Deleuze and Machines: A Politics of Technology?

William Bogard, ‘Deleuze and Machines: A Politics of Technology?’, pp.15-31, in:

Poster, M., Savat, D. (Eds.), 2009. Deleuze and new technology, Deleuze connections. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.


Deleuze is not so much interested in questioning technology, like Heidegger, as in articulating, along with Guattari, a problem about machines.

Deleuze and Guattari’s problematisations of machines lead them, by contrast, to a concept of a multiplicity without an essence – or better, with a ‘nomadic’ essence1 – a complex configuration of machinic and enunciative elements called an ‘assemblage’.

The problem of machines is not Heidegger’s question of technology: Is there a possible escape from Enframing? Can technology save the world before it annihilates it? For Deleuze, there is neither an essential ‘saving power’ nor a nihilism of machines. Safety and danger are matters of experimenting with assemblages, with their compositional forms.

It is not a question of an essence of technology, but of what Deleuze and Guattari call an abstract machine, a machine immanent in assemblages that both integrates them and opens them to an outside, to counterforces that break them down.

According to Deleuze and Guattari, assemblages have a dual form: a ‘form of content’, that is, a machinic form composed of variably fixed matters and energetic components; and a ‘form of expression’ or ‘enunciation’ consisting of statements and articulated functions.


A machine interrupts a flow of matter or energy, such as when an infant’s mouth sucks her mother’s milk in a mouthbreast assemblage, or a turnstile funnels a crowd through a gate.

There are material machines and immaterial machines, technical machines and imaginary machines, desiring machines and abstract machines, machines inside machines inside still other machines, nested like fractals. Machines, in a word, are multiplicities.

Guattari advocates viewing machines in their ‘complex totality’, in all their ‘technological, social, semiological and axiological avatars’, and resists attempts to assimilate them to mechanist or vitalist forms, or to any concept that would essentialise either them or the assemblages they compose (Guattari 1995: 34).

Functions are forms of expression of assemblages; not simply what they do, but what they ‘say’ and ‘mean’.

Different assemblages have different contents, but within assemblages there are always multiple contents, from molar to molecular, that develop their own forms of expression. Assemblages like schools are multiplicities that integrate architectures to body parts to brain chemistry and everything in between.


The abstract machine is a paradox. Despite its name, it exists only within concrete assemblages. It integrates the two forms of the assemblage, content and expression, and causes the assemblage to ‘distribute territorialities, relative deterritorialisations, and reterritorialisations’ (1987: 145).

But at the same time the abstract machine opens the assemblage to its outside and is a force in its metamorphosis or counteractualisation, in the same way, to cite a well-known example, the head of a hammer can be fused by heat into a molten mass (Guattari 1995: 35). The hammer loses its form of content and expression, its territoriality; what remains are only the flowing informal ‘traits’ of its former condition.

An assemblage, from the point of view of the abstract machine that it effectuates, works by breaking down or fleeing itself, by adding degrees of deterritorialisation along its edges, and by conjoining or mixing together deterritorialised elements at its border with the outside. It is in this sense that assemblages can be said to inhabit the surfaces of strata, between layers of strata, or between a stratum and its destratified milieu. Assemblages are multiplicities of interfaces.


Foucault once inquired why imprisonment became the general form of punishment in modern societies. He was asking how a material practice, imprisonment or, more broadly, incarceration, and an abstract function, punishment, came to be conjoined – what produced them as an integrated assemblage, namely, the prison, with all its complex connections of bodies and statements? His answer was that an abstract machine (or diagram) called discipline produced and conjoined them.

Discipline is a machine that integrates both forms – content and expression, the visible and the articulable – in an assemblage in which a central guard station monitors the confinement of multiple individuals. The assemblage renders its subject, the delinquent, simultaneously viewable and knowable, and imposes on it a regime of self-inspection and self-control.

Like Foucault, Deleuze asks how the integration of a form of content and a form of expression is effectuated by an abstract machine. In a well-known essay, Deleuze writes that control is replacing discipline as an abstract machine that invests the entire social field today.


Although it is also a function of disciplinary assemblages, control as an abstract machine differs from discipline in many ways. In control societies, the form of content, the machinic form, is the distributed // network, whose model supplants the Panoptic on as a diagram of control.


Distributed networks deterritorialise the disciplinary assemblage. There is a shift from mastery over visible space to the integrated management of information, and control operates less through confinement than through the use of tracking systems that follow you, so to speak, out the door and into the open. What matters most in these assemblages is not that your body is visible – that is an already accomplished fact for the most part – but that your information is available and matches a certain pattern or profile.

The abstract machine of control no longer ‘normalises’ its object, as discipline does. Normative information rather is integrated into numerical codes.

Decoded desire and the desire for decoding exist in all societies, even pre-capitalist ones, but capital turns them into axioms and ends of production. This does not mean codes do not exist in capitalist societies. In fact they proliferate even more – in the way, for example, fashion codes proliferate through their continuous decoding, or decoded DNA can be recoded. Capital does not aim to make codes extinct but to produce fluid codes that adapt to its changing technical means of control.


We must consider how decoding works in the movement from disciplinary to control societies. In disciplinary societies, capital takes a code of enclosure originally designed for prisons and adapts it to factories, schools, homes and other sites of production.

In control societies, capital decodes the panoptic code of enclosure, which is no longer sufficient to model flows of information across networks.


Distributed networks are relatively deterritorialised in the sense that they are not bound by location, but are not totally free either. Instead, they have logins and passwords that allow or restrict access to them. Instead of enclosing you, your body, they enclose your information.

Your information does not flow serially between discrete spaces of control but is redistributed simultaneously and selectively across multiple networks, each protected by slightly modified codes, effecting a continuous modulation of control independent of location.

‘Visibility’ does not organise these redistributions; codes do, in the sense that the passage of information within and between distributions entails having the right code.

Postmodern capital continuously decodes these codes, since networks are always in flux and information threatens to leak in and out. Decoding codes is a means of managing distributions of information for which panoptic enclosure is too rigid; it is easier simply to modify the instructions for accessing and routing data as the network grows and changes. In one sense, control societies are just disciplinary societies in a radically decoded form. Capital’s project today is to engineer the disciplines directly into our DNA, which after all is just coded information. The final frontier in this project is to transform the socius into a distributed bio-network, whose relations nano-technologies can adjust in real time, all in the name of power and money.

Deleuze remarks at the end of his essay that, in control societies, the corporation, not the prison, becomes the model of every organisation.

Corporate capital breaks down walls in order to deconstruct every desire, every social relation, percept, affect and concept, indeed the entirety of life on the planet. Deleuze is not referring to the centralised, stratified, hierarchical corporation of the past. The postmodern corporation is a distributed network. Global business, global labour, global exploitation, all operate under the new imperatives of fluidity and ‘flexibility’.


But what has really changed with control society is not just the institutional model that organises it, but its machinic form.

Modulation is not intended to produce an individual, which would be equivalent to making a fixed recording.

An individual is an extended unit; it has a number, like the prisoner in a cell, or the labourer on an assembly line. A dividual, on the other hand, is a variation in an intensive parameter (mood, temper, pace, climate, velocity, and so on).

Dividuals are database constructions, derived from rich, highly textured information on ranges of individuals that can be recombined in endless ways for whatever purposes. They are the abstract digital products of data-mining technologies and search engines and computer profiling, and they are the profiled digital targets of advertising, insurance schemes and opinion polls.


Does Deleuze have a ‘politics of technology’? We have seen that he is more focused on the problem of machines than technologies, and in particular on abstract machines that integrate the form of content and expression in assemblages. He also understands that abstract machines break down assemblages and open them to the outside.

It is not discipline per se that is the issue, but how as an abstract machine it conjoins a socio-technical assemblage (for example, capitalist means of production) and a deterritorialised, decoded environment (for example, non-capitalist modes of consumption).

There is still much to understand about how discipline creates the potential for positive social encounters, rather than the exploitative relations and destroyed communities and traditions of capitalist societies. Some form of discipline, after all, is required in art and sports, in love and play, as in most transformative human activity. How does it open this activity to an outside that it does not immediately objectify and subjectify, as capital does, but encounters in a positive, joyful and loving way?


Like Foucault, Deleuze views technologies as social before they are ‘technical’. So-called // technological ‘lineages’ – tools and their associated techniques – are not linear progressions, but depend on ‘human technologies’ that vary with non-linear shifts in demographics, working conditions, climate and seasons, and so on.


All this merely reasserts that the real problem is the assemblage, as a collective machine, not the technical object.

But Deleuze does not stop at a recognition of the social or human side of assemblages.

Ultimately, they have a side that is neither technical, nor social, nor human, but simply the intensive energy of becoming-different of the assemblage itself. The desiring assemblage is selected in turn by an abstract machine that operates immanently within it and is itself a force of desire – the prison is selected as a socio-technical mechanism by the disciplinary diagram, just as the phalanx assemblage of the hoplite armies is selected by the abstract machine of feudalism, and the network assemblage is chosen by the abstract machine of control.

This latter machine, of course, is ruled today by corporate capital, but there is no necessary reason why this must the case. To grasp why, we need to understand more clearly how control connects to an outside.

We have seen that all assemblages have a territorialised side that faces the strata (fixed forms and contents), as well as a deterritorialised side facing the outside. The abstract machine both integrates the dual form of the assemblage and connects it to the outside.


The enclosure of the outside in disciplinary societies is an important clue to how enclosure functions in control societies. But what is control society’s outside, and how is it enclosed? Networks expand by adding nodes – typically this means linking to another computer – or by increasing the number of connections to each node.

In control societies, the expansion of network connections is selective and distributions of networks develop – some nodes are confined to specific networks and cannot access others without the proper passwords. Blocking a connection is not quite like locking up a prisoner, however, since no physical confinement of nodes is necessary, just the denial of access to a network.


Ultimately, immaterial production is geared not just to the manufacture of goods or services. Hardt and Negri recognise that the problem of the information common involves not only class and labour issues but the control of life in all its complexity.

Biopower is the negative form of the common. It is a way of life that threatens the planet with destruction and death (war, ecological catastrophe, the annihilation of species). It is not just technical production, however. Hardt and Negri describe the global context of biopower as a permanent state of civil war, governed by exceptionalism and unilateralism in global politics and economics, high-intensity police actions, preemptive strikes, and of course network control.

Biopower is network control of the common, of the production of life itself. The new common, however, also has liberatory and democratic potentials, which Hardt and Negri locate in what they term ‘biopolitical production’, the production of the ‘multitude’ (which for them has replaced industrial labour as the postmodern force of revolutionary change).

Biopower is the new form of Empire, whereas biopolitical production is the new form of resistance to Empire. Both are effects of changes in the organisation of production brought about by the advent of information networks and control societies.

In arguments reminiscent of Marx, that the development of the means of global communication create the potential for the revolutionary organisation of labour, Hardt and Negri show how global information systems have not only destabilised traditional forms of private property and cut across class divisions, but have also cut across race, gender and other hierarchies, producing a common ‘poverty’ from which new forms of democratic participation and social creativity can emerge.

The new common, in other words, is a force of deterritorialisation immanent in networks, an ‘outside’ resistant to the control systems that produce it. Today, despite (and because of) differences of class, race, gender, nation, occupation, language, religion, age, and so on, new and singular forms of resistance are arising grounded in the common subjection of the global population to the imperatives of biopower, and the common impoverishment of life subjected to network control.


Hardt and Negri’s concept of a common composed of heterogeneous singularities owes much to Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that the abstract machine, control, is actualised in a multiplicity of concrete assemblages that are simultaneously social, political, aesthetic, economic, linguistic, technical and diagrammatic. Networks are not uniform or homogeneous. Control, as well as resistance to control, functions in a multiplicity of ways on a multiplicity of planes.

The point is that resistance, though common, is always specific and immanent within a concrete assemblage. Just as there is no universal form of control, there is no universal mode of resistance to control, only experimentation with the abstract machine and the possibilities networks create for us to have positive encounters with the outside, with the common – encounters that are joyful, create solidarity, abandon hierarchies and denounce power, that generate lines of flight and multiply connections beyond what the network can dominate.


For Deleuze, the abstract machine of control is intrinsically neither nihilistic nor redemptive. He does not ask, with Heidegger, if, // somewhere in the essence of technology, we might discover a ‘saving power’ of revealing or opening that resonates in the nature of Dasein (to the extent that Dasein’s essence is revealing).


Deleuze never questions Heidegger’s concern with the threats from technology, only his ability to grasp assemblages as multiplicities.

No one can predict the direction that control society, embedded in a multiplicity of concrete assemblages, will take. Certainly, the corporate/state war machine will attempt to create and use networks to its own advantage.

The abstract machine, however, is our clue – it is what is breaking down the old disciplinary assemblage and substituting a new one, the assemblage of information nodes we call the network. The problem today is how the abstract machine of control breaks down the network, ‘fuses’ it like the parts of a hammer, and deterritorialises and decodes an already thoroughly deterritorialised and decoded milieu.