We live in a control society

Control company:[i]


Under the concept of the control society, Deleuze subsumes a number of tendencies which he identifies in today's society and which he sets apart from the medieval "sovereign society" and from the "disciplinary society" described above all by Michel Focault.[ii] What Deleuze is doing here is, so to speak, a genealogy of power by examining which shifts have occurred in its modes of action.


The sovereign societies culminated in the late Middle Ages. They differ from the disciplinary societies that followed them, which had completely different functions and pursued different goals. A society of sovereignty is characterized by the fact that the representatives of power try to simply skim off as much as possible of what is produced instead of, for example, organizing production better. Something similar happens when dealing with human life: life and death are decided instead of trying to manage human life and integrate it into a production apparatus.


Foucault assigned the disciplinary societies to the 18th and 19th centuries and made their climax in the 20th century. They function essentially via so-called “inclusion milieus.” The individual changes in his or her life from one closed (inclusion / disciplining) milieu to the next, each with its own laws: Starting with the family, where it has to fit into the family order, changes it goes to school, where it is told that it is “not at home” here and that it must behave accordingly. Then maybe it comes to the barracks, where there is a separate discipline again and where the individual is taught that he is no longer in school. Then it goes on to the factory, from time to time to the clinic and sometimes to the confinement milieu par excellence, the prison.

All of these inclusion milieus have the function of disciplining and subordinating the individual. It is about making bodies usable, about their arrangement in the production apparatus, about the production of good, healthy and docile bodies, about reproduction, breeding, racial hygiene etc. etc. etc. It is about a rational economy of the body that keeps things going keep what keeps them going, at school, in the factory and at home with the family.[iii] The confinement milieus function like a mold into which the individual is pressed. In a nutshell, Deleuze formulates the maxim of disciplinary societies, which he sees most clearly realized in the factory, as follows:


"focus; distribute in space; arrange in time; put together a productive force in time-space whose effect must be greater than the sum of the individual forces "[iv]



According to Deleuze's analysis, we no longer belong to the disciplinary societies. The inclusion mileus have been in a crisis since World War II at the latest, which is expressed, among other things, in a crisis of the institutions: it is not for nothing that the talk is of:

School reform

Industrial reform

Hospital reform

Army reform

Prison reform


According to Deleuze, the institutions are at the end, anachronistic. It's just about keeping people busy until the new forces knocking on the door have taken their place. The control societies are about to replace the disciplinary societies.

Control takes the place of discipline. While the disciplines still function within the duration of a closed system, control operates on a different level. Control is not a mold, it is more like a modulation; one could best compare it with a mold that is constantly deforming itself, or with a sieve whose meshes vary from one point to another.

This transition from the disciplinary to the control society should be neither a cause for concern nor a reason for hope: because we could, for example

“In the crisis of the hospital as a closed milieu, the sectorization, day clinics or home nursing initially mark new freedoms, but then they became part of new control mechanisms that are in no way inferior to the harshest confinement environments. There is no reason for fear or hope, but only for that to look for new weapons. "[v]

To illustrate the difference between or the transition from one type of society to the other, here are some examples and tendencies:


To a certain extent, the factory can be viewed as a body that is constantly striving to bring its internal forces into balance: it assembles the workforce in a way that results in the highest possible level of production[vi], but at the same time tries to keep the level of wages as low as possible.

In the control society, the factory is replaced by the company, which is no longer a body but a gas, a soul. The company spreads between the individuals

"A constant, inevitable rivalry as wholesome competition and excellent motivation, which brings individuals into opposition to one another, runs through each of them and divides within itself."[vii]

While in the physical factory the wages for all workers were the same, or rather the same, the wages in a company are subject to constant modulation caused by selection procedures and championships.

This constant modulation is perhaps best illustrated by the example of money: If in the disciplinary societies the value of gold was still used as a measure of the value of money and thus as a motor for discipline, in the control societies it becomes a reference to fluctuating exchange rates, which are based on refer to a percentage of different currencies as a calibration cipher. In this context, reference should also be made to the term “derivative” from the world of finance, which also impressively demonstrates the link between this new form of capital and the new technological possibilities.

A similar tendency can also be observed in the state educational institutions: there the school tends to be replaced by continuous further education and continuous monitoring replaces the exam.

There are also approaches in the area of ​​the penal system that point in the direction of a control society: from being locked up in (overcrowded) prisons in some states (at least in the case of minor offenses), people are moving to house arrest instead of prison sentences. Here it becomes very vividly visible how the prison as an institutionalized containment environment is losing its relevance, while increased control of the individual, e.g. by means of an electronic collar , which replaces the previous inclusion.


To sum up, one could say that in a disciplinary society one never stops starting with something - one moves from one milieu to the next, starting anew every time - while in the control society one never gets through with anything. It is about the changed appearance of power, which in the disciplinary society was even more closely linked to institutions and places, while in the control society it is more diffuse, more subtle, more difficult to grasp and yet more omnipresent.

The police gaze in the disciplinary societies of the 19th and 20th centuries made the individual visible; it is illuminated by power and in the future control societies, however, it will be examined.

Deleuze and Guattari speak here of “forms of permanent control in an open milieu”.


Back to overview



[ii] It should be noted here that Deleuze in no way tries to present a form of society as a closed system that could be explained from one approach. On the contrary, he is more concerned with discontinuities and the structures on which they are based.

[vi] An example is the assembly line, which specifies the work steps and the pace of work and thus, metaphorically speaking, presses the worker into a mold that is geared towards the maxims of rationalization and standardization.