Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Society of Control: The People and the Individual

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Society of Control: The People and the Individual

Article excerpt


Catlaw's book Fabricating the People is a critical work within the field of governance, providing much-needed analysis of the democratic ideal of representation set against the widespread distrust of government. While the overall argument is complex, Catlaw's (2007) underlying explanation for the growing distrust of government is straight-forward: When individuals consider government they do not recognize themselves or their interests in what they see. According to Catlaw, addressing this dissociative experience is not a matter of improving representation. Instead, the problem is the project of representation itself. The existence of the People requires the transformation of a multitude of individual and differing viewpoints into a single homogenous Unity (Catlaw, 2007; Hardt & Negri, 2000). The multitude must become the People; the Many become One. In order for this to happen similarities must be identified and amplified while differences are smoothed over through exclusion and erasure. In other words, what makes an individual uniquely herself is precisely what cannot be included within the People.

This paper begins by examining Catlaw's analysis of an ontology of the One, and then considers how the ontology of the One presupposes an equally problematic ontology of the Many. With the relationship between One and Many problematized, the argument uses this tension to shine a light on Catlaw's society of control and to consider its relationship to the holographic state. Finally, Catlaw's "politics of the subject" is envisioned as an essential component in a turn toward an Integrative process ontology, an ontological position from which we are better equipped to address and rectify the schismogenic (Bateson, 1935) relationship between One and Many in which the two sides of the dualism exist in a perpetual race to counteract and outweigh the other.


Representation takes a multitude of individuals, each unique in her differences, and formulates a singularity: the People. The assumption of representation is that "there is an ultimate, given unity behind appearance to which all differences in the final instance reduce" (Catlaw, 2007, p. 2). For this to be possible there must be an "underlying ontological commitment to the One" (p. 186). In other words, the People assumes an ontology of Oneness, and the corresponding assumption is that Oneness denies an ontology of the Many.

Yet, for the People to exist as a unified whole it must somehow incorporate all who are identified as citizens within the public sphere. The only way for this to be possible is if Unity smoothes over the rough edges of difference, homogenizing particulars into a singular general class--the People. Although representation requires that individuals share their perspectives through various forms of participation, their experiences must be generalized to allow for an empirical model where categories must be abstractions (pp. 47-48); the People "creates unity through exclusion" (p. 13). Outliers must be scrubbed. Unique characteristics ignored. Individuals can only be reflected in the People in as much as they reflect the generic properties of the model. For an individual to be part of the People she must exist as a truncated being, denying or erasing all aspects of self that mark her as a flawed copy of the model.

But, Catlaw takes this critique a step further, arguing the People eventually must exclude everyone because no one is actually coterminous with "the People," all deviate in some manner. The People, then, is an empty set (p. 13). We are therefore "colonized" (Stout, 2010b) by an ontology of a One that is both fabricated and empty of content. Yet we are normatively judged by how successfully we replicate the One, or subcategories, in our own lives. It is no wonder the ontological underpinnings of the People have started "breaking down" (p. …

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