Lindsay Tanner: Societies of Control

“What governments actually do is changing. The emphasis is shifting from building to learning, from regulating to persuading, and from alleviating producer risks to moderating family income changes.”

This is not from an academic essay but a speech delivered by Australian Labor Party Shadow Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner. Guy from attended, and describes Tanner as a genius. Tanner said something very intersting when interviewed for the ABC’s current affairs show Lateline after the speech. Something like, “We want to get into power, but we wnt to get into power with the right polices.” Or something like that. He was acknowledging that the entire political system has become corrupted by the neoliberal spnsorship of the current Liberal Government. Cool.

Anyway, in his speech he said some other very interesting things. He continues:

“The Howard Government has not reduced the role of government, but merely reshaped it to support its own political objectives. […] While many are still struggling to accept the shift in emphasis from public ownership to regulation, a new shift is already beginning. Regulation is being augmented by advocacy and exhortation. The future state will rely more on persuasion and less on compulsion. The soft power of governments might be commonly used in international affairs but it is still largely untapped in the domestic sphere. That’s now starting to change.”

And more:

Government campaigns to reduce smoking and road accidents are early examples of this emerging role. You can’t legislate against all foolish behaviour, but you can educate against it. While regulation will remain an important weapon of government, exhortation is set to become much more prominent. Changing attitudes is as vital to reducing obesity as banning junk food advertising. Instead of encumbering financial services providers with ridiculous disclosure obligations that generate mountains of paper that consumers don’t read, governments could get serious about tackling financial illiteracy. Many Australians don’t understand the risk-reward equation.”

Hmm, the road safety industry, road accidents and exhortation through behaviourial protocol? Societies of control! I talk about this briefly here. I write:

“To think the “speed limit” as a limit allows authorities to imagine a particular movement-based threshold of perception and action that bestows upon drivers the ability to negotiate the various everyday hazard-events that constitute the road environment. This is a negative way to look at traffic and is typical of the (post)modernist preoccupation with incorporating contingency (“the accident”) into behavioural protocol and technical design (Lyotard 65-8). It is not surprising that the road safety industry is an exemplary institution of what Gilles Deleuze called the “control society”. The business of the road safety industry is the perpetual modulation of road user populations in a paradoxical attempt to both capture (forecast and study) the social mechanics of the accident-event while postponing its actualisation.” (par. 15)

Anyway more from Tanner:

“Governments invest large sums in providing education and training services. How much effort do they put into increasing the commitment to learning? Hardly any. Their investment is all supply side and no demand side. The first step to a more educated population is people wanting to learn.”


And more:

“An endless web of complex interventions designed to protect and advantage particular groups of producers is being unwound. Intervening to protect particular producers at the expense of others is a recipe for economic stagnation. […] Where once we had child endowment and the aged pension, we now have an extraordinary array of schemes and arrangements to limit the economic effects of child-rearing, studying and ageing. Childcare rebates, the baby bonus, Family Tax Benefits, child support, HECS, Medicare, the private health insurance rebate, occupational superannuation, Home and Community Care, aged care subsidies, and a host of smaller programs all exist to reduce the fluctuations in our economic circumstances driven by life-cycle events. Since 1969-70, the proportion of the Federal Budget devoted to social welfare and health insurance has risen from under 20 per cent to over 50 per cent.”

And more:

“The role of government is shifting to less tangible, more complex interventions, and away from building, owning and running things. The state’s role in promoting and enabling learning is becoming paramount. Its role in enabling individuals and families to manage the ups and downs of the life cycle is increasingly prominent. Its role in the economy involves less reliance on ownership, less intervention to favour particular producers, and less focus on building things. The use of soft power to change behaviour by exhortation is beginning to emerge.”


“Most of these changes are happening in spite of the Howard Government, not because of it. […] It has used the power of exhortation to strengthen its chances of re-election rather than to improve social outcomes. It has increased state intervention in the finances of individuals and families to smooth life-cycle fluctuations, but very selectively. Assistance with the costs of ageing has soared, but financial help while studying has declined.”


“Learning will be at the heart of the new state’s mission. Building the capabilities of its people is now central to a government’s task. Our commitment to learning, as individuals families, companies and governments, will determine our future as a nation.”


It was if Tanner had read Deleuze’s “Postscript on Societies of Control” and condensed part of it into an example of the Australian situation. From Deleuze:

“If the most idiotic television game shows are so successful, it’s because they express the corporate situation with great precision. The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within. The modulating principle of “salary according to merit” has not failed to tempt national education itself. Indeed, just as the corporation replaces the factory, perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination.”

And more:

“Marketing has become the center or the “soul” of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world.”


“Can we already grasp the rough outlines of the coming forms, capable of threatening the joys of marketing? Many young people strangely boast of being “motivated”; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It’s up to them to discover what they’re being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex that the burrows of a molehill.”

Twilight zone shit

Governmentality and the ‘Law and Order Society’

I posted a version of the below to the Foucault list this morning as I have reached another aporia in my ‘thesis thinking’. I thought I’d post a version up here, too. Maybe one of my regular readers (or some random) will be able to point me in the direction of some related work. 🙂

My specific problem is that I have been dealing with what in Australia we call ‘hoons’ (in the UK and NZ they are called ‘boy racers’ in the US it is sometimes the more traditional ‘hot rodder’). Basically the ‘hoon’ is an iconic cultural figure: a loud and aggressive young man, driving a loud and aggressive car in a loud and aggressive way (often playing loud and aggressive music on a booming car stereo;). Anyway, the problem is that I can see there is a shift across three phases in the power relations from the ‘normative’ governance of the system of automobility (ala Jeremy Packer’s essay on road safety) through general anxieties about the ‘at risk’ group labelled ‘young drivers’ to the moral panics that have recently emerged in Australia around this figure of the hoon.

What I am interested in finding out is if anyone on the list had come across any work that attempts to reconcile a Foucaultian governmentality methodology with traditional moral panic theory. My problem is in the way power relations operate differently in the two situations. I have been thinking Agamben’s work on the state of exception may be a useful way to think about how moral panics are the expression of a kind of localised state of exception within the institutionalised cultural formations of a given society. By ‘localised state of exception’ I mean organised around a particular social problem and discursively constructed around a necessarily problematic figure, such as the hoon. This would be thinking about folk devils as some way equivalent to Agamben’s conception of homo sacer, and, well, generally offering a specific (but I think productive) misreading of Agamben. These things can be worked around. However it becomes very problematic when Agamben and Foucault’s respective approaches are thought alongside the neo-Gramscian approaches of the British cultural studies tradition, specifically the work of Hall and others on the ‘Exceptional State’ and the ‘Law and Order Society’.

Hmmm, I may just leave it as an unresolved, but productive tension in my thesis. But if someone has come across some work or has some thoughts on how to think through this tension I would love to discuss it with them.