Discipline :: Topology :: Control

Since Deleuze introduced the concept of the control society, thinkers have tried to gauge its precise character and sportsBabel has worked to make a contribution to that end. But we must keep in mind that the original title has "sociétés de contrôle" in the plural. That is, Deleuze suggests there are multiple societies of control, each effecting its own intensive modulation of subjects as its disciplinary apparatus and spaces of enclosure are in decline or crisis. Each of these is interconnected by other modulations at different levels of assembly (cf. DeLanda).

Panhapticism in Ljubljana

panhapticism as graffiti in ljubljana:
vision and touch intersect at the nexus of control

Do not mix models, Deleuze and Guattari remind us: sport will have its own modulations, its own relations with and passages between striated and smooth, optic and haptic, and back again.

But with sport, at least, the disciplinary spaces of enclosure do not appear to be in crisis. Rather, they appear to exist as moments within a larger sportocratic trajectory. Brian Massumi offers us guidance towards understanding this trajectory — or rather transformation — by asking us to consider architecture topologically, in which Euclidean space is an instance, a point in time raised to the level of the three-dimensional — in short, a metric moment of a topological transformation or process.

The distinction that is most relevant here is between topological transformation and static geometric figure: between the process of arriving at a form through continuous deformation and the determinate form arrived at when the process stops. An infinite number of static figures may be extracted from a single topological transformation. The transformation is a kind of superfigure that is defined not by invariant formal properties but by continuity of transformation. … Anything left standing when the deformation is stopped at any moment, in its passage through any point in between, also belongs to their shared figure. The overall topological figure is continuous and multiple. As a transformation, it is defined by vectors rather than coordinate points. A vector is transpositional: a moving-through points. Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration. The figure is what runs through an infinity of static figures. It is not itself determinate, but determinable. Each static figure stands for its determination but does not exhaust it (Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 184).

In this case, Massumi is discussing the challenge for architecture to respond to topology as the experiential condition of individual human beings. In his view, our being-in-the-world as sensing subjects involves a "synesthetic cooperation" between exoreferential fixed visual perception and self-referentially dynamic internal proprioception as they fold forward and back into one another. But what if we are talking about the administrative apparatus instead, the architecture that adjudicates the social body as well as the individual body?

In its high performance sporting sense, the moment (or static figure) at which the topological superfigure comes to rest is the space and time that we traditionally understand as the site of athletic competition. It was John Bale who first explicitly formalized the sport stadium in these terms, but the stadium's disciplinary character was already understood implicitly by the sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm with his "prison of measured time," and even earlier in George Perec's novel W ou le souvenir d'enfance, which juxtaposes a narrative set in the stadium against one set in the concentration camp.

At this particular level of assemblage the stadium is a Euclidean space: enclosed, partitioned, and adjudicated with a perspectival optic gaze. The athletes, support personnel and spectators become objects of information within this sporting apparatus, numerically inscribed and tracked at various checkpoints. They each become part of an archive-creation process as well as an atomized element against which archives are tested.

Only thereafter, when the competition nominally ends, does the topology become apparent. Specimen samples are withdrawn from the athletic body for anti-doping testing procedures. While authorities originally captured the "waste" byproduct of urine for testing, today the range of signifying vectors has expanded to include blood and DNA, which are effectively "living tissue" insofar as they contain the biological code to recreate human life. To counter against doping procedures or drug technologies in use today but in the absence of a feasible test to ferret them out, the World Anti-Doping Agency has instituted an 8-year statute of limitations within which newly-discovered tests may be retroactively applied to old samples and results changed. In other words, the competition still continues for eight years after the interim winners have been announced.

As such, the samples of "living tissue" that leave the disciplinary spaces of sport are themselves part of the space of competition. Wherever they travel — by vehicle to some laboratory or by telecommunication channel to some database — the site of competition topologically transforms to match this space. Massumi, once again (in repetition and difference): Because of its vectorial nature, the geometry of the topological superfigure cannot be separated from its duration.

Rather than modern sport being a disciplinary institution in "crisis" yielding to an institution of control, then, it appears that its disciplinary spaces continue to exist albeit as discrete moments or static figures in the overall topology of high performance athletic competition. The topological superfigure itself — the vectorial transformation — is what we understand today as the crisis: a smooth space of intensities that the institution of control attempts to administer by riding and arresting the flow, what Deleuze and Guattari describe as an effort to "utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space" (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 385). Instead of the panoptic gaze taking measure within a static figure, the panhaptic touch-sense modulates within the transformation to render it optic at every possible moment: a tactile, digital interplay between the senses, a haptic-made-optic.

Twin Strategies of Control

I have suggested that surveillance and spectacle work together as if a moebius band in the control society, using the same technologies in different ways to achieve their goals. But what of the relationship between production and consumption?

Foucault suggested that surveillance allows for maximum (productive) economic efficiency and minimum political insubordination. But if you take Baudrillard's perspective that consumption is the true lever of society (setting aside for a moment D+G's assertion that "all production produces production"), then one might counter that spectacle allows for maximum (consumptive) economic efficiency and minimum political insubordination.

The difference in these two attempts to minimize political insubordination is that surveillance works by partitioning and individualizing such that seditious elements are unable to mass together for action. The disciplinary space of surveillance still exists in the control society, but only as discrete moments in otherwise topological architectural forms. Spectacle, on the other hand, actually functions best with the "crisis of enclosure" as it encourages a particular form of contagion by letting the crowd or swarm — or target market for that matter — do the work of normalization through discourse.

Liminal Aesthetics

Liminal Aesthetics and the Adjudication of the Sporting Body

(submitted by sean smith to the 2009 sport & technology: philosophical dimensions conference at langara college)

Visioning technologies are becoming an increasingly important part of the administrative and judicial apparatuses of sport as, for example, with the photo finish or instant replay. Indeed, as sports are contested at ever-higher speeds it can be difficult to authoritatively determine outcomes with any degree of precision in the absence of such visioning. These technologies have traditionally operated by reducing the volumetric to the planar; that is, by using the camera to represent three-dimensional live action in the two-dimensional form of photo or video, which then forms an archive that can be viewed at a later time. But a new class of visioning technologies is emerging that integrates multiple synchronized camera shots into a visually consistent whole to re-create the three-dimensional within a computer database. This is accomplished via the technique of interpolation, in which the data points of video frames are combined to create new data points in between. These new in-between data points have a curious relationship to the real events of athletic competition, however: though they were created from representations of the real and could not exist without them, they themselves never actually occurred. Can these new visioning technologies and their emergent data points provide an ethical basis for the administration and adjudication of the most critical elements of sporting performance?

surfing, waves, forms

A person lying face-down on a long board paddles out over a series of waves to reach the break. Hard work, to be sure, but not surfing work. Though the surfer exists discursively on the beach and in fashion and in the pages of magazines and on highlight reels, as well as in the physical preparations for the surfing session proper, we are still primarily discussing the surfer in its potential. It isn't until the surfing body starts to catch a wave and stands up on the board that it emerges from the virtual into the actuality of surfing sensation. As I have mentioned before, the surfer turns potentiality into actuality by contouring the liminal edge between signal and noise, for the wave on which she expresses herself can only be considered the pure signal of the cresting swell in its becoming-noise.

urban gait surfing waveforms, viewed in audacity

We move inland to the city. Instead of a completely liquid ocean we find (social) matter existing in various states (solid, liquid, gas) and in processes of relation between states (melting, solidification, vaporization, condensation, deposition and sublimation). Perhaps we can say that complexity increases in the city, but the aesthetics of the surfer continue to adapt and thrive?

At least, that is what the gait surfer hopes to explore: the aesthetics of the surfer, adapted to the politics of the city. Dérive and thrive, only if the visual dominated and sound wasn't such an important consideration.

But sound is important. It is part of the built environment, emerging organically from the technical apparatus of the city, or technically from our organic processes existing within its folds and dynamism. As Lotringer, Kraus and El Kholti point out in the foreword to Baudrillard's In the Shadow of Silent Majorities, "Félix Guattari may have answered that it is no longer necessary to maintain a distinction between material and semiotic deterritorializations and that there is no more absolute primacy of one system over another." That is, the semiosis of sound and its recordings is part of an architectural form, and the deterritorialization of the body as it relates to this architecture is something that demands consideration.

The graphic above shows the waveforms for the six songs on the playlist of the first urban gait surfing study, the micro-architecture of the shared acoustic space within the public/private space of the surf. Notice the difference in each song's individual shape. What lies outside that shape? What lies on the edge, the threshold?

urban gait surfing waveforms, viewed in audacity

This is the same playlist zoomed into 1.3 seconds of detail. Notice how the shapes change, expand, offer a different threshold of potential.

Gait surfing can be considered an attempt to refashion psychogeography at the scale of nanosociability. An engagement of the vibrations and resonances with other bodies, experienced by walking in what we consider the liminal space between public and private. While the spatial field of gait surfing experience is much smaller at any given moment and thus is more intensely bodily, it is also temporally far more dynamic with each step and thus requires a more precise calibration or attunement to affect in order to be detected.

Reframe the question. How do we as sensing subjects respond at the level of nano-aesthetics? Ideally, and borrowing from Iain Borden, can we call gait surfing a performative critique of the sound architecture?

Only in part. There are multiple simultaneous critiques at play, most notably those of the sound architecture and the pedestrian flux. It is at the moments of greatest resonance or accord between these two critiques that we approach the surfer's eternal quest for the perfect wave.

War & Peace (sportsbabel remix)

  a sportsbabel multimedia experience
  please press play before continuing to read

a sportsbabel multimedia experience


Is war as old as gravity?

If I love peace do I have to love trees?

Are there animals that like peace and animals that like war?

War Animals - Courtesy of N.F.L.

Is peace quiet?

Is making war an instinct we inherited from our hunting or farming ancestors?

Were farmers the first warriors?

Do we love without thinking?

Do we do the right thing without thinking?

When children fight with their brothers and sisters are they learning how to make war?

How do we test the limit of our bodies without war?

Usain Bolt - 100m Beijing

Why do they compare war to a man and peace to a woman?

Peace is unpredictable.

Why is war so exciting?

War is the best game and the worst life.

Is peace the hardest work?

Is peace a time of tension?

What are the different kinds of victory, in a war, in a race?

Is despair a solution?

Why is it dangerous to say "never forget"?

(with respect to ryuichi sakamoto)


Physical dislocation. Temporal dislocation. Psychological dislocation. All easily accomplished on a macro scale if one boards a plane and travels to the other side of the world, or even if one hops in a taxi and ventures to the other side of the city.

Nation-states, municipal boundaries, unofficial neighbourhood delineations. Planes, trains and automobiles. Such blunt instruments, though, for detecting the flows and rhythms of the everyday and its micro scales of sociability. The psychogeographical project of the Situationists was just such an attempt to refine and recalibrate our tools for perceiving location and dislocation — for understanding ambience — particularly as our awareness of the spatiotemporal environment (as politics) has increased (and the stakes have gotten higher).

Every new visioning technology invented pushes the vectors of perception forward, and so we discover new stars in the nether reaches of the universe or new particles of matter at the subatomic level. And while we haven't yet exhausted the potential of closer interstellar objects or larger-scale particles, the insights they have already provided point us in new directions for investigation.

We should understand the Situationist dérive in similar terms. While it is true that the broader aims of psychogeography in general and the dérive in particular have not been fully realized (because the sociopolitical terrain has shifted underneath, as much as any other reason), they suggest new tools for affectively understanding beyond the micro to what could be considered the nano scale of the social.

Gait surfing can be considered an attempt to refashion psychogeography at the scale of nanosociability. An engagement of the vibrations and resonances with other bodies, experienced by walking in what we consider the liminal space between public and private. While the spatial field of gait surfing experience is much smaller at any given moment and thus is more intensely bodily, it is also temporally far more dynamic with each step and thus requires a more precise calibration or attunement to affect in order to be detected.

And while the lessons drawn from the dérive enabled a greater understanding of the macropolitics of the city for the Situationists, so perhaps the nanosociability of the gait surf can offer insights into the micropolitics of the lived everyday.