Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Questions on Control Societies

First, I want to thank everyone for a nice discussion last Saturday.  Maybe it was the small number of students, maybe it was because we were seated close together, maybe it was because the assigned readings were really short, but I felt like we were able to have a genuine discussion on the potentials and the problems presented by Wendell Berry and Gilles Deleuze.
One class participant wrote me this week and asked how the two pieces we discussed related to one another.  I don't have an easy answer for this, but I have pasted my response below, in case anyone else was wondering the same thing:

Part of the reason I selected those two readings was because of their sharp contrast.  Though I will say that I believe that both writers could be described as being very critical of modernism.  This was the link that I wanted to express in class.  Specifically, I wanted to show two very different ways of critiquing modern progress and two very different visions of how we might confront the problems created by modernity.  Berry, I believe, is much more direct and much more clear in his attack.  He is questioning the very notion of progress, and our common assumption that small economic units (such as the small farm) are obselete.  In our widespread acceptance of globalization and global economies, Berry would like us to think about what we are losing.  For him, the key is local knowledge that can only be developed in local communities.  Our standardized education and our large scale institutional goals means a loss of human values that can only be developed through personal responsibility in a local community.  He believes we are losing our sense of responsibility to others and to the earth, because we no longer need each other in the same way that members of small communities need one another.  I don't think he's being cynical.  He's certainly critical of modernism, industrialization, and globalization, but he's also cautiously hopeful about preserving the unique attributes and values of local communities. 

Deleuze is also very critical of simplistic notions of progress.  He would see globalization not as a mark of economic and social progress but instead as changing strategy for exercising power.  The control society, for Deleuze, is not "good" or "bad".  He is not for it or against it (in this way he is very different from Berry, who clearly opposes the large scale economic and social changes we are undergoing).  Deleuze is simply trying to reveal new mechanisms of power so that those who wish to resist power may do so more effectively.  In a disciplinary society, power works through the creation of confined spaces (institutions).  In a control society, power works through the spread and manipulation of information in open spaces (such as the internet, virtual reality, and so on).  Therefore, those wishing to resist power can no longer use the strategies created in disciplinary societies (such as unions).  One must find new ways to confront power based on a deeper understanding of how power works in our new society (the open corporate model rather than the closed factory model).  He's trying to describe that power.  Again... it isn't "good" or "bad".  Just a change- with new dangers and new possibilities.  Remember, "there is no reason to hope or to fear- only to look for new weapons." 
That's my basic interpretation.  You can agree or disagree, of course :)

Unfortunately, Deleuze's essay is very short, very speculative, and requires a good deal of knowledge about both Deleuze's earlier work and the work of Michel Foucault.  Deleuze only gives us a very brief summary of his concept.  This concept might be put to use in our teaching (as David suggested in class), it might help us to gain new insights about our own practices, the ways we exercise power and the ways power is exercised on us, and it may offer a new strategy for thinking about our students' choices in the social and economic worlds they are facing.  But as the discussion/debate that Hui ran and I had in class might suggest, this doesn't translate directly into teaching methods or even classroom strategies.  As usual, that work is up to you.  This is just a tool for thinking about those things in new ways.  

I found a pdf of a book that really expands the ideas in Deleuze's essay.  It's called Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman.  Not an easy read, but a fascinating study for those who really want to know more about the processes Deleuze was describing.  
As always, I want to thank everyone for sticking with these readings all semester.  Some of them were quite complex.  Some of them didn't have any explicit connection to language teaching, but I feel we were able to work our way through (or at least "in") these ideas because of your willingness to question the foundations of our knowledge.  I believe that's the first step to developing critical practices.  

Some other links that might be of interest:  
Ecological Literacy by David Orr describes the contrast between deconstructive postmodernism and constructive postmodernism.  Grassroots Postmodernism by Esteva and Prakash makes a similar distinction between academic postmodernism and grassroots postmodernism.  

Anyway, I always enjoy comments and questions- especially those that make me stop and question what I'm doing.  Good luck with your discourse analysis assignments and lesson reflections....  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot. Even though it is hard, I will try to read the books you recommend.