The Rise of the Social

Clearly it is not a question of the adjective that qualifies the set of phenomena which sociology deals with: the social refers to a particular sector in which quite diverse problems and special cases can be grouped together, a sector comprising specific institutions and an entire body of qualified personnel (“social” assistants, “social” workers). We speak of social scourges, from alcoholism to drugs; of social programs, from repopulation to birth control; of social maladjustments or adjustments, from predelinquency, character disorders, or the problems of the handicapped to the various types of social advancement. Jacques Donzelot’s book [The Policing of Families] is a forceful one, because it proposes a genesis of this strange sector, of recent formation an growing importance, the social: a new landscape has risen up around us. As the contours of this domain are nebulous, one has to recognize it first by the way it took form, beginning in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by the way it sketches out its own originality in relation to older sector, so that it is able to react on them and effect a new distribution of functions. …
It is the relationships between public and private, state and family, law and medicine, and so forth had long been pegged to a standard – that is, to a law that determined relationships and parities, albeit with wide margins of flexibility and variation. But the social comes into being with a system of flotation, in which norms replace the law, regulatory and corrective mechanisms replace the standard.fn3 Freud and Keynes together. Psychoanalysis talks a great deal about law, but to no avail: it belongs to a different regime. Not that it is the lat word in the social sector: if the social is indeed constituted by this system of regulated flotation, psychoanalysis is merely one mechanism among many others, and not the most powerful; but it has impregnated [pg xvii] them all, even if it is bound to disappear or dissolve into them.
From the “lesser” line to the line of flotation, going by way of all other lines (marital, philanthropic, hygienist, industrial), Donzelot has mapped out the social, its emergence, and its expansion. He has shown us the birth of the modern Hybrid: how desires and powers, the new requirements of control, but also the new possibilities of resistance and liberation, come to be organized, laid out opposite one another along these lines. “Having a room of one’s own” is a desire, but also a control. Inversely, a regulatory mechanisms is haunted by everything that overruns it and already causes it to split apart from within. That Donzelot leaves the reader the task of concluding provisionally is not a sign of indifference, but rather announces the direction of his forthcoming work [The Invention of the Social, untranslated] in the field he has staked out.

Gilles Deleuze, pix, xvi-xvii

Fn3: Regarding this difference between norm and law, see Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1:143ff.

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