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Descriptive ontology or ‘analytic’ of power

Deleuze’s concept of a transcendental field of force relations, encompassing all of the means by which bodies of different kinds may act upon each other, forms the basis of Foucault’s novel approach to the analysis of power in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, vol. I (1978): ‘Power’s condition of possibility…is the moving substrate of force relations which, by virtue of their inequality, constantly engender states of power’ (Foucault 1978:93). Foucault understands power as the effect of relations between different forces: the power of a body resides not ‘in a certain strength we are endowed with’, but in the fluctuating field of relations to other bodies. The power even of a single body is dispersed in such a manner that ‘power is everywhere, not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere’ (Foucault 1978:93). Within the terms of this definition of power as a relation between forces, power relations can take a variety of forms: attraction, repulsion, incorporation, decomposition of one force by another and so


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on. Foucault subsequently proposed a definition of power relations which limited the field to interactions between human forces, suggesting that he was concerned only with power relations understood as the ‘set of actions upon other actions’ (Foucault 1983:220). However, even within these limits, there are still many ways in which individual or collective agencies can act upon the actions of others: they can provoke, incite, restrict, prohibit, make more or less probable, and so on. As a result, Deleuze suggests, we can imagine an ‘open list of variables expressing a relation between forces’ (Deleuze 1988b:70).

Among the many ways in which we can act upon the actions of others, only some will have the effect of limiting or diminishing their capacities for action. Conversely, there are many ways in which we can act to enhance or assist others in the exercise of their powers. Foucault does not offer any account of such ways of being or acting outside the relations of government and domination. His studies of power tended to focus on those relatively fixed or congealed relations of force which enable some to govern the conduct of others. Nevertheless, the concept of power as the effect of differential force relations allowed him to abandon a series of assumptions about the nature and operation of power associated with Marxist social theory. He argued that power is not localised in the State but diffused throughout the social field; that power is not the property of a class nor does it operate only by violent or ideological means; that there is no economic essence of power but only purely functional relations involving the dominated as well the dominating force. Deleuze summarises this contribution to the understanding of power by suggesting that Foucault put forward a new ‘topology’ of social power relations founded on an immanent field of power ‘without transcendent unification’, without centralisation on the figure of the State, or totalisation in relation to the system of economic relations (Deleuze 1988b:27).

According to the interpretation of Nietzsche’s genealogy advanced by Deleuze and Foucault, the nature of an institution such as the prison is determined by the character of the forces in play around it at any given moment. Tracing the history of such an institution will then be a matter of retracing the ‘succession of forces’ which have taken possession of it (Deleuze 1983:3). In this manner, genealogy seeks to re-establish ‘the hazardous play of dominations’ (Foucault 1977a:83). Contrary to the Marxist view, no single logic of development governs the direction of history understood in these terms. All events are the effects of the interplay of forces, as things are transformed or reinterpreted to serve new ends. It follows that there is no more an enduring essence within social phenomena than there is within biological phenomena: ‘the eye was not always intended for seeing, and punishment has had other purposes than setting an example’ (Foucault 1977a:83).

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Foucault’s account of the emergence of modern punishment by incarceration provides an illustration of the application of this conception of power to the social field. The fact that prisons became the predominant form of punishment in the early nineteenth century represented a convergence of two quite disparate force-fields: the political economy of punishment in late eighteenth-century society, which involved the widespread revision of penal codes and the realignment of the application of penal discipline to particular acts and segments of the population; and the political technology of disciplinary power, which involved specific techniques for distributing individuals in space and controlling their activities over time. As a specific technology for the exercise of power over groups of individuals, discipline combined the enhancement of productive capacities with the reinforcement of domination. Yet, as Foucault points out, imprisonment was neither envisaged nor implied by the eighteenth-century projects for the reform of the penal system. While the acceptance of imprisonment as the primary mode of punishment makes sense against the background of the spread of disciplinary techniques, Foucault’s account of the ‘birth’ of the prison nevertheless appears incomplete: how does his genealogy acquire the force of explanation with regard to the form of modern punishment?

In his review of Discipline and Punish, Deleuze points to an element of Foucault’s analysis which enables a complete explanation: his suggestion that there is a generalisable ‘diagram’ of power which was embodied in the prison and other social institutions such as factories, barracks, schools and hospitals. Foucault called this generalisable form of disciplinary power ‘panopticism’, after Jeremy Bentham’s plan for a building design which could serve as a school, workshop or penitentiary: in short, wherever there was a need ‘to impose a particular conduct on a particular human multiplicity’ (Deleuze 1988b:34, cf. 72). Deleuze points out that what Foucault calls a ‘diagram’ of panoptic power is the name of a pure function applied to an unspecified matter. This is what he and Guattari call an ‘abstract machine’ capable of actualisation in a variety of concrete assemblages: ‘We define the abstract machine as the aspect or moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain. A diagram has neither substance nor form, neither content nor expression’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:141). As we noted in Chapter 2 (p. 45), within the theory of assemblages developed in A Thousand Plateaus, the abstract machine functions as an ‘immanent cause’ which explains the mutually supportive interaction between the forms of content and expression in any given assembage. It is both a condition of the effects realised in a given assemblage and an abstraction that exists only in those effects, in a manner that parallels the relationship of the will to power to the relations between particular forces in which it is expressed. In this case, the abstract machine of panopticism accounts for the convergence of the discourse of delinquency and the

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disciplinary techniques which together make up the social assemblage which Foucault called the carceral dispositif (Deleuze 1988b:37).

Deleuze’s ‘Postscript on control societies’ (Deleuze 1995b:177–82) builds on Foucault’s suggestion that modern society is disciplinary by proposing the diagram of a new form of power which has taken hold in the course of the twentieth century and which he defines as control or modulation. The principles of control are contrasted step by step with those of discipline. Control involves continuous modulation rather than discontinuous moulding of individuals and activities, competition rather than normalisation:

In disciplinary societies you were always starting all over again (as you went from school to barracks, from barracks to factory), while in control societies you never finish anything—business, training and military service being coexisting states of a single modulation, a sort of universal transmutation.

(Deleuze 1995b:179)

The digital language of control operates by means of codes rather than identifying signatures, passwords rather than orderwords. Just as disciplinary techniques developed alongside industrial capitalism, so the mechanisms of control correspond to the transformation of capitalism into a system dominated by metaproduction, marketing and financial services.

Deleuze and Guattari’s social ‘cartography’ takes as its primary task the mapping of the abstract machines at work within a given social field. Every society has its diagrams or abstract machines and different kinds of diagram or abstract machine will correspond to different kinds of social formation. Part Three of Anti-Oedipus outlines the macromachines that characterise distinct kinds of society: the ‘territorial’ machine of so-called primitive societies, the ‘overcoding’ machine of state governed societies, and the axiomatic of global capital (see Chapter 5). In A Thousand Plateaus, machinic analysis is developed further by the description of many different kinds of abstract machine which inhabit the social field: the abstract machine of language and its actualisation in collective assemblages of enunciation; abstract machines of thought, desire and social space or segmentarity. Cutting across the analyses of such abstract machines is a recurrent opposition between abstract machines of capture and abstract machines of metamorphosis and transformation. In order to appreciate the sense in which this distinction provides a basis for evaluation, we must understand its origins in Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s will to power.

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Date: 2015-01-11; view: 637

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