Discipline is Control: Foucault contra Deleuze

Winter 2014 / Summer 2015

In this paper, I critically assess Gilles Deleuze’s ‘societies of control’ thesis in relation to the work of Michel Foucault that provides its ostensible inspiration. I argue, contra Deleuzian readings of Foucault, that contemporary society continues to be a form of the disciplinary-biopolitical society identified by Foucault as having emerged in the late eighteenth century. My argument for this is dual. On the one hand, I point to claims of Deleuze’s that have not been borne out by subsequent developments, particularly the claim that disciplinary institutions are breaking down: while some institutions have declined, others (particularly the prison) have massively expanded. On the other hand, I argue that characteristics specifically assigned to societies of control by Deleuze were already part of disciplinary power as conceived by Foucault, noting that Foucault indeed uses the word ‘control’ as a synonym for discipline. I conclude that, due to his relative economism, Deleuze has misidentified real changes associated with the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism as comprising something much more dramatically new at a political level than they really are. That is, post-Fordism represents at most a modification of disciplinary power, rather than a new technology of power in a Foucauldian sense.

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