According to Deleuze and Guattari there is three major groups of Strata. These are inorganic (geology), organic (biological), and alloplastic (social). In the following post I will attempt to concentrate on the latter of these three and hope to outline its main features. I will also attempt to consider its significance for approaching technology. My belief is that Deleuze and Guattari’s third grouping of strata allows a way out of postmodern theorizing that regards everything as a text. [My next post is a critique of this type of postmodern theorizing in Ernesto LacLau and Chantal Mouffe, who i regard as social constructivists and not radical constructivists, despite their project of radical democracy]. 

 

         In accordance with Deleuze and Guattari’s model of stratification alloplastic strata contains (at least) two articulations of content and expression. What is specific about alloplastic strata is a new distribution of content and expression in comparison to inorganic and biological strata. Deleuze and Guattari define the content and expression of the alloplastic grouping as the following:

 

There is a third major grouping of strata, defined less by a human essence than, once again, by a new distribution of content and expression. Form of content becomes “alloplastic” rather than “homoplastic”; in other words, it brings about modification in the external world. Form of expression becomes linguistic rather than genetic; in other words, it operates with symbols that are comprehensible, transmittable, and modifiable from outside

 

Overall, the alloplastic grouping of strata is the combination of machinic assemblages of bodies (content) and collective assemblages of enunciation (expression). The machinic assemblages of bodies are the various and temporal assemblages formed between tools and hand (e.g. hammering) that modify the external world. The fact that machinic assemblages of bodies modify the external world means they are regarded as productive. These machinic assemblages of bodies have both substance and form. The bodies in the alloplastic strata are regarded as the substance, which have been captured or/and attracted into the strata. The form of the machinc assemblage of bodies is the actions and passions of these bodies once they are interialised into the alloplastic strata. In the second articulation, the collective assemblages of enunciation (expression), there is an operation of symbols that gives alloplastic strata a ‘linguistic’ dimension that is not an expressive component of inorganic and organic strata. The form of expression is alloplastic strata is a regime of signs and the substance is the emergent ‘social institution.’ Importantly, Deleuze and Guattari warn against reducing expression to words in the alloplastic strata, and argue it is reducible ‘to a set of statements arising in the social field considered as a stratum (that is what a regime of signs is).’ Overall, words, for Deleuze and Guattari need to be attributed to a regime of signs, or what Foucault would refer to as a discursive formation. At this point I will now describe an actual example of alloplastic strata from Deleuze’s book Foucault, which will help to illustrate how content and expression is emergences in alloplastic strata from a process of stratification.

            The example that Deleuze uses to illustrate the realness of content and expression is Foucault’s analysis of the panoptic prison in Discipline and Punish. Deleuze ‘maps’ the content and expression in the following:

 

The content has both form and substance: for example, the form is prison and the substance is those who are locked up, the prisoners (who? why? how?).  The expression also has a form and a substance: for example the form is penal law and the substance is ‘delinquency’ in so far as it is the object of statements. Just as penal law as a form of expression defines a field of sayability (the statements of delinquency), so prison as a form of content defines a place of visibility (‘panopticism’, that is to say a place where at any moment one can see everything without being seen)

 

It is from this example that Deleuze and Guattari’s process of stratification can be traced in the alloplastic strata. In the first articulation (content) there are the prisoners, as substance, being (literally) captured into the prison (form of content), which causes a modification in the external world. In conjunction the alloplastic strata also demonstrates expressivity. In this example the regime of signs is the penal law, acting as a form of statements to qualify what constitutes crimes and their punishments and the substance is the institution that transforms a person into a delinquent. Deleuze and Guattari refer to this process as the incorporeal transformation of a body that performed using order-words. The above example of the incorporeal transformation is when the judge, or jury, disseminates the order-word ‘guilty,’ which transforms the body from a suspect into a delinquent.

            How then do Deleuze and Guattari approach the phenomenon of technology in the alloplastic strata? Unsurprisingly, Deleuze and Guattari are interested in what assemblage is produced when technology connects and plugs into other bodies. It is this approach to technology that allows Deleuzian and Guattari to avoid an object oriented approach. The problem with an object, medium, oriented approach is that is would resemble technological determinism. Deleuze and Guuattari outline their approach to technology in the follow:

 

We think the material or machinic  aspect of an assemblage relates not to the production of goods but rather to a precise state of intermingling of bodies in society, including all the attractions and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alternations, amalgamations, penetrations, and expansions that affect bodies of all kinds in their relations to one another…Even technology makes the mistake of considering tools in isolation: tools exist only in relation to the interminglings they make possible or that make them possible. The stirrup entails a new man-horse symbiosis that at the same time entails new weapons and instruments. Tools are inseparable from symbioses or amalgamations defining Nature-Society machinic assemblages

Two important points emerge from this quotation. Firstly, the connections and assemblages produced between tool (technology) and (hu)man are literally regarded as a form of symbiosis. According to Deleuze and Guattari the machinic assemblages of bodies in the alloplastic strata ought to be seen as a similar to the symbiotic assemblage, for example, between the wasp and the orchid. Importantly, it is helpful to remember that wasp and orchid assemblage is not an essential relationship and a historical constituted phenomenon, where there is a becoming wasp of the orchid and a becoming orchid of the wasp. Similarly, the symbiosis of man and tool is also historically constituted that is both non-essential and non-totalising. In other words, the (present) connections made with (particular) tools are not the limit because there is always room for more alloplastic assemblages to emerge. Secondly, approaching tools from their relations to other bodies allows Deleuze and Guattari a ‘flexibility’ that avoids them either being technological determinist or social determinist. Tools, for Deleuze and Guattari, at the same time make possible the intermingling of bodies in the alloplastic strata and are only possible because there is an intermingling of bodies in the alloplastic strata. Tools (technology) therefore construct alloplastic strata and are constructed from alloplastic strata, which avoids the either/or argument between social determinism and technological determinism. Deleuze and Guattari would therefore take the view that technology is social and the social is technological. It is here that Deleuze and Guattari’s radical constructivist materialism becomes evident. The emergence of new symbiotic relationships in the alloplastic strata is a process that literal constructs the world. It is here that Deleuze and Guattari encourage analysis to focus on morphogenetic processes (human and inhuman) that give rise to a new products and a new reality. In other words, it is the intense immanent flows of matter in and through assemblages/strata that provides the ‘foundation’ for Deleuze and Guattari’s constructivism. 


Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus p68

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus p74

Gilles Deleuze, Foucault trans Sean Hand p41

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus p99-100

This approach of radical constructivism differs from social constructivism. The crucial difference is that social constructivism aims to understand how humans give meaning to the world, while radical constructivism aims to understand how the world is literally constructed/stratifed

 

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