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The Unthinkable—Thinking Beyond the Limits of Culture, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, December 13-14, 2008

On Control Societies: A Deleuzian Postscript


Jia-Lu Cheng, Goldsmiths College, London

My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous


Michel Foucault1
Information is precisely the system of control.
Gilles Deleuze2

One of the shortest but most popular and inspirational texts Deleuze wrote was probably his
“Postscript on Control Societies”. It was written originally in French and published in 1990.
Moreover, as far as I know, there are at least two different English translations, which were
officially published by various publishers from 1992 to 2002.3 In addition, there is another
piece of evidence which also attests to its popularity. Thanks to Google, if we use “societies
of control” and “Deleuze” as keywords to do a Google search, the search will result in over
an astounding 16,200 webpages, 533 scholarly works, and 431 books.4 These search results
easily illustrate the popularity of Deleuze’s “postscript”. Macgregor Wise mentioned that part
of the reason for its popularity is that it “can easily be read as commenting on the cyberspace
and the internet.”5 However, Wise placed his emphasis strongly on the fact that it was not
about the cyberspace or the internet per se and reminded readers that “the notion of a society
of control is in danger of being oversimplified.”6
Indeed, Deleuze’s notion of “control society” is far more profound. As a matter of fact,
what I have noted above already embodies the logic and operation of “control society”.
However, it is not because I used the internet to do my search. It is because of the method
by which the search was performed. Why do I say this? Far before the era of the database
search, people could only do searches of books or papers by going through page after page,
sometimes with in-page bookmarks for later references. Today, with the help of database
searches or internet searches, authors’ names are drawn away from the context of certain

1
Foucault (1982).
2
Deleuze (1998).
3
The original title is “Post-scriptum sur les sociétés de contrôle” published in L'autre journal, 1990. Both
English versions were translated by Martin Joughin. The English versions were officially published as: 1.
“Postscript on Societies of control,” October 1992, 50:3-7; 2. “Postscript on Control Societies,” in T
Negotiations, N.Y.: Columbia University Press 1995, 177-182; 3. “Postscript on the societies of control,” in N.
Leach ed., Rethinking architecture: a reader in cultural theory, London: Routledge 1997, 309–313; 4.
“Postscript on Control Societies,” in Thomas Levin, et al., eds., Ctrl Space: Rhetorics of Surveillance from
Bentham to Big Brother, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2002, 317-321.
4
This search was performed on November 7, 2008 via Google, Google Scholar, and Google Books respectively.
These figures are not totally exclusive. I did a similar search on June 9, 2007. This search resulted in 10,400
webpages and 332 scholarly works related to these keywords. This means that relevant outcomes increased by
almost 6,000 webpages and 200 scholarly works in the period of only one year.
5
Wise (2002:30).
6
Ibid.
works. To do a Google search, first of all I must transfer the individual, i.e. Deleuze, into an
appropriated “dividual” as a keyword, and transfer the literature machine, “control society”,
into the other appropriated “dividual” as the other keyword. Meanwhile, the aggregation of
literature machines composed as a result by all these writing materials becomes samples or
databanks. In effect, Google serves as a programmable interface that allows one to combine
any “keyword” to execute searches as long as the prior two conditions (dividual/databanks)
are met. To be sure, I am not simplifying the Internet here solely as a means; in contrast, the
internet itself is a very complicated control mechanism. However, this is not my immediate
point. My main point is, the logic of the “control societies” is already “integrated into the
productive efficiency of the apparatus from within, into the growth of its efficacy and into the
use of what it produces”, like what has already taken place in the disciplinary societies.7
Following up on this point, Deleuze provides in this regard an ideal example, a highway.
On the highway, people can drive infinitely and “freely” without being at all confined yet
“while still being perfectly controlled.”8 Control societies, Deleuze wrote, “no longer operate
by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication.”9 As a new
force, it moved slowly into place at beginning, then made rapid advance after the World War
II. Now, “we were no longer in disciplinary societies, we were leaving them behind.”10
Is Deleuze correct? Is this really the reality that we are living in now? Nikolas Rose
argued that Deleuze’s metaphor-like arguments are “more as hypotheses than conclusion.”
However, he also pointed out that “Deleuze’s control societies should not be understood
sociologically, but in terms of the emergence of new possibilities and the complexification of
the old.”11 Hui Kyon Chun has also commented that, although Deleuze’s reading of control
societies is “arguably paranoid, because it accepts propaganda as technological reality, and
conflates possibility with probability,” Deleuze’s reading is still persuasive.12
Since Deleuze’s “control societies” are “the emergence of new possibilities” and
persuasive argument, the main goal of this paper will focus on a detailed description of what
“control societies” are and how to position “control societies” in the context of capitalism.
However, before I describe what the “control societies” are, I should start out with what they
are not. Then I will discuss the term “control”, as used by Deleuze. Finally, I will discuss

7
Foucault (1977:219).
8
Deleuze (1998:16).
9
Deleuze (1995:174).
10
Ibid.:178.
11
Rose (1999:234-5).
12
Chun (2006:9).

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the relationship between both “disciplinary societies” and “control societies” within
capitalism. The above will then serve as the background or framework for later discussion of
contemporary communication.

Control Societies Are Not about Social Control


Just as Wise emphasized that “control society” is not Deleuze’s depiction of the internet, I
should also stress that it is not about social control either. “Control society” is not totally
irrelevant to the idea of social control,13 but Deleuze’s “control society” was never intended
to invoke social control, nor was it meant to be reducible to the concept of social control.
The term “social control”, about half a century after August Comte coined the term
“sociology” in 1830, was introduced into the sociological literature in 1894 and the first book
under the title “Social Control” was published in 1901, according to August Hollingshead.14
Although the term has been accepted into the sociological lexicon, sociologists showed only
sporadic interest in the concept in the beginning, and not until 1940’s did sociologists widely
use the term, but the term was still devoid of clear conceptual content. Given this situation,
Hollingshead proposed this hypothesis as a framework:
From the viewpoint of social control, society is a vast, multiform, organized system of
appeals, sanctions, prescriptions, usage, and structures focused upon directing the
behavior of its members into culturally defined norms.15
Later, Foucault’s concept of sanction and surveillance provided fresh new discussion under
the topic of social control, such as the sociology of punishment, which focused on negative
sanction and the emergence of “Big Brother.” Foucauldian-inspired approaches in particular
were used to supplement Marxist approaches to repressive social control theories. 16
However, Stan Cohen remarked satirically that, under the stale position of Marxist repressive
theories, social control had “become something of a Mickey Mouse concept.” 17
Nonetheless, several scholars, such as S. Scheerer and H. Hess, called for a renaissance of the
stagnant concept of social control. Scheerer and Hess proposed to reinvigorate the concept as
follows:
all social (and technical) arrangements, mechanisms, norms, belief systems, positive and
negative sanctions that either aim and/or result in the prevention of undesired behaviour or,

13
For example Jones (2000) applied Deleuze’s notion of “control societies” to develop his concept of “digital
rule” in social control. Walters (2006) noticed that border was no longer a symbol of the integration between
sovereignty and territory of the state, he then used Deleuze’s concept of “control societies” to elucidate the event
of rebordering via the way in which new electrical and magnetic equipments are used in border control.
14
Hollingshead (1941).
15
Ibid.:220.
16
Jones (2000:7).
17
Cohen (1985:2).

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if this has already occurred, respond to the undesired act in a way that tries to prevent its
occurrence in the future.18
In comparison to Hollingshead’s hypothesis, while Scheerer and Hess’ proposal focused more
on prevention of rather than reaction to undesired behaviour, however, for all of them, social
arrangements, norms, or prescriptions were simply means of social control, and all of them
accepted the presupposition that society was undoubtedly a transcendental “social fact”, thus
what needs to be dealt with are the offenders, not society. The inadequacy of the concept of
social control is similar to Michalis Lianos’ remark, that “whilst one cannot pretend that the
question of social control has been completely forgotten, it is in many respects stagnant.”19
He also argued that this stagnancy was due to lack of a theoretical ground: for social control,
“it is difficult to find the next link in the intellectual chain from Durkheim to Foucault.”20
Rose clearly noted that “Foucault’s disciplinary societies were not about “disciplined
society,” but societies where strategies and tactics of discipline were active”. I argue similarly
that Deleuze’s “control societies” are not about controlled society, as though under social
control, but societies where strategies and tactics of “control” were active.21 In other words,
control is not really the outcome of certain social institutions or their practices, but social
institutions and practices themselves. It is the way that “socius” organizes or constructs
itself. Its operation is not only omnipresent in a society but also infiltrates all social levels.
Control, like power, in Foucault’s sense, is everywhere; “not because it embraces everything,
but because it comes from everywhere.”22 It is a distinctly new cultural logic and form.23

What is It?
The Term: Control
“Control”, as Deleuze notes, “is the name proposed by Burroughs to characterize the new
monster.”24 However, Deleuze did not provide further information about when, where, why
or how Burroughs defined this term. This allowed Mark Poster to criticize Deleuze’s use of
it, which “does not seem to fit easily with” Burroughs’ writing and is a “less precise term.”25

18
Scheerer and Hess (1997:103-4).
19
Lianos (2003:412).
20
Ibid.:413.
21
Rose (1999:234).
22
Foucault (1998:93).
23
There are several interesting articles that view Deleuze’s “control society” as a kind of cultural logic form.
They include Bratich (2006), which discusses the formation of subjects in reality TV, Nealon (2006), which
discusses gambling as a new kind of pastime in U.S., and Wise (2002), via The Truman Show, which explores
possible everyday life in Deleuze’s “control society.”
24
Deleuze (1995:178).
25
Poster (2004:327, 328).

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Poster’s criticism is based on four points.26 First of all, Poster argues that Burroughs is
obsessed with control both by addicts and by the U.S. government in his Naked Lunch, thus
Deleuze’s use of the term does not seem to fit easily with Burroughs’ use. Secondly, Poster
argues that “the French philosopher” associated “control” with the widespread deployment of
computers by government and corporations, but in practice computer technology was at best
nascent in 1959, when Naked Lunch was published. Therefore, Poster argues that the notion
of control in Burroughs’ work seems incompatible with the time-line of the development of
computer technology. Thirdly, Burroughs asserts that drug addiction and the “hysterical”
response that it evoked within the government, are prominent social concerns, thus leading
Burroughs to write, “the junk virus is public health problem number one of the world today”.
In Poster’s opinion, virus as metaphor might equally claim adjectival place with control in the
sense that Deleuze uses it, and the metaphor of the virus has the advantage of suggesting the
networked quality of domination in Deleuze’s text, which makes control a less precise term
that might equally apply to other social systems. Finally, Poster points out that Deleuze has
not done much in characterizing the control aspect of the control society except “the negative
trait of the absence of “major organizing sites of confinement.”27
I cannot agree with Poster’s criticism, and I will reply in four points as well. First of all,
I agree that Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is mainly a meditation about drug addiction and about
control both by addicts and the U.S. government. However, Naked Lunch was not the only
book written by Burrough. Thus, why was Poster so insistent on focusing on drug addiction
in Naked Lunch only? In an interview by Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg in 1961,
Burrough said, “I feel that the principal instrument of monopoly and control that prevents
expansion of consciousness is the word…”28 In the same interview, he said, “the whole point
is I feel the machine should be eliminated. Now that it has served its purpose of alerting us to
the dangers of machine control… We have a great elaborate machine which I feel has to be
completely dismantled…”29 In another interview done in 1972, in reply to the question, “so
society would be even more hierarchical if electrode control were to reach a high degree of
refinement?” Burroughs said, “…this control would be more than just a case of pressing this
button here and this button there, this could be a whole computer program. Scientists have
already wired up an ape's brain to a computer. Now the ape's brain can give orders to the

26
Ibid.
27
Ibid.:328.
28
Burrough (1961).
29
Ibid.

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computer, and initiate action in the computer; then the computer can chew this over and shoot
it back. In other words, it is a feed-back between the computer and the brain...”30 Although
the machine and computer program have perfected control, Burrough believed that control
emanated from words. He wrote, “Suggestions are words. Persuasions are words. Orders are
Words. No control machine so far devised can operate without words”31 From the above
passages, there is no reason to believe that Burrough’s concept of control is just about control
by addicts and the U.S. government. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that Deleuze’s
use the term “does not seem to fit easily with” Burroughs’ writing.
Secondly, not being a specialist in French philosophy, I am not qualified to ascertain
whether or not “the French philosopher” related “control” to the widespread deployment of
computers by government and corporations”. However, why did Poster highlight “French
philosopher” here? Is the French philosopher he named a “Mass”? There are only two
persons named here. One is Burroughs, an American novelist, essayist, painter and
performer. The other is Deleuze, a French philosopher. Does Poster mean that Deleuze, a
French philosopher, is equal to “the” French philosopher? Furthermore, why did Poster use
Naked Lunch, as his only source? As I have noted above, Burroughs said in 1972, “this
control would be more than just a case of pressing this button here and this button there, this
could be a whole computer program.” Poster might reply that this was 1972, thirteen years
after 1959, not the year 1959. Yes, it was 1972, but why did Poster refer to the year 1959 as
the only reference point? Deleuze’s “Postscript on Control Society” was published in 1990,
and his concept of “control society” was based on a TV interview at INA in 1975, where he
suggested that one should look in more detail at three kinds of power: sovereign power,
discipline power, and above all the control of “communication.”32 Moreover, even though
Burroughs did not write a novel explicitly about computer technologies, his was the first
turning-point in the trajectory of information culture. As Dennis Redmond extolled,
“William S. Burroughs is most familiar to us today as a Beat-era outlaw turned prophet of the
Information Age, a media legend celebrated by the cyberpunk authors of the 1980s and hailed
by the Internet visionaries of the 1990s.”33
Reinhold Martin has discussed Deleuze’s control society from an epistemological point

30
Burrough (1972).
31
Burrough (1986:116).
32
Deleuze (1995:174). INA refers to the Institut National d’Audiovisuel, set up by the French government in
1975 as a center for training, research, and development in audiovisual media.” Ibid.:202 note 6.
33
Redmond (2004).

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of view.34 He first pointed out that “Deleuze’s Periodization—from sovereign societies to
disciplinary societies to control societies—itself belongs to an intellectual tradition sensitive
to historical discontinuity.”35 Martin then traced back to the “episteme” of Deleuze’s control
36
society. He found that “the age of communication and control” dated back to 1941, when
Norbert Wiener wrote his “Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous
History”.37 That was even more than 10 years ahead of Poster’s reference year of 1959.
Hence, Poster’s criticism of the time of the popularity of the computer really misses the point.
Thirdly, with regard to the virus, I really cannot understand how Poster could conclude
that the metaphor of the virus in Deleuze’s text “has the advantage of suggesting the
networked quality of domination, whereas control is a less precise term and might equally
apply to other social systems.”38 It is clear in Deleuze that the virus was not a metaphor for
domination but, on the contrary, a means to resistance in control societies. Deleuze wrote:
It's true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or
resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for
example, will replace strikes and what the nine-teenth century called "sabotage"
("clogging" the machinery).39
In addition, when Poster summed up his criticism, he said, “all of (this) suggests to me that
Deleuze’s understanding of networked digital information humachines remains rudimentary.
It is hard to imagine what “counter-information” might be, for example.”40 In my opinion, I
agree with Poster that “Deleuze’s understanding of networked digital information humachines
remains rudimentary.” After all, Deleuze was not an IT specialist, having died more than 15
years ago. He could not have possibly foreseen such recent technological and biological
developments. But more importantly, I cannot agree with Poster’s other statement that “it is
hard to imagine what ‘counter-information’ might be...” Deleuze gave us clear indications

34
Martin (1998).
35
Ibid.:104.
36
Episteme refers to Foucault’s usage of it, “the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive
practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems; the way in which,
in each of these discursive formations, the transitions to epistemologization, scientificity, and formalization are
situated and operate; the distribution of these thresholds, which may coincide, be subordinated to one another, or
be separated by shifts in time; the lateral relations that may exist between epistemological figures or sciences in
so far as they belong to neighbouring, but distinct, discursive practices.” Foucault (1972: 191)
37
Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History was published in 1948. In this book,
Wiener wrote “if the seventeenth and early eighteen centuries are the age of clocks, and the later eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries constitute the age of steam engines, the present time is the age of communication and
control.” Cited in Martin (1998:104).
38
Poster (2004:328).
39
Deleuze(1995:175).
40
Poster (2004:328). "Networked digital information humachines" is an epistemological posture proposed by
Poster himself. In his definition,“networked digital information humachines” is a phrase that presumes the
intertwining of humans and machines to such an extent that one cannot locate a position that resembles that of a
subject nor that of an object.

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as to what “counter-information” was, such as computer virus, piracy, and noise. As a result,
we can envisage the kind of battle between “administrators” and such “counter-information”
that is being played out everyday and everywhere now.
Furthermore, Poster did not even tell us how the virus acted as a metaphor in his writing
and what that metaphor stood for. In fact, for Burroughs, not only junk, but also words and
language were all viruses associated with power and control that controlled the human body
and mind as well as inhibited our freedom. Burroughs wrote:
My general theory since 1971 has been that the Word is literally a virus, and that it has not
been recognized as such because it has achieved a state of relatively stable symbiosis with
its human host; that is to say, the Word Virus (the Other Half) has established itself so
firmly as an accepted part of the human organism that it can now sneer at gangster viruses
like smallpox and turn them in to the Pasteur Institute. But the Word clearly bears the
single identifying feature of virus: it is an organism with no internal function other than to
replicate itself.41
From the above discussion, I must inevitably conclude that Poster misread both Burroughs as
well as Deleuze to a large degree.
Finally, Poster argues that Deleuze did not do much in “characterizing the control aspect
of the control society”. In this regard, I can reply to his critique in two ways. The first
concerns the “text” in Deleuze’s “Postscript on Control Societies”. The second concerns our
way of reading of it. First of all, I agree to some extent that Deleuze did not do much in
“characterizing the control aspect of the control society.” After all, “Postscript on Control
Societies” is a mere 5-6 pages; its title clearly indicates that it is a postscript only. However,
what interests me is the reason why, in Poster’s mind, Deleuze had to specify the control
aspect of control societies more explicitly. What was Poster thinking, when he read “control
societies?” Does Poster still think of this essay as a typical paper on social control that talks
about how control is executed and by what means? If so, his reading of “control societies”
totally misses the point. As I understand it, the whole point is, “control” is “the monster”
characterized by Burroughs to describe our contemporary society. It is society itself that
became the monster, and “control” is just its name. Thus, specification of the control aspect
of control society is irrelevant; instead, we must look for what the monster is and how it
works. In this regard, Deleuze pointed out several characteristics of such societies of
control, such as their operation, corresponded machine, economic activities, human situation,
and geographic configurations etc.. I will give a clearer summary of what they are in the
following section.

41
Burroughs (1986: 47).

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Secondly, as to our reading of Deleuze, he noted that he has been struck by the fact that:
It’s the people who’ve read lots of other books…who find ours book really difficult. They
say: What exactly is a body without organs? What exactly do you mean by “desiring
machine”? Those, on the other hand, who don’t know much, who haven’t been addled by
psychoanalysis, have less of a problem and happy pass over what they don’t understand.42
Deleuze also mentioned that there are two ways of reading a book. The first way is to see a
book as a book with something inside and to start looking for what is signifies, and to treat
the next book like a box contained in the first or containing it. The second way is to see the
book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is to ask whether it works, and
how does it work? How does it work for you? If it doesn't work, if nothing comes through,
you just try another book. He further commented that the second way of reading is quite
different from the first, “because it relates a book directly to what’s Outside”43 To be sure,
Deleuze is not an anti-intellectual. However, he simply wants to remind us to be careful that
we “cannot see the wood for the trees.”

History/Background
1. Periodicity
Deleuze mentioned that Foucault’s disciplinary societies, operated by organizing major sites
of confinement, emerged in the 18th century and reached its apogee at the outset of the 20th
century. However, as a new force moved slowly into place, then made rapid advances after
WWII, disciplinary societies began to breakdown. Today, we are no longer living in the age
of disciplinary societies, but rather an age of control societies.44 Deleuze also argued that
Foucault was actually one of the first to say that we were moving away from the disciplinary
and were “entering a new type of society”.45 Obviously, for Deleuze, what that new type of
society refers to is the control society.
Michael Hardt has noted that, “I must admit it is difficult to find anywhere in Foucault’s
opus (the books, essays, or interviews) a clear expression of passage from disciplinary society
to the society of control.”46 Foucault might not have used the term control society, but there
was at least one instance where Foucault sensed that disciplinary society was in crisis, and
might not last very long. In an interview conducted in Japan in 1978, Foucault remarked:
In the last few years society has changed and individuals have changed too; they are more
and more diverse, different, and independent. There are ever more categories of people

42
Deleuze (1995:7). Emphasis is original.
43
Ibid.:7-8.
44
Deleuze (1995:178).
45
Deleuze (1998:17).
46
Hardt (1998:139).

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who are not compelled by discipline (qui ne sont pas astreints a la discipline), so that we
are obliged to imagine the development of society without discipline. The ruling class is
still impregnated with the old technique. But it is clear that in the future we must separate
ourselves from the society of discipline of today.47
In other places, Foucault showed that he thought about the possibility of a new form of
anti-disciplinarian right that was at the same time liberated from notions of sovereignty.48

2. Political Constitution
Deleuze did not mention variability in politics when becoming control societies. However,
Michael Hardt’s writings provide a good supplement to this aspect. He has demonstrated
remarkably how the rise of control societies effects our contemporary political constitution.
My own understanding of Hardt’s “The Withering of Civil Society” and “The Global Society
of Control” is that these two articles form a complementary pair that exposes the influence of
control societies upon our political constitution. In this context, the book, Empire, coauthored
with Antonio Negri, is an extension of his argument in “The Global Society of Control” that
on the one hand proposes a new model of control societies in the global scale and on the other
hand advances both a weapon and strategy (the multitude) for resistance.49 Hardt cleverly
distinguished political activities by an invisible but in many respects extant entity, the state.
While he discussed civil society in the context of the state, on the other hand he discussed the
power and sovereignty of the state under a global context. His discussions focused mostly
on the evolution from disciplinary society to control society.
In “The Withering of Civil Society”, Hardt first traced the variation of the concept of
civil society from Hegel to Foucault, thereupon concluding that “disciplinary society can be
characterized as civil society… civil society is a society founded on discipline and that
education is a diffuse network of normalization.”50 However, with the rise of control society,
the overall social conditions (social enclosures, institution, striated space, wage labor etc.)
necessary for civil society no longer existed. In other words, not only has civil society
withered away, but the desire of civil society has become impossible. Similarly, in “The
Global Society of Control”, Hardt started with the concept of sovereignty and its deep
relationship with an abstract concept “outside”, the outside of the territorial boundary of the
state. In the passage from disciplinary society to control society, the distinction between
inside and outside (the boundary of the state) declined. Furthermore, with the decline of the

47
Cited in Hardt (1995:41).
48
Foucault (1980:108).
49
Hardt (1995), Hardt (1998), Hardt and Negri (2000).
50
Hardt (1995:33).

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dialectic between inside and outside, the dialectic between private and public and dialectic of
the other declined as well. The whole world became a smooth space under a global market,
in which a new world order, empire, emerged. In this empire, “there is no place of power –
it is both everywhere and nowhere. The Empire is an u-topos, or rather a non-place.”51 In
short, one can summarize Hardt’s argument in Table 1, as follows:
Table 1: Summary of Hardt’s Main Arguments
Period Within the State Outside the state
Disciplinary Civil society is a society founded Sovereignty of the state conceived in
on discipline. term of a territory and the relation of
that territory to the existed outside.
Control Civil society has withered away Outside has declined, and a new world
order, Empire, emerges.

In a sense, one can rationalize this kind of development as rather predictable, because
for Deleuze society is defined by its lines of flight, “its points of deterritorialization, its fluxes
of deterritorialization.”52 Deleuze and Guattari once wrote:
It is wrongly said (in Marxism in particular) that a society is defined by its contradictions.
That is true only on the large scale of things. From the viewpoint of micropolitics, a
society is defined by its lines of flight, which are molecular.53
Thus, when societies shift from disciplinary societies to control societies, parallel new lines
of flight emerge in every aspect of society. However, what interests me is that, if the
emergence of Empire is the result of these new lines of flight, then why is there no change in
its underlying economic system, i.e. capitalism? There can be late, neo- or post-capitalisms,
but the system still remains fundamentally unaffected or unchanged despite a corresponding
evolution of the political system. In other words, capitalism undergoes various vicissitudes
in disciplinary societies and is even able to penetrate control societies. Yet, what accounts
for capitalism’s longevity or staying power in the long run in this radical political evolution?

3. Relationship to Capitalism
Although Deleuze was not an economic determinist, he was indeed interested in economic
activities, especially the operations of capitalism that deeply affected our contemporary world.
The two volumes of Capitalism & Schizophrenia, coauthored with Felix Guattari, were no
doubt dedicated to the above.54 While Foucault has demonstrated how discipline power and
bio-power were indispensable elements in the development of capitalism, then what is the

51
Hardt (1998:143).
52
Deleuze and Parnet (1987:135).
53
Deleuze and Guattari (1988:216).
54
Deleuze and Guattari (1984), Deleuze and Guattari (1988).

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relationship between capitalism and disciplinary societies and control societies? Are both
of them part of the development of capitalism? Is capitalism something beyond society? I
will start my discussions from machines, and the reason I choose machines as my starting
point is that they are concrete objects and are closely linked to the development of capitalism.
Deleuze mentioned that it is easy to set up a correspondence between any society and some
kind of machine. The old sovereign societies worked with simple machines, such as levers,
pulleys, clocks; disciplinary societies were equipped with thermodynamic machines; control
societies function with a third generation of machines, namely information technology and
computers. Nevertheless, Deleuze emphasized that this is not to say that machines played
the main role in determining different kinds of societies, rather they expressed that the social
forms were capable of producing and making use of machines. Furthermore, he pointed out
that “this technological development is more deeply rooted in the mutation of capitalism.”56
There are two points which piqued my interest. The first one is, “the social forms are
capable of producing and making use of them”. The second one involves “the mutation of
capitalism.” I will mainly discuss the first point here and proceed to the second point in the
following paragraph. In other places, Deleuze wrote, “there is a human technology which
exists before a material technology. No doubt the latter develops its effects within the whole
social field; but in order for it to be even possible, the tools or material machines have to be
chosen…”57 “To be chosen” means that the social forms not only have the capabilities to
produce and use them but also have the power to accept, reject or put it aside. Furthermore,
the logic of choice is profit. Deleuze and Guattari wrote:
An innovation is adopted only from the perspective of the rate of profit … without this
prospect, the capitalist will keep the existing equipment, and stand ready to make a
parallel investment in equipment in another area.58
After all, capitalism is not about production but about profit. It is about the accumulation of
capital, not just goods. Under this condition, it is no wonder that Foucault should describe
disciplinary power as a “new economy of power” in societies.59
Turning then to the second point, “the mutation of capitalism”, one finds that “mutation”
is a slow but radical process, and in fact extremely dangerous in nature. Most species would

55
Foucault (1977:218-221), Foucault (1998:140-141).
56
Deleuze (1995:180).
57
Deleuze (1999:39).
58
Deleuze and Guattari (1984:233).
59
Foucault (1977:303-4). To be sure, the main focus in Foucault is not capitalism itself. However, I wish to
emphasize here that they operate under the same principle, namely profit. The difference is that the first one is
about economic activity, while the other one is about penalty or negative sanction.

12
not survive mutation. However, according to descriptions by Deleuze about machines and
the mutation of capitalism, capitalism has experienced two phases of mutation, yet it survived.
Thus, what is its secret? Is it like a computer, which is programmable? However, even
computers have their limits — its hardware. Is there any limit within capitalism?
The secret of capitalism is the axiomatic, the key to Deleuze and Guattari’s explanation
of capitalism.60 Without doubt, for Deleuze, capitalism is a historical phenomenon. But it
did not form by its mode of production or the industrial revolution. It was formed via an
historical event, the conjunction of its labor and capital flows. Deleuze and Guattari wrote:
Capitalism is in fact born of the encounter of two sorts of flows: the decoded flows of
production in the form of money-capital, and the decoded flow of labor in the form of the
“free worker.”61
Deleuze and Guattari further pointed out that the capitalist machine is incapable of providing
a code that will apply to the whole social field, like what previous social machines have done.
However, it has created an axiomatic of abstract qualities that moved decoded flows further
and further in the direction of the deterritorialization of the socius, while at the same time
causing them to pass into an axiomatic apparatus that combines them, which at the point of
combination produces “pseudo codes and artificial reterritorialization” to capture them.62
Deleuze and Guattari provided four reasons to explain why one must define capitalism
by its social axiomatic.63 First of all, money, as a general equivalent, represents an abstract
quality. Although that quality is indifferent to the qualified nature of the flows, however, the
equivalence itself points to the position of a relation without limitation. Secondly, money,
as an unlimited abstract quantity, cannot be divorced from a becoming-concrete. Without the
process of becoming concrete, money would not become capital and would not appropriate
production. Hence the difference between capital and any other socius or full body is that
capital itself constitutes a direct economic instance, and falls back on production without
interposing extraeconomic factors that would be inscribed in the form of a code. Thirdly,
the result of the destruction of all codes with a becoming-concrete process is that the absence
of limits takes on a new meaning. This absence no longer simply designates the unlimited
abstract quantity, but the effective absence of any limit or end for the differential relation
where the abstract becomes something concrete. Finally, as a result, the axiomatic does not
need to write in bare flesh, to mark bodies and organs, nor does it need to fashion a memory

60
Bonta and Proveti (2004:50).
61
Deleuze and Guattari (1984:33).
62
Ibid:374.
63
Ibid.:248-250.

13
for man. Although capitalism is defined by the axiomatic, Deleuze and Guattari reminds us
that this axiomatic is not the invention of capitalism, since it is identical with capital itself.
To the contrary, capitalism is its result. Capitalism ensures the regulation of the axiomatic.64
Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of axiomatic comes from mathematics. Although
capitalism proceeds by means of an axiomatic instead of by a code, this does not mean that
the socius, the social machine, will be replaced by an aggregation of technical machines.
Nor is an axiomatic itself a simple technical machine, even an automatic or cybernetic
machine.65 It is purely operational, without concrete substance. It is an abstract machine.
However, axiomatic is not an isolated formula but rather implies “intuitions” that are
linked to resonances and the conjunction of structures.66 There are several properties of
axiomatic: 1) it fulfills its own immanence; 2) it pushes back or enlarges its limits; 3) it adds
still more axioms while preventing the system from being saturated; 4) it functions well only
by grinding, sputtering, and starting up again; 5) a technocracy and a bureaucracy that cannot
be reduced to the operation of technical machines.
Hardt and Negri have summarized the concept of the axiomatic as: 1) a set of equations
and relationships that determines and combines variables and coefficients immediately and
equally across various terrains without reference to prior, fixed definitions or terms. 2) The
primary characteristic of such an axiomatic is that relations are prior to their terms. 3) Only
when one gives these variables particular values, do the postulates, constituted by sets of
equations of indeterminate variables, become propositions, according to constants chosen.67
Although Hardt and Negri offer a clear picture of what the axiomatic is, however, the set
of equations and relationships is as if a pre-given and existed independently since they focus
more on its operational or functional aspects than its immanent character in their descriptions.
Nonetheless, nothing is pre-given. Deleuze and Guattari wrote the axiomatic and the model
of realization “constantly cross over into each other and are themselves in communication.”68
Moreover because of the immanent character of axiomatic, such as pushing back or enlarging
its limits, adding more axioms, while preventing the system from being saturated, capitalism
makes itself an open and immanent system, saving itself from mutation. Deleuze states that,
What we find most interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an immanent system

64
Ibid.:252.
65
Deleuze and Guattari (1984:251).
66
Ibid. Deleuze and Guattari recognized two kinds of axiomatic. One is scientific axiomatic; the other one
is social axiomatic. However, they thought that many of the characteristics of scientific axiomatic are “even
truer of the social axiomatic.” When they used the term, axiomatic, they referred to social axiomatic mostly.
67
Hardt and Negri (2000:326-7).
68
Deleuze and Guattari (1988:459).

14
that’s constantly overcoming its own limitations, and then coming up against them once
more in a broader form, because its fundamental limit is Capital itself.
Thus, what we have called the mutation of capitalism, as a matter of fact, is its own renewing,
reproducing system. Then how does this relate to disciplinary society and control society?
First of all, Deleuze pointed out that control societies made rapid advances after WWII.
It is a quite reasonable period, because the Great Depression (from 1929 to 1941), following
WWI (from 1914 to 1918), caused the explosion of WWII (from 1939 to 1945), and all of
these factors forced an initially bounded capitalism (based on the nation state) to mutate into
a more open capitalism (focusing on international cooperation, joint exploration of economic
resource, and shared markets, etc.). International business, international investment, and
international organizations all had possibilities to fully develop after WWII. Secondly, as I
have already noted, Deleuze argued that it is easy to set up a correspondence between any
society and a kind of machine (disciplinary societies with thermodynamic machines, control
societies with third generation machines), and this technological development is more deeply
rooted in the mutation of capitalism. Finally, this mutation did not only reflect technological
development, but also reflected its societal perspective. Deleuze wrote that 19th century
capitalism was concentrative, directed on production and proprietary. Within this context,
the factory was a site of confinement, and markets were won either through special, through
colonization, or through decreases in the cost of production. But within the control society,
capitalism is no longer directed toward production but rather metaproduction, i.e. sales and
markets, and markets are won by taking control rather than by establishing a discipline, by
fixing rates than by reducing costs, by transforming products than by specializing production.
In short, marketing is now the instrument of social control and produces the arrogant breed,
who is our master. Furthermore, there is a further dispersion. With factories giving way to
business, families, schools, armies and factories are no longer different and analogous sites
converging on an owner, but instead transmutable or transformable coded configurations of a
single business, where the only people left are administrations.69
With regard to capitalism, there is one more thing I would like to discuss. That is the
social formation and the mode of realization in capitalism. As I have argued in the section
on Political Constitution, Deleuze did not mention any variability in politics when entering
control societies. Nor did he discuss the role of transnational or international organizations.
One of the possible reasons is in my opinion related to his concept of the mode of realization

69
Deleuze (1995:180-181).

15
of capitalism, and the formation of the world axiomatic. Since axiomatic is an abstract
machine with pure functions, it must have a mode of realization to realize itself. In order to
deal with the mode of realization, we must realize what the social formation is. Deleuze and
Guattari define social formation by machinic processes, not by its mode of production. For
them, mode of production in fact depends on machinic processes. They define five types of
social formation. Primitive societies are defined by mechanisms of prevention-anticipation;
state societies by apparatuses of capture; urban societies by instruments of polarization;
nomadic societies by war machines; finally international, or rather ecumenical, organizations
are defined by the encompassment of heterogeneous social formations.70
However, historically, states in the West, rather than other social formations, became the
main modes of realization for an axiomatic of decoded flow. Since capitalism is an endless
process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, when the decoded flow reaches its
capitalist threshold of decoding and deterritorialization, states appear to constitute obstacles
to the further development of capitalism. In this regard, one can see presently that there is
an enormous, so-called stateless monetary mass that circulates through foreign exchange and
across borders and eludes control by the state.
Seen in this light, states seem to be in crisis. However, this challenge is not new at all.
As a matter of fact, it is a continuous process, since capitalism arose, as Deleuze and Guattari
noted: “whatever dimensions or quantities may have assumed today, capitalism has from the
beginning mobilized a force of deterritorialization infinitely surpassing the deterritorialization
proper to the state.”71 Rather than making states decline, Deleuze and Guattari argue that
capitalism made “a mutation in worldwide or ecumenical organizations, which now take on a
consistency of their own: the worldwide axiomatic.”72 Simultaneously, states, in capitalism,
do not cancel each other out but change their form and take on a new meaning: the mode of
realization for a worldwide axiomatic that exceeds them. That is why Deleuze and Guattari
conclude that “there’s no universal state, precisely because there’s a universal market of
which states are the centers, the trading floors.”73
This means that, under the threat of contemporary transnational decoded flows, rather
than producing a new mode of realization, capitalism itself mutates as a worldwide axiomatic,
and the state keeps its role as the mode of realization for a worldwide axiomatic. From this

70
Deleuze and Guattari (1988:435).
71
Ibid.:453.
72
Ibid.:454.
73
Deleuze (1995:172).

16
point of view, neither disciplinary societies nor control societies are the mode of realization
of capitalism but are part of the phenomena that result from the mutation of capitalism.

Its Distinctive Features


Let us return to Deleuze’s control societies. In the evolution from disciplinary societies to
control societies, Deleuze pointed out that many changes took place, in addition to those I
noted previously. I have made a summary of these changes in Table 2, shown as follows.
Table 2: Summary of the Characteristics of Control Societies
Aspects Disciplinary Societies Control Societies
Dominant From 18th century to the Rapid advances after WWII
Period beginning of 20th century
Human A man confined A man in debt
Situation
Technology Confinement (panopticon) Continuous control & instant communication
in open sites
Operation Ruled by precepts Password
Signatures standing for Code
individuals; numbers or
places for their position in
the mass
Corresponding Thermodynamic machines Cybernetic machines and computer
Machine
Economic Production Metaproduction(sale & market)
Activities Factory (a body of men) Business(a soul, a gas)
Market Won either though Won by taking control rather than by
specialization, colonization, establishing a discipline, by fixing exchange
or through reducing the rates than by reducing costs, by transforming
costs of production products than by specializing production
Finance Gold standard Floating exchange
Legal System Apparent Acquittal Endless Postponement
Langue Analogical Digital
Logic Independent variables Inseparable variations
Mold Modulation
Discontinuous Continuous
Starting all over again Never finishing anything
Individuals / Mass Dividuals / Sample, data, “banks”
Geographic Fixed placement Varying geometry
Configuration
Space Confined Sites Surfing among a continuous range of
different orbits
Time Long-term durability Short-term, rapidly changed
Animal Moles Snake
Metaphor
Resistance Delinquency, struck, Computer piracy and virus, vacuoles of
sabotage non-communication, circuit breakers

17
For the sake of this paper, I wish to focus on three characteristics here. They are business,
modulation, and dividuals. From my point of view, business, modulation, and dividuals are
three most important principles of operation in the control societies. They operate on two
different levels. While business deals more with economic things, modulation and dividuals
deal more with technical things. Moreover, I do not mean that this two levels or operations
are totally separated. On the contrary, they work together, such as by dividing employee’s
wages into base pay and incentive pay (operation of modulation) as well as via marketing
surveys (operation of dividuals) in the business sector.
When societies shifted from disciplinary ones to control ones, one of the characteristics
that reflected economic activities was that businesses took over from factories. Deleuze has
written a vivid comparison between factory and business. He wrote: “the factory was a
body of men … but in a control society businesses take over from factories, and business is a
soul, a gas.”74 While factory is a tangible assemblage of men and machines with a concrete
figuration in a confined site, business is an abstract entity without fixed figuration, pervading
everywhere and intertwining with all social aspects. The old proverb “business is business”
now shifts to “everything is business” in contemporary capitalism. So we can see not only
factories being replaced by business, but also schools being replaced by continuing education
and exams through continuous assessment. Originally different but analogous sites, such as
families, schools, armies and factories, converge into a transmutable or transformable coded
configuration of a single business. Art is into infiltrating circuits of banking. Man is no
longer a man confined but a man in debt. As Nicholas Thoburn stated, “the business (and
control more generally), while subsuming discipline’s sites of enclosure, is still only one
diagram of governance and accumulation, integrated with those of, say, the debt economy, the
camp and war.” In short, when societies shift from disciplinary ones to control ones,
business, instead of declining with factories, blossoms everywhere and gets invigorated
through the mutation of capitalism, which makes it become a real monster.
Now in regard to “modulation”, within disciplinary societies, placement is the essential
technique to execute disciplinary power, and at the same time physical bodies are the direct
target of disciplinary power. Although each confined site is an independent variable, they
are in actuality analogous to each other. In comparison to disciplinary societies, control
power is not executed through placement but through variable forms, and physical bodies are
no longer necessary to be as a direct target. Furthermore, those variable forms of control are

74
Deleuze (1995:179).

18
inseparable variations, forming a system of varying geometry whose language is digital.
Deleuze once wrote that, “confinements are molds… while controls are a modulation, like a
self-transmuting molding continually changing from one moment to the next, or like a sieve
whose mesh varies from one point to another.”75 He gave two examples to illustrate how
modulation works. The first example is wages. Instead of the bonus system in disciplinary
societies, an incentive pay system is introduced in control societies, which causes wages into
a state of constant metastability punctuated by challenges, competitions, and seminars.
The other example given by Deleuze is Guattari’s town in imagination. In that town,
everyone owns an electronic card to open barriers for leaving or entering a place. However,
that card can be rejected on a particular time or day; “it doesn’t depend on the barrier but on
the computer that is making sure everyone is in a permissible place, and effecting a universal
modulation.”76 Yet for many people today, Guattari’s imagination is not an imagination at
all but a reality of everyday life. Although there may be few differences between Guattari’s
imagination and our real life, such differences are mainly differences of scale, not in quality.
In addition to wages and Guattatri's verifying system, there are many other different
modulations operating everywhere nowadays. Programmable and upgradeable are almost
becoming the pronoun of modulation now. People who own computers without doubt have
experiences of upgrading new operating systems or anti virus programs in order to modulate
the computer to adapt to new situations. Because of the frequency of the need to upgrade,
some operating systems or programs provide options for users to upgrade automatically.
While upgrading becomes a fashion, the ability to upgrade has become a commodity. Users
are asked to pay to obtain or continue the right to upgrade. Moreover, upgrading itself is
becoming a means to defeat firmware hack or software piracy.77 However, while the ability
to upgrade provides users with convenience and producer of product with possession, there is
something more dangerous that scares me. What scares me is not the power invoked via
modulation, but a reality, marked by the function of modulation, that one is within the system.
In control societies, the only truth is that the control society is “a regime of social subjection”

75
Deleuze (1995:178-179).
76
Ibid.:182.
77
For example, after upgrading i-phone's firmware, any third party software will be disabled, and if i-phone is
hacked into by third party software, some of its communication abilities will be disabled, or it will be locked
back to default system settings. The other example is Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Office.
During upgrading, if this software is piracy, upgrading will be either stopped or it will be interrupted by the
message below in the lower-right corner of the screen: "You may be a victim of software counterfeiting. This
copy of Windows did not pass genuine Windows validation". Then there will be a 30 day period when one can
use software before being deactivated.

19
besides its original “machinic enslavement”.78 Deleuze and Guattari distinguish machinic
enslavement and social subjection as two separate concepts. They once wrote:
There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine
that they compose among themselves and with other things (animal, tools), under the
control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity
constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a now exterior object, which can be an
animal, a tool, or even a machine. The human being is no longer a component of the
machine, but a work, a user.79
However, we will see that this kind of subjection is further developed under control societies’
logic of dividuals.80 Deleuze argues that under control societies, “we’re no longer dealing
with a duality of mass and individual. Individuals become “dividuals”, and masses become
samples, data, markets or “banks.”81 Deleuze did not offer further descriptions or examples
of what he meant by “dividuals”. C. Colwell viewed it as a process to constantly defer the
formation of identity. He maintained that “while disciplinary power operates through the
construction of an individual out of the personal component of individual, control operates
through the pre-personal itself.”82 Although Colwell provides a useful perspective on the
operation of control societies and a strategy to escape from the trap of binary opposition
between individuality and dividuality, I understand “dividuals” from a different perspective.
Deleuze’s previous statement begins from the “duality of mass and individual”, and then
ends with the pair of “dividuals”, and “samples, data, markets or “banks.” This implies first
of all, the concept of dividuals is inseparable from the concept of “samples, data, markets or
“banks.” Secondly, although there’s been a long recognition that the ‘individual’ was the
smallest possible socio-political unit, which could not be subdivided any further, however,
from Deleuze’s description, we can sense that there is the advent of a new technique, which
further divides an individual (as a whole) into smaller pieces (information) in control
societies. I call this new technique coding for decoding, and I use social surveys as examples
to describe its operation. In a typical social survey, usually with 2,000 respondents, there
are about 20~30 variables describing certain respondent’s characteristics. Then we can say

78
Deleuze and Guattari (1988:451). Regarding regimes of social subjection, Deleuze and Guattari (1988:451)
wrote, “cybernetic machines and informational machine form a third age that reconstructs a generalized regime
of subjection: recurrent and reversible ‘humans-machines system’ replace the nonrecurrent and nonreversible
relations of subjection between the two elements; the relation between human and machine is based on internal,
mutual communication, and no longer on usage or action.”
79
Ibid.::456-7.
80
I do not mean to say that social subjection is the only existing operation in societies of control. It is clear
that nowadays machinic enslavement and social subjection operate simultaneously in relation to the same thing
and the same event. However, in this regard I simply wish to point out how social subjection operates.
81
Deleuze (1995:180).
82
Clowell (1996:211).

20
that each variable (information) is a “dividual” deprived from a single individual. This new
coding for decoding technique is different from the coding operation in previous territorial
social machines (codifying) or despotic social machines (overcoding) in two ways. On the
one hand, the characteristics of code in previous social formations are “indirect, qualitative,
and limited”, but in societies of control, they are direct, numeral, and unlimited.83 On the
other hand, this new coding is purely operational and its goal is to decode the information
from the individual without interposing any other factors, such as norms, rules and relations,
upon the individual, while creating a pseudo relationship between the information and the
individual. As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this paper, I said that a Google search
of “Deleuze” and “control society” already embodies the logic and operation of “control
society”. While the keywords “Deleuze” and “control society” act as “dividuals”, the whole
aggregation of literature machines composed by all the writing materials become samples and
databanks. Google is then like a programmable interface, which allows us to combine any
“keyword” to execute searching as long as the previous two conditions (dividual/databanks)
are met. Moreover, this coding and decoding happens spontaneously, and for most of time
its operation on an individual is contingent, not intentional, and even not on the full-scale of a
society. Unlike the coding operation in older territorial social machines or despotic social
machines, coding is a full-scale operation on the whole society that persists for a long time.
However, any single piece of information (“dividual”) is meaningless; its meaning must
come from the aggregation of similar pieces of information (the “samples, data, markets or
“banks”). For example, it is meaningless, if we have only one data set on a single person
about whether a person smokes or not and whether that person has lung cancer. However,
when the aggregation of similar information on different people reaches to a certain amount,
for example, two thousand, it is obvious that some kind of knowledge/discourse is formed.
Moreover, this knowledge/discourse can often be empowered by other knowledge/discourses,
scholarly research, and the power of government. After that, not only is a kind of coercive
force formed, but also people who fit the sample became biological suspects.84
Under the operation of “dividual”, we are “subjected” in a triple sense. First of all, we
are subjected to “dividuals” as a form of information. Secondly, we are subjected to the
“samples, data, markets or “banks” as a part of an aggregation of “dividuals”. Finally, we
are subject to those who utilize this knowledge from the “samples, data, markets or “banks.”

83
Regarding the characteristics of code in previous social formations, see Deleuze and Guattari (1984:247-8).
84
Ortiz and Brigg (2003).

21
Deleuze posted some rhetorical questions when our societies entered control societies:
“Wouldn’t it be better to spread out the treatment? To the home? ” “Wouldn’t the system of
subcontracting and work at home be better?” “Aren’t there means of punishing people other
than prison?”85 Yes, they are better in some degree, however they are nothing but a wolf in
sheep’s clothing. This is why Deleuze wrote: “compared with the approaching forms of
ceaseless control in open sites, we may come to see the harshest confinement as part of a
wonderful happy past,” because the control societies are really terrifying.86
Deleuze used animal metaphors to refer to disciplined society as a mole and to control
society as a snake. Although moles construct tunnels under ground, which seems invisible
and secluded, both moles’ tunnels and burrows are still confined sites and moles’ movement
follow the existent tunnels. On the contrary, even snakes coil and move under the open
ground, and it seems that we can watch their movements. However, in fact the snakes’
movement preparation is already done before we even see it. When snakes prepare to move,
the scales on their belly are pulled forward and backwards as the scales are aligned much like
a ratchet. Then, all of a sudden, with their preparation, snakes swiftly make their move in
any direction before people can anticipate it. Indeed, from this point of view, snakes are not
only much more complicated but also much more cunning than moles.

The Problem of Communication


Deleuze argued that “the quest for ‘universals of communication’ ought to make us shudder,”
and in order to escape from control societies, he hypothesized that “the key thing may be to
create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control.”87 So, why
does communication make Deleuze shudder? What is the problem invoked by
communication? In addition to his advice that the control of communication is on the way
to becoming hegemonic, Deleuze has given us two aspects to illustrate the contemporary
situation of communication. The first is a more practical one that communication has been
corrupted.88 Deleuze has argued that communication is thoroughly permeated by money.
According to conventional Western scholars, communication primarily works under the sway
of debate in order to create “consensus” and functions as a machine for constituting
Universals in every discipline.89 But in reality, when the philosophy of communication
exhausts itself in its search for universal liberal opinion (consensus), what exists then is “the

85
Deleuze (1998:18).
86
Deleuze (1995:175).
87
Ibid.
88
Ibid.
89
Deleuze and Guattari (1994:6).

22
cynical perceptions and affections of the capitalist”, and the only universal in capitalism is
the market.90
The second problem is an ontological one. Deleuze’s understanding of communication
follows from his position that “communication is the transmission and the propagation of a
piece of information.”91 However, “what is a piece of information?” Deleuze’s answer is
that information, as a grouping of order-words, is precisely the system of control.92
Obviously, Deleuze’s understanding of information derives from his understanding of
language. Deleuze and Guattari once wrote:
The elementary unit of language – the statement – is the order-word. Rather than
common sense, a faculty for the centralization of information, we must define an
abominable faculty consisting in emitting, receiving, and transmitting order-words.
Language is made not to believe but to be obeyed, and to complement obedience.93
They further argued that “order-words do not concern commands only, but every act that is
linked to statements by a “social obligation”94 In many respects, Deleuze’s concept of the
order-word is similar to Burroughs’ “word virus”. However, I cannot address comparisons
between them here. What I wish to say instead is that the narrative forms of communication
are themselves implicated in a specific mode of human subjectification. As Deleuze has
argued, “that is clearly of particular concern to us today”.95
There is a third problem. What does “to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit
breakers” mean? Because modern communication is thoroughly permeated by money, and
the narrative forms of communication are themselves implicated in a specific mode of human
subjectification, do we really need to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers?
Vacuoles of noncommunication are zones where there is no communication at all within and
where there is no communication between inside and outside. Circuit breakers do not create
any zones but simply cut off communication anywhere and anytime. Thus, both vacuoles of
noncommunication and circuit breakers are not related to what is being communicated or its
corruption by money. There is no communication. In short, the third one has nothing to do
with content and is more fundamentally about connection itself in communication.
What is the connection in contemporary communication? Marshall McLuhan has
cleverly distinguished media, not according to the content of the forms transmitted, even not

90
Ibid.:146.
91
Deleuze (1998:17).
92
Ibid.
93
Ibid.:76.
94
Ibid.:79.
95
Deleuze (1988:17).

23
according to the media itself, but by the degree of participation of the participants.96 So the
difference between theatre and television is not because of stage, nor art forms, nor lighting,
but because of the degree of participation by the audience. The higher the participation is,
the cooler media becomes and vice versa. This point involves the participation. Deleuze
wrote that “information is communicated to us”. All of us are participants whether one is
aware of it or not.97 Connection in communication is not only like a line between the
transmitter and the receiver, but also like a web trapping us within. To connect is to plug in.
Since either information or communication must have a transmitter as a starting point
and the receiver as an end, the only movement they can achieve is the migrant, not nomad,
and the only space they can create is striated space, not smooth space, in Deleuzian terms.98
Scott Lash has shown how “the logic of flows is the logic of communication” today.99
Just as the logic of flows is the logic of communication, all flows get their telos. There is no
way for any free flow to exist, and just at that point, control societies infiltrate our life.

Conclusion: The Contemporary Threat


Are we in the heaven of communication? We have at our disposal of email, which we can
send and receive a file up to 20 MB in size, mobiles with CDMA or 3.5G technology,
Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with Instant Messenger (IM), VOIP (Voice over IP, such as
Skype or Google Talk), or wireless technologies (Wi-Fi, WiMax), and cars with GPS devices,
and so on. We can communicate with almost anyone anywhere and anytime without going
to any specific place or carrying cumbersome equipment. Is this heaven?
Yes, it might be, but at the same time we become further subjected to control societies as
well. In the disciplinary society, we lived or stayed in its confined sites. Nowadays, we do
not need to live or stay in its confined sites anymore. On the other hand, one might be able
to run, but where can one hide now?

96
McLuhan (1965:23).
97
For example, after people became familiar with the use of the internet, when they turn on the computer, they
usually go online automatically at the same time. No matter whether we use the internet or not, as long as the
computer is still being connected, it continues to communicate with the router or gateway etc., and at the same
time records continue to be created. These records, such as operation logs, are used to for IT staff’s reference,
but they also have the potential for surveillance use. The other well-known example is CCTV, which records
anything under its lens without having to obtain anyone's prior consent.
98
As for migrant and nomad, Deleuze and Guattari (1988:380) wrote, “the nomad is not at all the same as the
migrant; for the migrant goes principally from one point to another, even if the second point is uncertain,
unforeseen, or not well localized. But the nomad goes from point to point only as a consequence and as a
factual necessity; in principle, points for him are relays along a trajectory.” As for striated and smooth space,
Deleuze and Guattari (1988:480) wrote, “in the case of striated, the line is between two points, while in the case
of smooth, the point is between two lines.”
99
Lash (2002:112).

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