SOCIETIES OF CONTROL
New Formations Special Issue ‘Societies of Control’
Call for Contributions
Deadline for paper proposals March 31st 2014
Potential contributors: please submit title, full abstract (300 words) and a short c.v. to email@example.com by this date.
Contributors will be notified of acceptance by April 14th 2014
Submission of papers will be required by September 30th 2014.
Journal Info: http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/newformations/contents.html
This issue of New Formations will address a complex set of interrelated issues in the theorisation of contemporary societies and power relations. The emergence of distributed systems, network relations and decentralised institutions has been widely observed as a key feature of social, cultural and political change for several decades, across a wide range of domains of practice and discourse. The issue will provide an opportunity to reflect upon this convergence and the diverse positions from which it has been theorised.
A key reference point in these discussions, Deleuze’s ‘Post-Script on the Societies of Control’ remains a enigmatic text on several levels. Easily dismissed as the irrelevant musings of a metaphysician on a fundamentally sociological set of questions, the essay’s theses have nonetheless proven irresistibly suggestive to many commentators. The claim that contemporary mechanisms of government, regulation and administration must be understood as operating according to different logics than the classic ‘normative’ mode of ‘disciplinary’ power seems increasingly relevant in the era of networked communications and official encouragement of cultural, social and sexual ‘diversity’, and yet Deleuze’s delineation of those mechanisms remains frustratingly abstract and cryptically suggestive.
However, Maurizio Lazzarato has persuasively linked Deleuze’s suggestive account with the general thesis that contemporary capitalism is best understood in terms of the shift from ‘Fordism’ to ‘post-Fordism’ in the 1980s. Whilst Fordism relies on a typically ‘disciplinary’ set of institutions and practices (the factory, the centralised nation state, the collectivist and conformist education system, ‘mass’ media), post-Fordism relies on quite different mechanisms and organisational forms (disaggregated networks of corporations, trans-national regulatory bodies, ‘narrowcasting’ and social media) which the notion of ‘control society’ tries to capture at the same level of abstraction as Foucault’s concept of ‘discipline’.
In fact, although Foucault’s studies of ‘disciplinary’ society have influenced understanding of both historical and contemporary societies across a swathe of disciplines and in many spheres of political thought and cultural work, his later lectures seem also to propose that the logic of ‘security’ which emerges in the 20th century is different from the logic of ‘discipline’ and in this regarid is close to Deleuze’s understanding of ‘control’. Reading Foucault’s later lecture sources with care, Lazzarato argues persuasively that it is a common but categorical mistake to believe that Foucault’s studies of disciplinary power are attempts to delineate the basic mechanisms of contemporary forms of power, rather than historical studies of institutional forms and practices which, while they may well persist, are today definitively ‘residual’ in character.
Simultaneous with and subsequent to Deleuze’s and Foucault’s work on these issues the emergence of interest in post-Fordism in the wake of the Regulation School’s theorisation of Fordism and its decline has generated interested in a similar set of issues since the 1980s, particularly on the Anglophone Left. The claim that the shift from ‘Fordism’ to ‘Post-Fordism’ or ‘the New Capitalism’ constitutes the definitive historical process of recent times has been influential on various strands of social and political theory and analysis since the early 1980s. What might be the points of resonance or dissonance between these theses and those proposed by Foucault and Deleuze and their followers?
Another element of much commentary on these issues has been the proposition that ‘the network’ now constitutes the prevalent organisational form for both corporations and political and social movements. The fact that ‘networked’ and ‘horizontal’ organisational forms were pioneered by the radical movements of the 60s and 70s – most notably the women’s movement – is well known. What is the significance of this historical fact, of the agency of the women’s movement and the desires it expresses in shifting the dynamics of advanced capitalist culture? How does the emergence of post- Fordism and the societies of security / control transform gender relations and the politics of sexuality, and how far have those shifts themselves been driven by the multiple refusals of gendered and sexual normativity which have characterised the cultural radicalism of recent decades?
This issue will explore the analytic possibilities generated by this set of issues, questions and theses with reference both to a range of possible objects of study in contemporary politics and culture and to a number of different conceptual and theoretical positions. Should we bother to develop and flesh out Deleuze’s and Foucault’s suggestions at all? If so, how might we do so and what would be the analytic gains? Are there alternative conceptions of phenomena addressed by their work which would allow for better diagnosis and more sophisticated analysis?
What phenomena of contemporary culture and politics might be best analysed in terms of the idea of ‘control society’? How could such analyses inform our broader understanding of such issues as the ‘war on terror’, new modes of sexual regulation, new forms of censorship (especially online) and ‘surveillance’ by corporate or state agencies and debates over intellectual property? What forms of democratic, libertarian or anti-capitalist politics and culture might be possible or necessary in an era of ‘control’?
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