In a famous essay, Deleuze suggests that our society has moved beyond Foucauldian disciplinary power to a more fluid “control society,” where the various sites of disciplinary control merge into a modulated network of interlocking sites of power, the primary technique of which is access control. As Deleuze notes, the move is “dispersive,” and “the factory has given way to the corporation.” Hence, “the family, the school, the army, the factory are no longer distinct analogical spaces that converge towards an owner – state or private power – but coded figures – deformable and transformable – of a single corporation that now has only stockholders.” (6) The most vivid image of such a society he attributes to Guattari, who:
“has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation” (7)
This thesis has been most widely applied to surveillance and security and is easily evidenced by things like NSA “don’t fly” lists and the number of passwords one has to generate online. That said, I would like to suggest here that, at least in one respect, we’re moving past the control society. Or, perhaps, we’re seeing the truth of the control society in an unexpected way. One feature of the move from the dungeon to the panopticon is regulatory efficiency: it costs a lot less to get people to police themselves than to coerce them with brute force. The move to control is similarly efficient in that multiple, closed panoptic systems are much less efficient than a more modular arrangement where panoptic technologies are (as Foucault said they would be) completely diffused into society and work together, rather than separately.