whether an­i­mal in a re­serve or hu­man in a cor­po­ra­tion, as with an elec­tronic col­lar), is not nec­es­sar­ily one of sci­ence fic­tion. Félix Guattari has imag­ined a city where one would be able to leave one”s apart­ment, one”s street, one”s neigh­bour­hood, thanks to one”s (dividual) elec­tronic card that raises a given bar­rier; but the card could just as eas­ily be re­jected on a given day or be­tween cer­tain hours; what counts is not the bar­rier but the com­puter that tracks each per­son”s po­si­tion—licit or il­licit—and ef­fects a uni­ver­sal mod­u­la­tion.

The so­cio-tech­no­log­i­cal study of the mech­a­nisms of con­trol, grasped at their in­cep­tion, would have to be cat­e­gor­i­cal and to de­scribe what is al­ready in the process of sub­sti­tu­tion for the dis­ci­pli­nary sites of en­clo­sure, whose cri­sis is every­where pro­claimed. It may be that older meth­ods, bor­rowed from the for­mer so­ci­eties of sov­er­eignty, will re­turn to the fore, but with the nec­es­sary mod­i­fi­ca­tions. What counts is that we are tat the be­gin­ning of some­thing. In the prison sys­tem: the at­tempt to find penal­ties of substitution”, at least for petty crimes, and the use of elec­tronic col­lars that force the con­victed per­son to stay at home dur­ing cer­tain hours. For the school sys­tem: con­tin­u­ous forms of con­trol, and the ef­fect on the school of per­pet­ual train­ing, the cor­re­spond­ing aban­don­ment of all uni­ver­sity re­search, the in­tro­duc­tion of the corporation” at all lev­els of school­ing. For the hos­pi­tal sys­tem: the new med­i­cine without doc­tor or pa­tient” that sin­gles out po­ten­tial sick peo­ple and sub­jects at risk, which in no way at­tests to in­di­vid­u­a­tion—as they say—but sub­sti­tutes for the in­di­vid­ual or nu­mer­i­cal body the code of a dividual” ma­te­r­ial to be con­trolled. In the cor­po­rate sys­tem: new ways of han­dling money, prof­its and hu­mans that no longer pass through the old fac­tory form. These are very small ex­am­ples, but ones that will al­low for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what is meant by the cri­sis of the in­sti­tu­tions, which is to say, the pro­gres­sive and dis­persed in­stal­la­tion of a new sys­tem of dom­i­na­tion. One of the most im­por­tant ques­tions will con­cern the in­ep­ti­tude of the unions: tied to the whole of their his­tory of strug­gle against the dis­ci­plines or within the spaces of en­clo­sure, will they be able to adapt them­selves or will they give way to new forms of re­sis­tance against the so­ci­eties of con­trol? Can we al­ready grasp the rough out­lines of these com­ing forms, ca­pa­ble of threat­en­ing the joys of mar­ket­ing? Many young peo­ple strangely boast of be­ing motivated”; they re-re­quest ap­pren­tice­ships and per­ma­nent train­ing. It”s up to them to dis­cover what they”re be­ing made to serve, just as their el­ders dis­cov­ered, not with­out dif­fi­culty, the te­los of the dis­ci­plines. The coils of a ser­pent are even more com­plex than the bur­rows of a mole­hill.

A photograph of Ur from the air, March 1927
A pho­to­graph of Ur from the air, March 1927 Source: History and mon­u­ments of Ur, by C. J. Gadd (Royal Air Force)