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Affect and control: rethinking the body beyond sex and gender

Feminist Theory Copyright 2003 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) vol. 4(3): 359364. [1464-7001 (200312) 4:3; 359364; 037066]

Patricia Ticineto Clough Queens College and City University of

New York

The ongoing deconstruction of the categories of sex and gender, with the intention of laying bare the political stakes in xing sexual and gender identities, has led feminist theorists to develop criticisms of the nationstate, the capitalist economy and the institutions of civil society. In the last round of deconstructing the categories of sex and gender, that is, in the queering of bodily matter, feminist theorists again invited a critical rethinking of the nation-state, the capitalist economy and civil institutions. Sharing philosophical assumptions with other critical theories especially, post-colonial theory and critical race theory queer theory turned feminist theorizing to reconsider the inter-relationship of sex, gender and race with the governmentalization of state power operating in civil institutions, all within a transnational framework. This reconsideration had not yet been fully developed in feminist theory, when faced with the violent rst events of the 21st century; however, ongoing violence has made it all the more apparent that shifts in governance and capitalist economy are under way that demand a radical rethinking of the body. Here, I can only outline aspects of a shift in governance from discipline to control and a shift in capitalist accumulation to the domain of affect in order to point to the implications for radically rethinking the body, sex, gender and race.

From discipline to control

Drawing on Michel Foucaults treatment of biopower, Gilles Deleuze rst outlined what he referred to as societies of control in order to mark the diversication and diffusion of forces of state power throughout social space beyond what had been foreseen in Foucaults thinking about discipline (Deleuze, 1991. See also Hardt, 1995). After all, as Foucault argued, in disciplinary society, the governmentalization of the state enabled the state to extend its disciplinary practices through institutions such as the church, the school, the prison, the family, and the union, the enclosures of civil society (Foucault, 1991). The state moved deep into the lives of individual subjects through disciplining, but it did so through the complex


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strategies of socialization that the institutions of civil society deploy in managing sociality and the moral order. Disciplining, therefore, engaged a politics of representation, by which familial and national ideological apparatuses functioned to constitute subject identities and where resistance to these identities and the transgression of the institutional norms that support them, was possible, even enabled by the instability of the strategies of disciplining. The institutions of civil society constituted the space for a whole range of oppositional identity politics focused on ethno-racial, class, gender, sexual and national differences. The shift to control, however, is a determinant of and a response to the tendency to smooth out the separations between the nation and civil society, the state and the economy, the public and the private domains, due in part to the disorganization of nation-based capitalism effected since the 1970s by globalization, the increased complexity added with exible accumulation of capital, and exible employment of labour power but also due to the ongoing social responses to these changes locally and globally. Thus, the spaces of governance, the institutions of civil society through which discipline has been deployed, while at rst seemingly being revolutionized by social responses such as the feminist movement, now seem to be suffering terminal crises that are being turned over to risk management, militarism and policing an intensication of what Foucault referred to as biopolitics. Control does not operate within the enclosed institutions of civil society. Indeed, control is a response to the crises of these institutions, which have become turbulent and let to function as far-from-equilibrium systems of information. The deployment of biopower through control is much more dispersed than its deployment through disciplining. The target of control is not subjects whose behaviour expresses internalized social norms; rather, control aims at a never-ending modulation of moods, capacities, affects, potentialities, assembled in genetic codes, identication numbers, ratings proles and preference listings; that is to say, bodies of data and information (including the human body as information and data). Control works at the molecular level of bodies and not necessarily, or only, human bodies. Control points to the increasing abandonment of socialization and education of the individual subject through interpellation to, and through, national and familial ideological apparatuses. The production of normalization is no longer simply trusted to the family, kin groups or other institutions of civic society: it also is a matter of the investment in, and the regulation of, a market-driven circulation of affect and attention. Control accompanies the shift in capitalist accumulation to the domain of affect and attention. Beyond the socialization of labour time, capital is engaged in the socialization of the affective or the capacities to attend. What is circulated is socialized attention time or socialized capacities for attention, or what has been referred to as an abstract cooperation a biopower that is bought and sold in units of socialized attention time (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 296). In an affect or attention economy, there is an ongoing subsumption of the

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social reproduction of biological and social life into capitalist production and exchange, such that affect must be thought of as an impersonal ow before it is a subjective content (Massumi, 1998: 61); affect becomes as infrastructural as a factory (Massumi, 1998: 45). Here, labour itself becomes a subset of attention, one of the many kinds of possible attention potentially productive of value (Beller, 1998: 91). Surely, the ongoing setting to capitalist exchange of attention-work of all kinds, from hi-tech entrepreneurial work to the homework of caring, nurturing, as well as entertaining, reengenders attention work beyond any simple opposition of male and female and surely makes the home no place like home (Staples, 2003). In an affect economy, culture is overrun with mechanisms of biopolitical control applied, if not by means of disciplining the subject through a politics of representation, then by direct accessing of bodies, where the aim is ongoing modulation at the molecular level of capacities or affectivity. There is a shift from representing the individual subject in terms of communities of belonging to subsuming human life in statistical populations in order to stratify these populations in terms of distributed chances of life and death, health and morbidity, fertility and infertility, happiness and unhappiness, freedom and imprisonment. It is here that ethno-racial, gender, class and sexual differences are being re-embodied at the molecular level. As Joao Biehl suggests, the distribution of populations in terms of life chances and the like is part of a new experiment with governmentality. Where the state, market and scientic discourse now meet in the deployment of biopolitical control,
. . . there is a contradiction between a generalized culture of human rights and emergent exclusive structures through which these rights are realized, biologically speaking, but only on a selective basis who, for how long, and at what cost? In this context, letting die is a political action, continuous with the biomedical and political power that makes live. (Biehl, 2001: 138)


In this sense, biopolitics intensies at the level of the nation-state at the same time that it nds its new global setting in what has been referred to as empire, with its rst line of international organizations that are dedicated to relief work and the protection of human rights, non-governmental organizations, for example, that are some of the most powerful pacic weapons of the new world order (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 36). These provide the moral justication for exceptional political intervention and thus prepare the stage for military intervention (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 37). Here, a global feminism plays its part, where it works to draw bare life into politics, to use Giorgio Agambens term (1998); here, global feminism is, often unwittingly, complicit in exposing womens lives to global mechanisms of biopolitical control aimed all the way down to the lowest strata in the developing world (Sharpe, 2002: 618).

The ontological implications of control in an affect economy

Surely, the ongoing shifts in governance to control and in capitalist accumulation to the domain of affect, demand a radical rethinking of the


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body beyond feminist theorizing of queer bodily matter. While queering bodily matter proposed that the body is inextricably mixed with the imaginary, as the bodily shape becomes thick with unconscious forgettings in a fantasmatic foreclosure of homosexuality, nonetheless, the form or image is idealized. At least in Judith Butlers argument, matter is shaped through the imposition of an ideal or ideological imaginary form, such that the opposition of image (form) and matter is reinstalled (Butler, 1993). The image is thought to be culturally dynamic, but is not itself a dynamic matter and it is only as culture that the image is able to compensate for what is lacking in matter. Not only is the image itself refused the ontological status of dynamic matter. But perhaps more importantly, focusing on the shape of the body, as queering bodily matter does, the dynamism of the organism is ignored such that the organism remains static matter, the stuff of the body that culture engenders with meaning. And yet, it is precisely in rethinking the image as matter (a matter of information), and matter as dynamic or informational (Taylor, 2001) that allows for blurring the distinction between organic and non-organic life; a distanciation proposed in the ontological shift that control society and an affect economy are already provoking, especially in relationship to the organism and information. After all, the image (as information) has become immanent to the materiality of the biopolitical deployment of affect and attention that, at the same time, produces economic value in capitalist circulation. In this context, the ontology of the human body shifts: the organism-centricism of the human body is deconstructed and the body, no longer human only, becomes instead a composition of intermeshed body parts both human and nonhuman, an assemblage of organic and non-organic life that goes beyond the organism as an entropic, closed system conceived under a thermodynamic understanding of the production and reproduction of energy. In disciplinary society, Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova suggest, the organism is made the ultimate denition of what the body is. The body becomes abstracted and organized so that it can be trained: trained to reproduction with a thermodynamic cycle of accumulation and expenditure; and trained to work (Parisi and Terranova, 2000: 3). In control society, however, the solution to the problem of entropic energy is no longer provided in the labouring masculine body and in the female body, subordinated to the reproduction of labour and the restoration of equilibrium. In control societies, there is a move from the thermodynamic contrasting of energy and entropic heat-death in equilibrium-seeking closed systems, such as the organism. There is a move to understand bodies, where the origin of life is dened as turbulent rather than derived from entropic collapse (Parisi and Terranova, 2000: 5). It is cybernetic thought that shifts the understanding of entropy from a thermodynamic conception of it as energy which is no longer able to be put to work in closed mechanical systems, to a cybernetic conception of it as positively correlated with information. That is, entropy is rethought as noise or uncertainty and noise as the condition of possibility of information (since it is out of, or against noise or uncertainty, that information emerges,

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the more noise, the greater the probability for information). In the postcybernetic thought of complexity, the positive correlation of information and entropy is further extended in rethinking entropy as the complexity of open systems, that are far from equilibrium, where information is linked to a dynamic energy and matter. In terms of complexity, matter is inherently dynamic with potential for self-organizing at various thresholds of energy ow, where bifurcation takes place such that the systems symmetry is broken and can go in multiple directions (Delanda, 2002). Indeed, the multiple directionalilty of the forces of open systems that are complex and far-from-equilibrium, allows for change that is understood as transition from one degree of potential to another, without the need of an idea of a linear development of a subtending substance. (Instead, think the transition of water from liquid, to gas, to crystal, but without even the external force that enables those particular transitions.) Thus, a body can be dened as the material elements belonging to it under given relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness: the sum total of the intensive affects it is capable of at a given power or degree of potential (Parisi and Terranova, 2000: 5). No doubt the turbulence of complex, far-from-equilibrium, open systems is part of a framework of control already put to work in the interest of global capitalism and its violence. It is this framework, however, which, I suggest, must be engaged in rethinking a critical framework for feminist theorizing, especially at this time. It is a framework that is still abstract and in need of specication. But the framework of turbulent, complex, far-from-equilibrium open systems makes conceptual shifts possible. Such shifts may meet tendencies of control in an affect economy and critically engage bodily capacities in terms of the transformation of the thermodynamic understanding of labour (beyond Marxs labour theory of value). They may also enable the shift from a politics of representation to a politics of life and death (a move beyond feminist theorys engagement with psychoanalysis to an engagement with technoscientic virtuality) and the shift from the idealized forms of reason that link freedom and equality to an incorporated haunted truth (beyond the revolutionary horizon of left/feminism and its melancholic remains). All this surely suggests that womens studies is needed more than ever as a site for feminist retheorizing governance and capitalist economy in terms of radical recongurations of bodies of gender, sex and race.


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Delanda, M. (2002) Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. New York: Continuum. Deleuze, G. (1991) Postscript on Societies of Control, October 3(7): 59. Foucault, M. (1991) Governmentality, pp. 87104 in G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller (eds) The Foucault Effect. Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hardt, M. (1995) The Withering of Civil Society, Social Text 45(14): 2744. Hardt, M. and A. Negri (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Massumi, B. (1998) Requiem for Our Prospective Dead, pp. 4064 in E. Kaufman and K.J. Heller (eds) Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Parisi, L. and T. Terranova (2000) Heat-Death, Emergence and Control in Genetic Engineering and Articial Life, CTheory, article/a84.html, last consulted 11 July 2003. Sharpe, J. (2002) A Conversation with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Politics and the Imagination, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28(2): 60924. Staples, D. (2003) No Place Like Home: Organizing Home-Based Labor in the Era of Structural Adjustment, unpubl. PhD dissertation, City University of New York. Taylor, M.C. (2001) The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Patricia Ticineto Clough is professor of Sociology and Womens Studies. Presently, she is Director of The Center for the Study of Women and Society and Coordinator of the Womens Studies Certicate Program at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her books include Feminist Thought (1995), The End(s) of Ethnography (1992, revised 1998) and Autoaffection: Unconscious Thought in the Age of Teletechnology (2000). Address: Center for the Study of Women and Society, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10-024. Email: