The Chronic Social: Relations of Control Within and Without Neoliberalism

Winter 2014 / Summer 2015


A key feature of ‘societies of control’ as described by Deleuze is that, unlike societies of discipline, they lack any decisive moments of judgement or evaluation. Individuals live in a condition of ‘endless postponement’ and constant uncertainty. This article explores the implications of this feature in the context of ubiquitous digitisation, neoliberalism and the return of the ‘social’ as a mode of government (as in ‘social media’, ‘social enterprise’, etc). It argues that the state of continuous, uncritical flow facilitated by the price system, combined with the uncritical, embodied knowledge of the entrepreneur, are key features of capitalism celebrated by neoliberal thinkers. We might therefore view neoliberalism as a celebration of ‘control’ technologies, and - inversely - view the neoliberal critique of socialism as a critique of ‘disciplinary’ technologies, as manifest in Hayek’s critique of ‘intellectuals’. The contemporary re-emergence of the ‘social’ as a means of government is due to the fact that this new version of the social is amenable to ‘control’, rather than ‘discipline’. This is a new phase of neoliberalism, which highlights the fact that neoliberalism was only ever contingently dependent on markets, and can be reinvented by expanding the scope of control through using (non-market) techniques that were traditionally associated with corporate management. The article explores the new forms of power inequality that arise, once the ‘social’ is co-opted as a tool of control. Control societies are organised by varying assumptions regarding the individual’s capacity to cope with a state of constant, uninterrupted flow. Most individuals require steering in some way, while a small minority of leaders and entrepreneurs can perform the navigation.

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