Hide & Seek: A brief essay on Deleuze’s “Postscript on Societies of Control”

Slavoj Žižek begins his book Violence with a relatively simple but striking tale: “[t]here is an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected.  The guards find nothing.  It is always empty.  Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing is the wheelbarrows themselves…”[1] The moral of the story?  Things are not always as they appear.  The story is simple and makes us chuckle, yet (hopefully) it is a nervous laughter.  The story is also striking; the notion and role of deception in it haunts us.  It makes us uncomfortable to think of the possibility that crime (something we refer to as violence) could go unnoticed in the banality of our lives.  Things are not always as they appear.  Žižek is not trying to cultivate anxiety; rather, our discomfort ought to set us on a journey.  A journey on which our task is to study the factory, the worker, the wheelbarrow, or more accurately, what they might represent, in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is going on (of which the deceptive crime of the worker is a sign).

It is with this illustration that we approach the topic of violence.  That is to say, while violence certainly includes concrete events in space and time and clearly identifiable agents, it is certainly not limited to such exteriorities.  Violence[2], as Foucault offers, “[is] immanent in the sphere in which [it] operates.”[3] Furthermore, this illustrates that the task of the pacifist/peace-builder is neither limited to urgent acts of resistance (such as filing petitions), nor to acts of resolution (such as building relationships through community programs).  Rather, “[p]acifism is a habit of thinking and being which requires the skills necessary to identify and negotiate” different forms of violence (and peace).[4] It is with the aforesaid task that we enter a discourse of the violence(s) immanent in two particular forms of society, and the shift from the first to the second.  The first, a society of discipline, largely put forward by Foucault, and second, a society of control, drawing mainly on the work of Deleuze.  In addition, we will discuss some of the implications, of what we learn regarding the two societies, for the pacifist.

Although capitalism was already well underway at the beginning of the nineteenth Century, the Industrial Revolution is a helpful gesture towards what Foucault calls a society of discipline.  The pursuit of economic growth with the maturation of capitalism led to the creation of mines (extraction of resources), factories (manufacturing of goods), railways (transportation of resources and goods), etc.  The interest of capitalism in the production of goods required a utilitarian workforce.  This workforce was created by two significant moves: one, the move of farmers off the land and into the disciplines of economic growth in the cities (also known and urbanization), and two, the import of people from “poorer” countries as cheap labour (i.e. the Chinese who constructed the Canadian Pacific Railway).

Another way to narrate the creation of a society of discipline (in what is perhaps more explicitly theoretical/political language rather than historical/economic) is by carefully examining how the institutions of discipline, such as the factory, function.  “Foucault has brilliantly analyzed the idea project of these environments of enclosure, particularly visible within the factory: to concentrate; to distribute in space; to order in time; to compose a productive force within the dimensions of space-time whose effects will be greater than the sum of its component forces.”[5] Reiterating an earlier citation of Foucault, violence and manipulations of power are not only wielded by external, top down, explicitly oppressive agents, groups, and forms of government.  As we have observed, violence is also very much immanent, internal, and woven into the structures and institutions of a society of discipline.  Moreover, we have observed this within institutions (factories, schools, hospitals, barracks, etc.) which are generally considered neutral to questions of violence and peace.  In studying the society of discipline, the pacifist cultivates skills in identifying forms of violence present in the banalities of our daily practices and experiences.  It is then namely the pacifist who notes that the wheelbarrows are being stolen.  The talk of the pacifist, in one sense, is to uncover the violence hidden to the unsuspecting and untrained eye.  Basically, it is similar to the children’s game of hide and seek: the disciplines of society hide, the pacifist seeks.

The second form of society which I want to call attention to is what Deleuze calls “a society of control.”[6] The name “society of control” is perhaps misleading as it might conjure up images of sovereign rule or dictatorship.  What Deleuze wants to gesture towards with the name, however, is a second significant shift from societies of sovereignty.  The first major shift was towards the aforementioned societies of discipline.  While the society of discipline wove into its structures manipulations of power and violence, the society of control seeks to grasp these, to gain a handle on their movement and direction.  The goal is that the power running through the veins of the institutions can eventually power itself.  Instead of being embodied in a structure, the powers are codified and become free-floating, anonymous, and autonomous.  The ideal efficiency is one of perpetual motion.  The purpose of societies of control is not production, but the regulation, engineering, and manipulation of goods and services, for example.[7] Societies of discipline and their pursuit of production are thus “generously donated” to developing countries, which societies of control will then administrate.  One can see then, how Societies of control become increasingly difficult to identify, particularly in terms of identifying their violence and power manipulations.  Deleuze offers an apt and helpful remark: “[p]erhaps it is money that expresses the distinction between the two societies best, since discipline always referred back to minted money that locks gold as a numerical standard, while control relates to floating rates of exchange, modulated according to a rate established by a set of standard currencies.”[8] Or, in terms of our children’s game, hide and seek has metastasized into hide and seek tag.  The implications of hide and seek tag are, of course, clear: those who are hiding are now also allowed to move from place to place freely, making it increasingly difficult to identify them in any particular space and time.

Pointing towards ourselves as perpetrators of violence, and towards the structures and codes which order and govern our everyday lives, is no easy task.  It is also, most commonly, a foolish undertaking because the assumption is that a society in which violence is not commonly manifested physically (that is, violence that is embodied in flesh and blood and broken bones) is a society that is considered peaceful.  Moreover, the elements of structure and order in such societies are simply that—structure and order; they are neutral and irrelevant to questions of violence and peace.  And yet, the factory worker leaves each day with another wheelbarrow, suspected of crime, but one that is hidden.  Thus, upon further questioning and scrutinizing of the two forms of societies, we being to notice that, indeed, they are not exempt of violence and power manipulation.  In summary of our preliminary investigation we have come to some conclusions, but the task, the journey of cultivating skills of identification and negotiation of various forms of violence always continues.

[1] Slajov Žižek, Violence (New York: Picador, 2008)


[2] Or power, as Michel Foucault refers to it in chapter 2 of The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1978).

[3] Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 92.

[4] Chris Huebner, “Whose Violence? Which Peace?” (Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB, 10 September 2009).

[5] Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control,” October 59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.3-7: http://roundtable.kein.org/node/541.

[6] See Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control.”

[7] Summarizing Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control.”

[8] Ibid, paragraph 6, http://roundtable.kein.org/node/541.


11 comments on “Hide & Seek: A brief essay on Deleuze’s “Postscript on Societies of Control”

  1. Theophilus says:

    Is there any way of distinguishing between force and violence? In a lot of current writing about violence, violence is described in terms that suggest that its counterpart is stasis, or some sort of “natural state of affairs” that predates the “violence” in question. However, I don’t see how this allows any way of distinguishing between various forms of change beyond a simplistic “innovation=bad, regression=good” analysis. I have a hard time accepting such a morality grounded in nostalgia. While the forces of change may sometimes be violent, must the two always be equivalent? I fear that if it is impossible to distinguish force from violence, then pacifism must be consigned to passivity, for it would become unable to change anything that exist or is being done.

  2. Kampen says:

    Yes, I think you are pointing out something very important. Just a sidenote: the word for violence in German is “Gewalt”, which points to “force” as much as it does “violence.” What you point out, that pacifism is consigned to passivity, is exactly Milbank’s argument in his essay “Violence: Double Passivity.” In the Addendum to this essay a question is posed to him regarding his false dichotomy in describing the options available to pacifists, namely, that they have the option of either observing or ignoring violence. That is, intervention would not be a pacifist option, Milbank claims, because it would be violent. Moreover, Milbank also claims that the person who opposes violence is already thereby “sucked into its agon.” This is why Milbank will not be a pacifist. My problem with this is that pacifism then names passivity instead of a commitment to participating in the already but not yet community of Christ and the peace of Christ, while acknowledging that we are implicated in violence. And this latter description is how I understand pacifism. Milbank seems to understand pacifism as a position of pure peace, and he certainly would be right to point out that there are plenty of people, even pacifists, who think of it that way. But then he should point that out, instead of throwing pacifism out the window all together, because that is certainly not Yoder’s (for example) pacifism.

    I realize I didn’t really answer your question so let me try. No, I don’t want nostalgia either. No, I don’t currently think there is a helpful distinction that can be made between force and violence (maybe it’s because I’m German and the one word “Gewalt” combines them and that combination has proven to be rather helpful in negotiating questions of violence).

    Concerning “the forces of change”, I have two things to say. First, I think we go wrong if we think that we can bring about peace and that we can do it in a nice and polite way that everyone consents to. Second, having said that, I’m not opposing change or even working to bring about change. (although I kind of am)My point is that any change that is peace is essentially apocalyptic. The “change” of the peace of Christ is radical, disruptive. Maybe even violent, in yet different way than we think of violence.

  3. Kampen says:

    Thanks for bringing up the point of passivity. I had to go back to Milbank and actually form an opinion. Which is good, because I have to write a review paper on him for Chris’ class on Thursday.

  4. bruce hamill says:

    Interesting discussion. German makes no distinction between violence and force and yet English suggests that violence presupposes a violation and a use of force which does not violate a good (an integrity) is not violence. Do you hold that all use of force is violation? When I greet a friend with a kiss I use force!

    • Kampen says:

      I wouldn’t agree that all force is violent, but yes, in a sense it is violation. Whether that violation is welcome or not is precisely the question. I suppose what I’m trying to get at, which wasn’t entirely clear, is that whatever it is we name as force or violence is always matter of interpretation, judgment. Therefore, the questions: whose violence? which peace? What seems to be apparent violence may not happen to be violent, simultaneously, what is peace may not be peaceful. Violence isn’t a given in some way so that it sits there waiting to be discovered, to be identified as such. In light of this conversation then, people like Walter Benjamin (in Critique of Violence) speak of “divine violence.” (Agamben is another figure who requires radical change) A violence that is radically disruptive and law destroying. But not in a bloodbath kind of way. Hence, I wrote “The “change” of the peace of Christ is…maybe even violent, in yet different way than we think of violence.” But I’m not sure whether or not any of this provides a helpful distinction between force and violence.

      • theophilus138 says:

        I think that your comment that “[v]iolence isn’t a given in some way so that it sits there waiting to be discovered, to be identified as such” could be very helpful in figuring out how to discuss this issue. Violence then isn’t an object, but an action, and is therefore situated in time. As a result, the consequences of a given forceful disruption might be considered important in determining whether or not such an act is violence. As an example, whether someone is shoved into or out of the path of an oncoming bus then makes all the difference in terms of whether the shoving is violent.

  5. Kampen says:

    OK, that makes sense. But, how then do we negotiate pacifism? Certainly (and I don’t think you would disagree) we cannot think of pacifism as pure non-violence. We are always implicated in violence, and to take Milbank again, when the pacifist takes the position of onlooker or even turns away from a violent act that is taking place, he/she is even more violent that if he/she were to intervene. Intervention is an act, which the pacifist seems to avoid in order to avoid violence (is Milbank’s point). But, instead of ending up with pacifism equating passivity (onlooking or ignoring) as Milbank does, how can we negotiate force and pacifism (instead of just questions of violence or peace)?

  6. Theophilus says:

    I think there are now two separate issues here; Foucault and Deleuze offering no distinction between violence and force, and Milbank’s argument against a passive pacifism. If we’re willing to distinguish between force and violence, and place violence as a certain kind of force, then pacifism may well be possible if violence is determined in a specific way. For example, the use of force which tends to disfigure the imago dei through physical death, injury or deprivation of the necessities of life would be a suitable starting point for determining what is the violence with regard to which the Christian ought to take a pacifist posture.

  7. Kampen says:

    OK, is the pacifist posture then a forceful one? (or should it be?)

    • Theophilus says:

      Any non-passive posture is by definition forceful. Pacifism is a particular way of ordering the forces one exerts so that that force does not become violent (in some definition).

  8. dbhamill says:

    I think so. Force comes in both degrees and kinds.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s