Sketch for a Social Theory of the Dialectic of Control

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Craig BROWNE, University of Sydney, Australia
My paper explores how the notion of the dialectic of control enables a number of substantial innovations in social theory and addresses some of the major deficiencies in current sociology. I argue that the notion of the dialectic of control has been present in sociological discussions for several decades without its implications having been systematically developed. Indeed, partly owing to its theoretical genealogy, the notion of the dialectic of control contains the possibility of a synthesis of insights drawn from a number of major theoretical traditions, including critical social theory, structuration theory, classical and contemporary pragmatism, post-structuralism and psychoanalysis. In part, the perspective of the dialectic of control explicates the dynamics of different spheres of social interaction and it will be shown to enable an innovative conception of the constitution and transformation of institutions. By focussing on the nexus between autonomy and dependency, the dialectic of control illuminates modes of resistance to domination and the reconfigurations of social relations, including alterations resulting from reactionary mobilisations in opposition to progressive change. In this way, the perspective of the dialectic of control overcomes the division in social theory between approaches oriented to power and those concerned with the normative content of social integration. Similarly, the dialectic of control can only be properly understood in terms of its practical instantiation and it will be argued that this requirement enhances the reflexivity of social theory. Finally, the social theory innovations deriving from the concept of the dialectic of control clarify important aspects of contemporary social conflicts and their consequences. This is significant because the failure to appreciate the modifications in dialectics of control has sometimes led influential interpretations of the current phase of modernity to overlook and veil the strains and tensions that are shaping institutions.