Michael Hardt: On Deleuze’s Theory of Control

Michael Hardt in an essay on Deleuze’s Postscript for Societies of Control published in Discourse Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture aligns his notion of Empire contra Foucault’s ‘regimes of biopower’ saying: “I would like to suggest that the social form of this new Empire we are living today is the global society of control” (140). I’ve written on Deleuze’s essay before: here, so will not go back over the details (and one can read it the full essay by Deleuze: here).

Hardt in furthering Deleuze’s initiative sees the change from the Foucauldian  disciplinary society to the society of control as a breakdown in the outside/inside distinctions in conceptions of sovereignty and power over time as manifest in the concept of territory. As he tells it the older forms of sovereignty were always measured in concepts of territory and of the relations of territory to some outside: as a boundary term between opposing spatial claims. Hardt sees this outside in as a historical process culminating in the modern era with what he terms the internalization of nature: or, as he calls it the “civilization of nature”.(141)1

In his recent work The Birth of Territory, Stuart Elden, reminds us that territory “should be seen as inherently related to, yet ultimately distinct from, two different concepts: land and terrain. Land is a relation of property, a finite resource that is distributed, allocated, and owned— a political-economic question. Land can be bought, sold, and exchanged; it is a resource over which there is competition”.2 Yet, distinct from land and terrain is the concept of territory, and Elden situates it at the nexus of place and power. In fact as Elden relates it territory is a political technology:

It is a political technology not because it is merely technical. While advances in geometry, land surveying, navigation, cartography, and statistics play a crucial role in the development of territory , the question of technique is broader than this. As Heidegger argued, the essence of technology is not, in itself, technological. Rather, it is a way of grasping and conceiving of the world. … Territory is not simply an object: the outcome of actions conducted toward it or some previously supposedly neutral area. Territory is itself a process, made and remade, shaped and shaping, active and reactive. … One approach of more recent times that is helpful in beginning to broaden the scope of process is the idea of the urban assemblage. While assemblage is a somewhat misleading translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of agencement, it seeks to capture the plural, heterogenous, contested , and multiple elements that coalesce only to break apart and re-form in the urban fabric, its continual transformation and contestation. … The idea of a political technology seeks to capture the processual, multiple , and conflictual nature of the bundle of political techniques— in that expanded sense— that make up and transform the contested and diverse notion of territory. Territory cannot simply be understood as the political-economic notion of land, nor even as a political-strategic sense of terrain, but instead comprises the techniques used to— among other elements— measure land and control and manage terrain.(Kindle Locations 450-463).

As we see the conception of territory as political technology bound by the mathematization of land and the use of control and management or regulatory processes of legal, technical, and political forms is at the heart of this conception.

Yet, as Hardt is quick to point out this history of the civilization of nature has now been completed. He affirms what many postmodern theorist believed that everything is now a part of history, and all that remains is the artificiality and hybridity of this simulated reality show of globalization. There is no more outside, everything has been internalized, even the concept of territory has migrated internally as the human blurs with its posthuman future. Another facet is the disappearance of boundaries between public and private in the spheres of human relations. Politics itself has migrated internally into the mediascapes of our visual markers, where the twitch of corporate pressure galvanizes the electorate with images of power instead of power, where the inertia of modern governing processes vanish between commercials in a blip culture.

For Hardt even the economic machine no longer has an outside, that it covers the globe in sovereign power – a pseudo-totalizing force that cannibalizes the very body of its own consumer fetishization.  Because power is no longer in the hands of an Emperor, it has been spread smooth across the surface of the globe. St. Augustine once spoke of an image of the circle, saying: “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” In our time Hardt tells us sovereign power is that circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. In fact that the Neoliberal empire is the utopia of capital: a place that is no-where.

He applies his notions of a control society to the shifting patterns of racism between modernity and postmodernity telling us that Imperial racism, or differential racism, in the society of control integrates others with its order and then orchestrates those differences in a system of control. Fixed and biological notions of people tends to dissolve into a fluid and amorphous multitude, which is of course shot through with lines of conflict and antagonism but none which appears as fixed and eternal boundaries” (147). In the new Imperial society of control migration and destabilization of peoples becomes the order of the day, no longer is there a stable place, a home, a place of roots or cultural ties instead the floating world of migrant workers who belong to no one and nothing becomes the rule. In the empire everything is inclusive there being no outside, no segregation, no place beyond. The migrant is incorporated into the system of control to be better managed, manipulated, controlled.

Ultimately even our sense of self is changing in this new empire of control. As Hardt has it the Empire’s institutional structure is now a software program that has been infiltrated by a virus, so that it is continually modulating and corrupting the institutional forms around it. And like any good virus it infects and replicates its control systems at all levels of our machinic society from the bottom-up and top-down, to the point that it is infecting everything within its cannibalizing mesh. The parasitical relationship between power and place has shifted gears in this age of empire. We can only hope that some new political immunologist will develop a cure for our dark worlds of late capitalism.

1. Discourse 20.3 Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture (Fall 1998)
2. Elden, Stuart (2013-09-09). The Birth of Territory. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

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