Me, Myself and I

I have brought this up a number of times already, but if my memory serves me, I haven’t covered ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ by Gilles Deleuze in detail. I’m not sure who translated this as it’s not evident from the article itself. I may know who it is, but I can’t remember who it is at the moment. Anyway, the crux of the text is examining Foucault’s views on the society, how it’s disciplinary, having all these institutions, and arguing that we are no longer in a disciplinary society but in a society of control. I remember pointing out in some earlier essay that it’s hard to say whether he is right or whether we are still well in the disciplinary society. I guess it’s a matter of interpretation of the situation, as well as how one understands discipline. Perhaps it’s like with the movement from sovereign society to disciplinary society, having elements of both operating. I’m not sure who the Napoleon is in this case though. Pure reason?

I won’t go explaining discipline, as then I’d be writing an earlier essay again. Anyway, in short, in ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison’, Michel Foucault (135) elaborates docile bodies as being something that can be acted upon in order to make them into something, as if gradually shaping clay according a certain mold. In that earlier essay I approached the topic via my own experience of military service, the crux being how it gradually shapes you, both your body and your thinking, by setting up certain spatial and temporal conditions, making you visible at all times (you have next to no privacy) and regulating and organizing your daily activities, as well as checking up on your development through examinations, ranging from the spot checks on cleanliness (floors, furniture, rifles) to periodic tests physical fitness, marksmanship and handling of equipment. I think it is only apt to call it all very, very … regimented. Anyway, the military is, of course, only one of these disciplinary institutions. One starts from home, being … schooled by your parents, then you go to school or schools (graduate through the different levels of primary and secondary education), do the military service (if applicable) and end up in a factory. While working in factories is no longer that common in western societies (it sure is elsewhere though) and you may never work in one, you probably have worked in an office, which, in my opinion, is not unlike a factory. I have done all of these and they are, when you think of it, remarkable similar, even if military may stand out as being the one where you are commanded to do something, just because your rank is inferior to someone else. Perhaps it also stands out because it is no longer something people go through in most western societies. Of course that doesn’t really change anything. When you think of it, if you do go through it, it may actually do you good in this regard, making you more aware of how it works as the roles are very clear to everyone. Those in command are not exactly friendly to you. In comparison, in schools, for example, while teachers are not exactly your friends, they are not supposed push you around but to facilitate learning. It’s a bit ironic, in a way, when you think of it. In this sense schools are way worse as the people there are actually quite nice, at least in comparison to the military. Maybe work is closer to military in this regard, at least in the factory and the office environments, you know, you have a boss or bosses who can … boss you around. That said, in the military it is very clear who’s who as it is quite clearly marked. The more gold in the insignia, the more you should respect them, as well as avoid them for that very reason, hence resulting in autodiscipline in order to avoiding potential punishments.

Back to the short article, Deleuze (4) summarizes Foucault’s work explaining what I just did, how we go through these institutions, one after another, all sharing a common language as to how they operate, but you have start from scratch each time you move from one stage to another. Deleuze (4) refers to them as interiors or enclosures, which they are, yet, I’d argue that it’s not a necessity that they are. It’s just way easier, or should I say simply efficient, to have people stay indoors rather than outdoors. In my opinion enclosure is a better word here as it doesn’t necessitate being walled in. It’s more like being fenced in, although I don’t think you even need a fence. For example, in primary school we did spend most of our time indoors, yet we did venture out and did do sports on the field next to the school. There were no fences to keep us there, only the watchful eye of the teacher to keep us in check. For the most part that worked perfectly as people didn’t scatter once they weren’t fenced in. As an anecdote here, I remember undermining the physical education teacher at least on one occasion. I disagreed with a call that led to a penalty kick in football. When the teacher placed the ball on the spot, I just went in and kicked it off the field. Obviously that changed nothing, yet that didn’t stop me from doing it again, but this time subsequently telling the teacher off for, you know, being blind (as you’d do to referees) and just leaving the school premises. I think it was the last lesson in school so I just ventured home. What could the teacher do? Diddly squat. Nothing. The teacher had to look after everyone so, yeah, nothing could be done. Anyway, this only tells us that having fences and walls do serve a purpose. That said, I was clearly not disciplined enough. As I pointed out, for the most part such transgressions didn’t occur and no walls or fences were actually needed to keep the children in check. Yours truly just had a flaring temper, a passion not properly subdued by discipline. It tended to go off when I felt had been aggrieved. It didn’t take long to learn that it was pointless to direct it at the teacher, the referee. Instead I started using it within the game against opposing players, to get under their skin. I’d do minor infractions, here and there, being a nuisance rather than a danger, by, for example, conveniently knowing when to step on to someone’s path who was running at full speed. Of course it would result in a free kick or the like, pending what the game was, but it was well calculated and I’d just smirk at the opposing player, saying something along the lines of that I can’t understand why you’d run into me, why is it that I have to watch where you are going, for you, and if you can’t see that you are running into someone else, then you better slow down. In other words, it didn’t take long for me to learn to channel my own grievance into someone else’s grievances. I think it’s worth pointing out that I no longer do such and haven’t done in years. I just can’t be bothered.

Moving on, Deleuze’s (4) suggests that, in societies control, enclosures are no longer necessary. I don’t think he means that we won’t make use of them, but instead that walls and fences don’t function the same way as they did. Now they are more like mere physical barriers. The point is that we don’t need to be put into our place in space, for example, by being assigned to a certain room or area, to keep a watchful eye on us or at least have us think that someone is keeping an eye on us when we can be kept track of otherwise. For a lack of better word, we could speak of beacons. For example, your phone is a beacon. Your position can be tracked via GPS and/or triangulating your position in relation to base stations (cell towers). This information can be used for various purposes, for example, to provide you targeted advertising based on your actual location. For example, when you are close to a certain store and you look up something on your smartphone, you may notice that the ads are related to that store. In other words, the store is making use of the information you provide of yourself, i.e. where you are at at that moment, in order to get you to that store … in order for you to end up buying something. The same type of information could also be aggregated, and likely is, to track your routines, where you are at any given time of the day, week, month, year, in order to get a picture of what you might desire in your life. Oh, it seems that you go spend time on the nearby running track a number of times in the week, moving at this pace, meaning you must be into running, so how about you buy a pair of new sneakers? We know just the right pair for you and just the right store for you. It also seems that you are doing it in the evenings, so how about some reflective gear? We wouldn’t want you to get run over by a car, now would we? Deleuze (4) characterizes enclosures as molds or castings, but in a society of control they are flexible, continuously self-deforming according to the changing parameters. This is what Deleuze (4) calls modulation. The examples I just provided are, at least in my view, this type of modulation. There are no presets, but an ever changing personalized mesh that feeds on your behavior in order to push you to a desirable outcome, tailored according to your data. This is also particularly relevant to what Deleuze (5) calls dividuality, everyone becoming “masses, samples, data, markets, or ‘banks.’” Now, so far I only mentioned the position data. We need to add all the other factors in the mix as well, all that people tell of themselves, neatly labeling themselves as liking or following this and/or that. So, even when you end up going off the rails, for example going on a holiday, your smartphone may suggest you to go to this or that store or shop in an unknown environment, just because the system knows that you like, say, latte macchiatos, craft beer, handbags or genuine leather shoes (feel free to think of other alternatives). As David Savat (48-49) puts it in ‘Deleuze’s Objectile: From Discipline to Modulation’, it’s no longer about merely keeping an eye on you, but anticipating what you do, coming up with patterns in order to simulate what happens before it happens. Thinking in terms of segmentarity that I explored in my previous essays, this is what, I reckon, Deleuze and Félix Guattari (226-227) call fine segmentation in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. It’s worth noting that it is not flow despite occurring on the molecular level. It’s still very much segmented. It’s just very fine segmentation. As I pointed out in the previous essays, the problem with segmentation is that it is that it is based on impotence to actually control the flow. Fine segmentation is, obviously, handicapped by the same thing as it’s still segmentation, but it does offer an improvement in control. With the vast and rapid improvements in data processing, it’s no longer unfeasible to micromanage people when much of it is automated in the administrative end, albeit I guess you could say that people are actually micromanaging themselves as it’s people themselves who abstract or reduce themselves into data, as aptly noted by Bent Meier Sørensen (65) in ‘How to Surf: Technologies at Work in the Societies of Control’. Anyway, this is why Deleuze (6) states that “[t]he operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters.” Now, of course, if you have read Deleuze and/or Guattari, you’ll know that they are not saying that there are conspirators behind the scenes, attempting to control you. Instead, the point is that there is no one specific behind the wheel, no great conspiracy.

So far I have avoided bringing up what Deleuze focuses on the article. He is not exactly addressing the commercial aspect of modulation. He is actually focused on the state side of things. He (7) brings up an example imagined by Guattari, which is, in summary, essentially an access card system, you know, how instead of a mechanical lock you have a card or a fob that you use with or without contact with some reader, which knows which cards and/or fobs may or may not provide entry. Their operation may also be limited to only certain hours, as noted by Deleuze (7). The crucial thing is that they also keep a record of whose card or fob was used to enter, where and when, as noted by Deleuze (7). That way you can keep tabs on people. Now, if one truly wanted to be efficient, one would just chip the people instead of giving them cards or fobs. Stuff can be stolen, whereas people, well, not so. Alternatively, one would go for fingerprint and/or retinal scanning. It doesn’t actually matter how it is put into place. How it’s all implemented is only a matter of details.

Actually, at the moment, a smartphone more or less does all of this tracking better than cards or fobs. It gathers all kinds of data, starting from your position. What it also gets depends on the software. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that big tech companies, social media or not, may well know all the contents of your smartphone, including your contacts, who you have messaged and made calls to, who has messaged you and called you, all your photos, videos, audio files, what other applications you have used, what sites you have browsed (what photos or videos you’ve perused). The thing is that you’ve probably given them permission to do so when installing some app. Maybe you had the option to disable such features, but just didn’t. Then again maybe you did. Maybe you are one of the few who stays on top of one’s game. That’s all well and good, at least relatively so, but you are still surrounded by a vast majority of people who most likely don’t know about such, don’t know how to customize settings or simply don’t care about such. Why’s that an issue? Well, it all depends, but it’s known that even if you keep your things in order, others may be granting access to that data. So, for example, for the sake of argument, let’s say that your device is secure (unless hacked into) but you are in contact with devices that aren’t. Whatever you send them will be exposed to a third party (or third parties). Obviously what they send back to you is also exposed already in their end. That way it’s possible to get information off of you because you are in a network of devices. The tricky part is whether you’ve consented to it or not. Any message to anyone is fair game for the recipient to disclose to third parties, pending that the recipient does so willingly. I can show letters and emails to others without needing a consent to it (albeit this may not be the case in different jurisdictions). What can’t be done is grabbing the message in between, having a look at it and/or making a copy of it for future reference, well, unless done by an entity with rights granted to it to do so (think of intelligence agencies). Now you might object to showing emails or letters to third parties. Of course, you are right when it comes to the content, which itself may or may not be disclosed to third parties. Say you tell something very personal to a friend in a letter and that gets disclosed to others. That may not be ok (again, depends on the jurisdiction). Same with anything that you are not allowed to disclose to others without an agreement to do so. Think of state secrets or the like. Same applies to anything you have signed a non-disclosure agreement on. That said it’s not the message itself that is protected. These cases have to do with the content that should not be made public. Anyway, back to the issue itself. It’s tricky to say what can be done with your data that reaches third parties through intermediaries, that is to say people you are in contact with. They may well have granted permission for third parties to do so or not ever bothered to customize the settings to disable such features. Technically they have consented, agreed to give access to this and that when they installed something on their device and/or signed into some system. They probably just didn’t read the end-user license agreement (EULA) and/or the terms of service (ToS). It’s pretty much the same as putting your name in a contract that you didn’t even read. That might still be fine in legal terms, but them getting the said content that is not ok probably isn’t. That said, there’s probably a clause in the agreement or terms of service where it states that you are not allowed to do this and that, especially anything that would be illegal in your jurisdiction, thus putting the blame on you. This way they may get the content without having to worry over having the said, potentially questionable, content. If having that content becomes a problem, it is possible to point to the user who is to blame. Okay, I’m not a lawyer so I can’t know for sure if such strategy is actually water tight in court.

Another related issue has to do with how data is stored. The more data of you, among others, is stored in one place, the more attractive it is for others to try to get it. Now, this is, obviously, the business model for the tech giants. The more information they get off people, the better picture they have. They can then thus profile you, as I elaborated some paragraphs back. They probably aren’t selling data as such because that might result in actual competition using the said data. Instead they are, I reckon, selling a service, a platform to use for targeted advertising that is supposed to maximize the impact on people and push people buy whatever it is that they happen to desire. The more comprehensive the data is on an individual, or should I say dividual as Deleuze (5) puts it, the more valuable that data is. Simply put, the point is to have enough data on the level of the dividual to be able to predict people’s desires, always staying ahead of the game, conveniently offering people whatever they will happen to desire at any given moment. So, ideally, for the companies that is, when you are somewhere and feel like you could use a cup of coffee, your smartphone pushes you an add of café nearby, no not the one actually closest to you, but another one a bit further off from your location because they serve latte macchiatos, something that you keep raving about to others. They also know that you actually go for them because that payment app on your phone you use to make purchases is gathering data on your purchases and you have granted them a permission to make use of the said data. It could also be that, say, your music app is keeping a record of what music you play and that you tend to play certain songs by certain artists in certain locations, say, in a café. You walk somewhere close to that café and all the sudden your phone is suggesting music you tend to listen while you sip a latte macchiato. In other words, your phone is trying to tell you that you should go for a coffee. It might also be that the closest café, the one nearby, is not bidding as high as the other café when it comes to ads, so that’s why the closest place won’t come up on your phone. It could involve all kinds of data that makes this happen.

Back to Deleuze (7) who addresses the institutions that Foucault examined: prison, school, hospital and factory. In societies of control these systems do not exactly cease to exist but their nature changes, no longer having a beginning and an end. Prison system changes from penalties strict confinement to monitoring people. The examples provided here are not necessarily that well formulated. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by electronic collars. I know ankle monitors are used these days. To make it more effective though, one could do what what was already suggested, make it so that one can only access certain areas, possibly at certain times of the day, open certain doors with certain credentials, thus effectively locking in people as a penalty. Deleuze also mentions substitution as a solution for minor infractions. I take it to means fines and/or certain temporary loss of privileges, once again, for example, restricting access, or having to do something useful in order to regain the said privileges. Deleuze also mentions the potential for the return of older methods, dating back to the societies of sovereignty. He doesn’t elaborate on this, but when you think of it, spectacular public executions, known in French as supplice, have made a comeback, albeit no one actually gets physically tortured and then killed in the end of it all, as elaborated by Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish’. What we have now has been modified. Now people whose behavior is deemed as immoral or undesirable by others are publicly shamed to the point that they become marked as pariahs. It matters not that what they have done is not deemed illegal. It matters not that they may have not even done anything. A mere allegation is a sign of guilt. Okay, to be fair, something tells me that supplice was applied to people based on mere allegation in the societies of sovereignty as well. That’s not new. What’s new is that the person now has to live after the public execution. It may come to light that you have been subjected to false accusations in which case the punishing ceases. That said, what’s the remit, the recourse, the reimbursement for being this? Nothing. Where do you even petition for redress? Nowhere. You may have been acquitted of the guilt, including of the guilt of not having committed a crime mind you, but you have suffered consequences as if you did something wrong, being a pariah for long enough for it to impact your life, possibly profoundly, perhaps to a point of no return in many areas of your life. On top of that, people may still treat you with suspicion. The best you are going to get out of people is “sorry”. Even if there was some monetary reimbursement, the losses probably include all kinds of things that cannot be measured in money. What was it that Deleuze and Guattari (228) stated in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ about supple microfascism that doesn’t end up in a totalitarian regime?:

“A multitude of black holes may very well not become centralized, and acts instead as viruses adapting to the most varied situations, sinking voids in molecular perceptions and semiotics. Interactions without resonance. … [W]e are trapped in a thousand little monomanias, self-evident truths, and clarities that gush from every black hole and no longer form a system, but are only rumble and buzz, blinding lights giving any and everybody the mission of self-appointed judge, dispenser of justice, policeman, neighborhood SS man.”

To open this up a bit, if you haven’t read the book, the black holes are the people, the subjects. People don’t resonate with one another to form a system. What we end up instead is a mass of people who believe that they can see every little imperfection with a perfect clarity, people who appoint themselves as judges and executioners. This is the system of vigilantism and mob rule. Kangaroo court is an apt word to describe how this works as a system. Depending on the circumstances, it could also be referred to as excommuniation or anathematization, with a possibility of repentance. That said, that assumes that past wrongs, actual or supposed, can be repented under such system. I just have feeling that it’s not that easy, a mere matter of excommunication and lifting it once the person is allowed back into the fold. I reckon another curse, scapegoating, as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari (116), is more apt here, given it has to do with priests charging the scapegoat with everything negative, the sins of others to put it in Biblical terms, and then banish the scapegoat to somewhere where its taint won’t spread. I take it that the scapegoat is also supposed to eventually die somewhere where it’s death won’t spill all that bad blood on to people.

Moving on, Deleuze (7) characterizes the transformation of the school system, shifting from a system of stages, going from one level to another and then finally graduating (to be followed by military and/or work life), to a system of perpetual training. Ever hear of ‘lifelong learning’, that buzzword that, to my memory, kept being repeated when I went through the school system. I don’t think Deleuze is against this, per se, considering he is the one to promote becoming over being. I think here it’s rather that it becomes required of people, so people are not doing it on their own terms. Typically you learn something in school, only to be tested whether you learned something. So, for example, you have a course that includes certain number of hours of teaching, followed by an examination at the end of the course. The problem with this is that it doesn’t actually test what you learned, but instead what you managed to express you’ve learned. In the perpetual model there is no specific examination, but a series of examinations as you are continuously being evaluated. This is hardly practical if the learning is pen and paper based, just as it was when I went to school. It just takes too much time to evaluate. I don’t know how it elsewhere, but digitalization has been the talk of the town for years now in Finland. Sometimes it’s almost comical how (supposed) experts rave about how revolutionary it is to swap a book for a tablet. So far I have not exactly been convinced by it all. To my understanding, much of the content has been replicating the design of books in electronic form. However, that’s just a side note. There’s arguably a lot of potential to employing the latest technology in education. I for sure make use of it on an everyday basis. Just having the access to all kinds of books, articles, guides and videos on this and that facilitates learning and becoming. Anyway, the sinister side of this is that when it is possible to automatically assess what students do on their devices, the students are continuously subjected to evaluation. Deleuze (7) is also concerned with the corporatization of the education system, including the universities that no longer focus on research but instead on learning. I don’t think this has happened though. Instead research itself has turned corporate, everything now being a project with a budget, professors at the helm as the managers responsible for all the administrative matters. Universities and the researchers compete for funding that is distributed in consultation with the very people who are also the (potential) recipients of the said funding. This makes sure that no one rocks the boat and keeps out the outlandish individuals who might threaten those already established, either on payroll or funded. Research output is measured in quantity and quality is assessed according to impact factors and rank, not the quality of the content itself. The problem with this aspect is that, again, the very same people involved in research themselves act as the judges and executioners of their peers, which is particularly convenient when its all anonymous. I don’t know about others but at least I have little respect for anonymous judges and executioners. I guess calling it running a gauntlet would be apt as well as you may make it but it’s more likely that you get clubbed in the process. That’s sort of the purpose of the gauntlet anyway, at least originally, to make it seem it’s possible, only to be worn down in the process. Publishing is also big business, so there’s that as well. We just can’t have something where research is accessible to everyone and have just about anyone to write something, in ways that are not standardized in both form and content. What would the priests do then?

What comes to the hospital system, Deleuze (7) states that it will be a system in which its about risk assessment, knowing who’s got what condition and at what risk they are for this and that. This connects to the dividuation of people, how people are judged as having this or that condition or ailment. Bring in the corporation into this and you’ve got a system where people are excluded from healthcare for existing conditions and/or charged substantially more for having certain conditions. This may also extend to the prediction of risks. In this scenario the system not only knows of your medical history, how many times you’ve had a flu or something more serious, how many time you’ve broken bones, pulled a muscle etc., but also your habits, say using the elevator instead of the stairs, that is to say not exercising enough, choosing the fattier cheese than the light version, that is to say your diet. Health care and its costs can then be tailored accordingly, based not only on existing conditions but also on various other routine risk factors. We could add mental health conditions to that as well. Oh, you are very healthy with no existing conditions, no prior history besides the occasional flu, and you have healthy habits, that’s good, but you are very stressed about it, well, that’ll put you at risk in other ways and that’ll cost accordingly. You also have a lot of sharp corners at home, notably all those tables. That’s added risk in your life. This list could go on and on. Now imagine it all being monitored at all times, with your payments for healthcare and/or insurances judged accordingly.

Deleuze doesn’t address the work life that much. In general, the factory system is replaced by the corporate system. One of specific examples he (7) does provide is that of internships, having young people compete for unpaid work, often in succession, going from one unpaid internship to another. I don’t think all internships and apprenticeships work this way, yet, to my understanding, it’s not uncommon either. The corporations are happy to get free or very cheap people to work for them. The idea is, of course, that people would get to try-out and the companies would be able to thus see if the person is worth the position, but to my understanding it’s not exactly uncommon that there are no positions to fill, except the intern positions, which are always filled by new people once the previous ones are no longer eligible to outside funding (for example university or government funding). This results in those now with experience being in a worse positions than those without (well, until that happens to them as well). If they struggle to land a new position somewhere else, whatever the terms may be, then the future employers may view it with suspicion that the person has a notable gap in the relevant records. That means that you need to fill in the gaps with some further training or work multiple jobs simultaneously, just to make things look better. This is, however, a topic for another essay I have in mind, so this will be enough of this, for now.

What else is there? Well, the article is fairly short, so there isn’t much more to it. What I haven’t covered yet is how in societies of control the dividual data gathered by corporations can also be directly used against the individual, not just utilized for corporate interests. If all that data exists, states are sure to lay claim to it, mandating handing over the data on anyone for whatever the reason may be for them to be interested in someone. The one that pops up the most these days has to do with security. The logic is that if companies can keep tabs on people for advertising purposes, then, well, surely the same data must be accessible for security purposes. So, even if you don’t mind being pushed by commercial interests of corporations, you may mind that data being used to track position and behavior, possibly in real time. One workaround is, of course, stop buying into dividuality, not splitting yourself, not clinging to the past, but instead embracing the instability of the self, focusing on becoming, tapping into potential. Why not just go with flow?


  • Deleuze, G. ([1990] 1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3–7.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foucault, M. ([1975] 1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Savat, D. (2009). Deleuze’s Objectile: From Discipline to Modulation. In M. Poster and D. Savat (Eds.), Deleuze and New Technology (pp. 45–62). Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Sørensen, B. M. (2009). How to Surf: Technologies at Work in the Societies of Control. In M. Poster and D. Savat (Eds.), Deleuze and New Technology (pp. 63–81). Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.