Control in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance

Keywords: Deleuze, Control, Society

In the second movement of “Control and Becoming,” Gilles Deleuze, in conversation with Antonio Negri, discusses the ways in which disciplinary society is moving toward a control society. To briefly explain: the theory of disciplinary society has been largely attributed to Foucault, who, in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, discusses how subjects are produced through a particular type of disciplinary power, which targets the body as a site of control. The normative body is thus produced, discursively, by institutions such as the clinic, the school, or the prison. What makes it discursive is that the production of the subject, which is necessarily unexceptional, is constituted through everyday practices — the things we take for granted. We don’t question our relationship with our doctor or our teacher, and as a public we certainly don’t consider that there may be an alternative to the prison system, which disciplines the racialized subject.

In “Control and Becoming,” Deleuze suggests that we are moving from a disciplinary society into a control society, in which institutions are no longer functioning as “closed sites” but rather as “continuous control and instant communication” by extending its reach — what I interpret as the Capitalist arm — into every aspect of our lives. The most recent example I can draw on was published by the CBC today, the headline for which reads: Social media may become spies’ main ‘channel,’ privacy watchdog warns. The summary: although individuals have an expectation that information they publish on social media is private, there is potential for government agencies to tap into these mediums as channels for data. The privacy act, in fact, hasn’t been revised since 1983. The title of the published report is ominous: Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance.

dome-surveillance-cameraWhat is this ‘era of cyber-surveillance’? I suspect it connects directly to Deleuze’s notion of a control society in which ceaseless control is exerted in “open sites” such as “cybernetic machines and computers” (p. 175). In his “Postscript on Control Societies,” Deleuze identifies the language of control societies as digital (178). And while he hasn’t quite worked out  the “sociotechnological principles of control mechanisms” in this new era of domination, he suggests that “[t]he keything is that we’re at the beginning of something new.” We may not agree on what this new thing may be, but it’s at least a common starting point of inquiry. A common starting point of inquiry for me, specifically, in thinking about the transition of schooling (into online and blended spaces of instruction) from a site of discipline to control.

“One can envisage education become less and less a closed site differentiated from the workspace as another closed sight, but both disappearing and giving way to frightful continual training, to continual monitoring of worker-schoolkids or bureaucrat-students. They try to present this as a reform of the school system, but it’s really its dismantelling. In a control-based system nothing’s left alone for long.” (Control and Becoming, p. 175)

References (including embedded links):

Canada. Office of the Privacy Commissioner. (2014). Special Report to Parliament: Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-   Surveillance. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

CBC News. (March 7, 2013). Aboriginal corrections report finds ‘systemic discrimination.’ CBC News. Retrieved from

Deleuze, G. (1990). Part Five: Politics. In Negotiations, 1972-1990. (pp. 167-177). New York: Columbia University Press.

Do, T.T. (January 28, 2014). Social media may become spies’ main ‘channel,’ privacy watchdog warns. CBC News. Retrieved from


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