Category: Philosophy

First I would like to apologise for holding up the reading group on Manuel DeLanda”s A New Philosophy of Society. Completing my PhD corrections and preparing for job interviews have consumed my time. As normal, the material conditions of life come before philosophy.

In this post I will dicuss the second section of chapter 4: Orgnaisations and Government and then proceed to put forward some critical remarks about the chapter. I hope my critical remarks can provide stimulus for further discussion of the chapter and I invite comments. My first post on the chapter is here.

Organisations interacting with other Organisations:

After providing a brief analysis of organisations that share an authority structure from a Weberian perspective, DeLanda moves up the scale in his social ontology of assemblages to examine the interactions between organisations as a different type of assemblages.  DeLanda writes:

‘beside an authority structure organisations also possess an external identity as enduring, goal-directed entities. As such organisations exist as parts of populations of other organisations with which they interact, and in these interactions they will exercise capacities that belong to them as social actors, capacities that cannot be reduced to those persons or interpersonal networks. The question now is, when organisations exercise their own capacities within a population of other corporate actors hierarchies and networks of organisations with properties and capacities of their own?’ (p75).

As we later find in the chapter, DeLanda ‘s answer to the above question is yes. According to DeLanda, the interaction between corporate organisations produces an emergent whole/assemblage, where different singularities are actualised that are not evident in assemblages of persons or social networks. To examine the emergent assemblage of interacting assemblages DeLanda concentrates on how hierarchical and network organisations cope with resource dependencies. The reason is that a hierarchical or network assemblage of interacting organisations represent two extremes on the continuum and display different strategies for coping with resource dependencies.  Of course, in reality, an assemblage of interacting organisations is usually a mixture, rather than being hierarchical or networked. DeLanda defines the two different coping strategies:

‘The first coping strategy involves the elimination of dependencies by the direct absorption of organisations through vertical integration, that is, by the acquisition or organisations that either supply inputs to, or handle outputs from, the absorbing firm. This strategy yields large organisations that are relatively self-sufficient and that can use economies of scale to become dominant nodes in their network…

…The second coping strategy involves not avoiding but benefiting from resource interdependencies. This strategy yields networks of relatively small firms in which no organisations is clearly dominant and in which  the lack of economies of scale is compensated for by economies of agglomeration: many small firms agglomerated in the same geographical region tend to attract talented people who can find a variety of jobs ‘ (p77-78)

Although not explicitly stated, the influence of Fernand Braudel is detectable in this part of the chapter and enables DeLanda to differentiate between the two extreme forms of interacting organisations. In both DeLanda’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and his article ‘Deleuze, Materialism and Politics’, DeLanda replaces Deleuze and Guattari with Fernand Braudel to understand economic interactions. DeLanda argues that Braudel is able to differentiate between market and anti-market economies, where the former is small-scale industry and the later is large-scale industry.  The point is that DeLanda wants to argue that concepts like ‘capitalism’ fail to acknowledge the difference between market and anti-market economies/industries.  I will return to this point later in my critical comments, but it is fair to say that assemblage theory argues against the existence of one economic model and instead puts forward the argument that different types of economies exist that are dependent on scale.

To illustrate the difference between organisational markets an hierarchies, DeLanda discusses two empirical examples from the USA: Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Boston.  The former representing a network of organisations where economic of agglomeration is practiced and the later is a hierarchical assemblage of organisations. In Silicon Valley there are a high density of small-scale firms where firms compete and learn from one another, and in Boston 128 a few relatively integrated corporations dominate the region. A key argument that DeLanda makes in his analysis of Silican Valley and Boston 128 is one about geography. According to DeLanda, assemblages of small-scale firms are ‘married to a geographical region where the organisations and skilled workforce agglomerate’ and the large-scale hierarchical firms ‘having internalized a large number of economic functions, have for that reason acquired a certain freedom from geographical location’ (p81). I do not want to tread too much on the content of the next chapter (i.e. cities and nations), but DeLanda’s point about geographical ties implies that large-corporations are geographically more deterritorialised than small-scale firms. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, DeLanda discusses the capacity of large-firms on specific geographical areas when they decide to relocate. In particular, DeLanda discusses the notion of city-killing, and how large-firms relocating have the capacity to cause economy decay in that region. An example we could use is the experience of Detriot, which is still attempting to recover from an economy based on large-scale firms.

The last section of the chapter moves towards an assemblage theory of government. I am running out of time, so I will only say one thing about DeLanda’s analysis. The key point is that assemblage theory would make it impossible to speak about the ‘state.’ As a concept the ‘state’ is too monolithic and would neglect to examine the heterogeneity of government with different and competing organisations.

Critical Remarks:

  1. The issue of time, and control of time, is a key element in DeLanda’s assemblage theory analysis of organisations. DeLanda does mention that the specific use of physical time is related to coercive procedures (p72). For example, an organisation could impose a strict timetable to forbid the wasting of time (p73). Another example, is that academics are being required to record research diaries so that the university has a record of how their workforce is organising their time. I want to make the point that DeLanda’s focus on time does bring him close to Marx’s analysis of the working day in Capital. Unlike a lot of organisational studies and theories of political economy, both DeLanda and Marx regard the organisation of time as a key element. In addition, both DeLanda and Marx have the capacity to understand time as a form of discipline and as a potential source of struggle.  I would also like to add that the control of time within an organisation is further complicated when we consider the issue of consent and volunteering. For example, seminars and conferences that are held at university are usually consensual, and members of the organisation decide if they like’d to turn up. However, if members do not attend then this could be viewed as unprofessional and their position could be at risk.
  2. I would have liked DeLanda to put a more comprehensive defense of him selecting Weber to examine organisations. Organisations studies is a large scholarly activity and I am sure there is a lot of competing theories.
  3. Although DeLanda is not a naive complexity theorist, there seems to be an implicit preference for market economics where small-scale firms interact through an economy of agglomeration, rather than economies of scale. Although DeLanda regards himself as being part of the ‘left’, I feel his economics is more similar to that of Fredrick Hayek. Both speak about self-organisation and critique large monopolies. Personally, I am not ready to reject the concept of capitalism. Could we not think of capitalism as a virtual/external object with different potentialities that can be manifested? I fear that DeLanda’s political economy only wants to estbalish a market economy with no dominant actors/corporations.
  4. Is the question between external relations and internal relations a relative one and scale dependent? In other words, the internal elements of an object and external relations is determined from which scale we are examining. For example, if i am examining an assemblage of interacting organisations then the internal elements would the interior of the specific organisations and the exterior would be how that organisation is relating to other organisations in that assemblage.
2nd Call for Papers:
Examining the Relevance of Marx and Marxism to Contemporary Global Society
Newcastle University, 29th and 30th of January 2011

Rationale, Outline and Aims

The 21st century has so far seen US-led military interventions, global
financial crises, identity conflicts, terrorism on a grand scale,
environmental disasters and fraught industrial/labour relations. These
dramatic events have challenged the notion of an ‘end to history’ and the
widespread belief that the collapse of the Soviet Union has made Marx and
Marxism irrelevant. With growing instability in the social, political and
economic functioning of human societies, we wish to examine the relevance
of Marx to contemporary global society.

In order to do this, Global Discourse ( is
organising a two-day conference at Newcastle University on Saturday 29th
and Sunday 30th of January 2011.

The aims of the event are:

-to examine the relevance and application of Marxian, Marxist,
Neo-Marxist and Post-Marxist thought to contemporary issues.
-to reassess scriptural and doctrinal commitments within various ‘Marxisms’.
-to facilitate interdisciplinary, inter-paradigmatic discourse on a range
of contemporary issues.

Papers from this event will form the basis of a special issue of Global
Discourse to be released in February 2011.

Keynote Papers

The keynote talks will be given by Prof Norman Geras, author of Marx and
Human Nature, whose paper will relate to the general theme, ‘What does it
mean to be Marxist?’, and Prof Stuart Sim, author of Post-Marxism: An
Intellectual History, who will be examining the achievements of

Topics, Deadlines and Publishing Process

We are currently soliciting papers addressing the two topics covered by
the keynote speakers, namely: ‘What does it mean to be Marxist?’ and
‘Post-Marxism and its discontents’.

We invite the submission of abstracts on these topics by November 15th.
Authors whose abstracts are accepted will then be invited to submit full
papers by December 17th. This will enable refereeing priori to publication
of the special issue of Global Discourse in February 2011.

We aim, subsequently, to publish a collected edition in print based on
these papers.

Please submit all abstracts, papers and panel proposals to the editors at


There will be no conference fee.

A lunch buffet and refreshments will be provided free of charge.

An optional evening conference meal on Saturday 29th of January will be
held at a nearby restaurant. We will seek to organise a special rate for
the meal and will circulate details in due course. Participants shall bear
the cost of their meal.


There will be space for 40 paper-givers and 20 non-paper-giving participants.

Please address all queries and submit all papers to Matthew Johnson and
Mark Edward at

With best wishes,

Matthew Johnson.

I’ve enjoyed the DeLanda reading group for A New Philosophy of Society (ANPS) and it is my turn to write about chapter 4: Organisations and Governments. So far there have been excellent contributions from Levi on chapter 1, Alex on Chapter 2 and Michael on Chapter 3. My post on the fourth chapter of ANPS will be in three  parts First, I will summarise DeLanda’s analysis of organisations, I discuss DeLanda’s analysis of relations between organisations and governments, and finally offer some critical comments. I hope the critical comments can continue the productive discussion the book symposium has already stimulated.  I will post part one here and the two other parts over the weekend.

1)      Summary of Chapter 4 (Part 1 Organisations)

In chapter 4 DeLanda continues his journey and moves up the ontological scale of assemblages to consider organisations and governments. DeLanda makes it clear that the organisations he is going to examine will primarily focus on the last two or three centuries, especially organisations that use commands to coordinate collective activity (p68). In addition, DeLanda furthers narrows his analysis from selecting to focus on what different command organisation share in common: an authority structure (p68). According to DeLanda, the expressive axis of organisations within an authority structures express the legitimacy, and the material axis is involved with the enforcement of authority. In other words, organisations have legitmacy dimension and an enforcement authority.

One of the most important decisions that DeLanda makes is to incorporate Max Weber’s typology of authority structure. According to Weber there are three  types of authority-structures: rational-legal, traditional, and charismatic. To accommodate Weber’s three authority-structures, DeLanda regards them as extreme forms (or ideal types) that are in a continuum. The result is that organisations and populations will usually have a composition of all the authority types. It is now worth outlining the characteristics of each extreme form.


Rational-Legal – Is an organisation where there is complete separation of the position and the person occupying the position. The role of the positions within the organisation will be clearly outlined and there is a clear hierarchical structure with relations of surbordination between positions (not persons) made legitimate in some form of legal constitution.

Traditional – Some organisations have authority structures where ‘positions of authority are justified exclusively in terms of traditional rules and ceremonies inherited from the past and assumed to be sacred’ (p69). Examples of this type of authority structure are evident in religious organisations or monarchical governments.

Charismatic – The final authority structure is when an organisation is led and mobilised from a strong and charismatic leader. According to DeLanda, ‘historically, the kinds of individuals that have played this role have ranged “prophets, to people with a reputation for therapeutic or legal wisdom, to leaders in the hunt, and heroes of war”’ (p69).



In terms of the rationa-legal authority structure, DeLanda makes the observation that this type has become popular in the contemporary world, and the last 200years has seen the propagation of the rational-legal form. In addition, we also see the significance of the idea of redundant causality for examining and understanding rational-legal organisations. The idea of redundant causality is that a person can be removed from a position in a rational-legal organisation and replaced with another without altering the identity of that assemblage. In other words, I could be removed from my position as a teaching assistant at Newcastle University and replaced with another person without altering the authority structure where people have well defined roles. The result is that organisational analysis of rational-legal authority structures, which follows assemblage theory, ought to be concerned with different positions of the organisation, rather than the specifics of the persons that fill these roles.

In his analysis of rational-legal authority structures, DeLanda argues that the daily following of commands is an expression of legitimacy (p71). He also suggests that forms of disobediance are a direct challenge to the authority structure of the organisation. I would suggest that there is an influence of David Hume in this section, which follows on from DeLanda’s Humean subjectivit y outlined in the previous chapter. In the third chapter, DeLanda suggests habits are one possible method for analysing and understanding a person. The same could also be suggested for examining organisations with an authority structure. We could imagine that organisations are a bunble of non-essential habits and the habits are related to the command structure of the organisations. For example, if my position requires I turn up at the office at 9am everyday this becomes a repetitive habit that also expresses the legitimacy of the organisation. If i decide to break the habit and refuse to turn up at 9am I am directly expressing disobedience and challenging the habits of the  authority structure.

In addition to Weber, Michel Foucault is an important influence in DeLanda’s analysis of organisations that have an authority structure. Unsurprisingly, DeLanda finds Foucault’s Discipline and Punish a helpful resource and notes how contemporary rational-legal organisations has two different historical sources:

“Speaking of the rational-legal form of authority, Michel Foucault discusses how the legitmacy of this form evolved as lawyers and legal scholars elaborated justifications for the contractual relations at the basis of voluntary submission, but also how these legitimating discourses had to be complemented by a nondiscursive, disciplinary component, which had quite different origins, not in judicial or legislative organisations but in miltary ones” (p72)

From Foucault, DeLanda observes two important developments in organisations. First, the spatial and temporal partitional of human bodies. The model for organising space was from the military, where paths, barracks, entrances, etc where organised to manage the subordinates and assign then a definite place, and a model of time was incorporated so that ‘working rates were established, occupations imposed, cycles and repetitions regulated (p72). Second, a new threshold of description (i.e. the minimum of significance which a piece of information must have been worthy of archiving emerged where the actions of ‘normal’ individuals were recorded.  No longer do we only record the achievements and movements of heroes, but all types of individuals are regarded as being significant and worthy of recording in contemporary rational-legal organisations. Although not explicitly expressed from DeLanda, assemblage theory would have to consider the material elements that make possible the recording of individuals. For example, contemporary supermarkets use loyality cards to eletronically record the purchases of consumers and help with their market research.

The last main point that DeLanda makes about organisation is about the jurisdication of organisations. According to DeLanda, the stability o f an organisation’s jurisdication is dependent on their legitimacy and the continuous enforcement. Processes that call into question the stability of an organisation as sources of deterritorialization. DeLanda lists the examples of organisations clashing over territory and a crises of succession, where a leader’s death could destabile an organisation and its jurisdication.

Levi Kicks off ANPS Reading Group

Levi has started the DeLanda A New Philosophy of Society (ANPS) reading group with an excellent post on chapter 1 (here) and posted links to other posts (here). Levi also starts to indicate the differences between DeLanda’s Assemblage Theory and the OOO of Harman and himself. For Levi, the main difference is that there are only relations of exteriority in Assemblage Theory and in OOO there are both relations of exteriority and relations of interiority.  I look forward to hearing more about the differences, as I confess that I am still working out the differences between an ‘assemblage’ and an ‘object.’

I also have to admit that the first chapter was when I began to pay attention to DeLanda and get excited about assemblage theory, rather than the introduction. I think this was for two reasons. First, assemblage theory is critical of totalities. For a while I have been critical of approaches in philosophy and social sciences that give too much casual explanation to a vague and all-encompassing totality. We can see this type of reductionist approach in Wallerstein’s World-Systems perspective, which DeLanda critiques latter in the book. The problem is that one social-unit/object is regarded as the main component and other concrete entities are neglected from the explanations. However, I think DeLanda is wrong in his desire to exclude capitalism as an abstract totality, and I tend to see capitalism as a virtual object with particular actual manifestations.

Second, DeLanda (correctly) argues that assemblages both have material and expression components. Too often the linguistic/cultural turn has emphasised the expressive component and neglected the material components. For example, Edward Said’s Orientalism, a book I have a lot of respect for, primarily concentrates on the expressive components of Orientalist practices. Influenced from Foucault, especially the Foucault of Archaeology of Knowledge, Said regards Orientalism as a discourse with a vast discursive network that makes possible Western conceptions of the Orients, and determines the superiority of the West. However, Said neglects to consider the material components necessary for Orientalism. For example, Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt is only examined in how the West produced knowledge and not the flows of materials required to retrieve/produce this knowledge. In addition, Said does not consider if the emergence of difference media transform and alter Orientalism. Is Orientalism the same with the development of the WWW as it was with books? I think assemblage theory, which acknowledges both the material and expressive components, is in a position to answer such questions. I also think that assemblage theory would require a form of hybrid analysis I have been suggesting here and here.

I recently came across this lecture from David Harvey. I admire his Marxism, which seems to avoid reductionism. His thesis puts forward the convincing argument that change cannot be brought about from focusing on one singular relation. For example, the relation between man and technology. Change requires that we focus on changing a multitude of different relations in order to produce a new assemblage (e.g. communism).

Here is the latest video salvo from Zizek (I think a book is coming out later on this year).

I have been glad to see that both Levi and Bogost have replied to my post about Object-Oriented Empiricism. Both Levi and Bogost have correctly raised some concerns about using the word empiricism. I admit that I share some of their concerns and there are certain problems about using the label empiricism. Maybe it would have been better to classify Object-Oriented Empiricism as Object-Oriented Philosophy in Action, which would represent the praxis dimension of Object-Oriented Philosophy. However, there is something that I find invaluable about empiricism, which I will attempt to express in this post.

The caricature of the empiricist is the researcher that goes out to observe facts from the external world, and uses their senses within experience to observe the world. The empiricist is then a dry observer, passively gazing upon the world. Another problem of the empiricist is they tend to focus on the human-world gap, making (traditional) empiricism a form of correlationism. The result is that the empiricist concentrates on how ideas come from our impressions of the world, which are derived from our human experiences. For example, I have an idea of a cake because I previously smelt, tasted, touched, and seen the cake. Therefore, for the empiricist, we never experience the world directly.

However, there is something invaluable about empiricism that I would claim is connected to Object-Oriented Philosophy. A lot of Object-Oriented Philosophy is indebted to correlationist philosophy, which puts the correlate of human and world at the centre of their concerns. For example, Shaviro’s Whiteheadian/Deleuzian realism is indebted to Kant, and Harman’s  OOP is indebted to Heidegger, and it seems unproblematic to claim that both Kant and Heidegger are correlationists. The interesting move that both Shaviro and Harman make is that they radicalize Kant and Heidegger, suggesting what they claim about the human-world correlate is also relevant for the relations between objects. I would also like to propose that it is possible to radicalize empiricism, and suggest what (traditional) empiricism says about the human-world correlate is also relevant for conceptualising object-object relations.

At one level, empiricism is critical of representational realism, suggesting that we experience secondary qualities (i.e. sound, taste, smell…) and not the actual object. In addition, the secondary qualities experienced do not resemble the object. For example, the sweetness of a cake is a secondary quality that I would experience through my senses, and not a quality of the cake in-itself. However, empiricism makes a key proposition here that is relevant for object-oriented philosophy. Empiricism suggests that objects have the capacity to affect humans, even if the objects remain a mystery. In other words, the encounter with objects is a productive encounter with difference that produces the subject. The result is that the ‘outside’ world has objects that have the capacity to affect humans, even if humans do not represent those experiences.

Yet, at this level empiricism remains ‘human, all too human’ and needs to be radicalized in order for empiricism to be relevant for OOP. What if we suggest that what empiricism claims about the human-world gap is also ‘true’ about other relations, which do not need to include the human-world relation. If empiricism claims that we need to account for how a human is formed from experience, then OOP needs to account how objects are formed from experience. Therefore, we cannot think of experience as experience of some subject and need to consider the inhuman, impersonal, or anonymous plane of experience. In addition, empiricism can inform us that encounters of experience are productive and non-representational. For example, the sunlight that encounters the plant has the capacity to affect the plant, but it would seem strange to suggest the plant is representing the sunlight. Instead, it would be more accurate to claim that different objects have the capacity to affect other objects, and the multiple relations between objects are productive, which have the capacity to produce emergent properties.

Hopefully, OOP has some potential to be empiricist, and can illustrate how experience is not an exclusive plane reducible to human experience, which can help to produce a non-anthropocentric empiricism. Therefore, there is a rich field of experience, where objects act upon other objects, and humans are only one node within this plane.

As I have noted, my recent attention has been concerned with the relevance of Object-Oriented Philosophy (herein after OOP) for political analysis (here). It recently struck me that OOP needs to put forward a program of what I will term Object-Oriented Empiricism (herein after OOE), which is  the actual practice of Object-Oriented Studies in action.

At one level I want to differentiate between the theory (or philosophy) of OOP and the praxis of OOP, which will be designated as OOE. The former (OOP) will primarily be engaged in the philosophical discussion and theoretical debates of an object-orient approach, and the main role of OOP will be to produce Object-Oriented Ontologies. The latter (OOE) will primarily be concerned with illustrating the benefits (and limitations) of Object-Oriented Ontologies for the analysis of the experiences of the ‘real’ world, aiming to research particular objects(or events) and how these objects act and relate to other objects. In other words, the Object-Oriented Empiricist will use (or steal) the ontologies produced in OOP and design  their research projects in accordance with what object-oriented ontology they adopt.

I feel there seems a need for OOP to move towards the stage of OOE. The rich work of Byrant, Harman, and Shaviro has reached a stage where there is enough theoretical discussion to move towards the empirical analysis of objects. Of course, OOE will have to be familiar with the different ontologies of OOP, the debates within OOP, and the consequences of adopting one ontology of OOP over another. For example, a debate within OOP is if an Object-Oriented Ontology needs a virtual dimension, or if Object-Oriented Ontology is purely actual. However, it is time for OOP to develop into OOE, which can show the praxis of OOP.

At present, I envision that OOE will adopt two principles from OOP (and speculative realism)

  1. Critical of Correlationism
  2. Against the Hegemonic Fallacy (and here)

In terms of the first principle, OOE will have to illustrate why research methods that concentrate on the correlate (or relation) between the humans and the world is in itself a limitation. The second principle will critique any research that argues that one difference makes all the difference. The result of the second principle is that OOE research will be unable to claim that analysis is reducible to one phenomenon (e.g. language or atoms). Therefore, OOE will argue against all forms of reductionism that are evident in a lot of other paradigmatic approaches. I envision that it is the second principle where OOE will have to empirically challenge a lot of other engrained approaches. The (hopeful) result of OOE will be that the research it produces will demonstrate that the ‘real’ is not reducible to social norms (social constructivism), pursuits of self-interest (political realism), discursive fields (discourse analysis), autonomous individuals (liberal individualism), and so on. The benefit is that OOE will be able to expose the limitations of other approaches from illustrating how they pertain to the hegemonic fallacy and reduce the ‘real’ to one phenomenon.

*[Update, Levi has written a recent post that is relevant for this post, discussing how objects act and the actual and virtual dimensions of objects, read here]

I have recently been thinking about what political praxis object-oriented philosophy (herein after OOP) can offer political analysis. In conjunction, I have been thinking about the differences between how an object is defined from reading Levi Byrant, Graham Harman, and Steven Shaviro. In the following post I want to focus on Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead’s “eternal objects’ in his book Without Criteria and his post (here). The aim is to defend an OOP that argues objects are both actual and virtual.

One of the main debates within OOP is between actualists (Harman) and virtualists (Byrant & Shaviro). My reading of the debate concerns if an object-oriented ontology requires a virtual dimension. Criticism of OOP arguing for a virtual dimension seems to put forward the argument that virtualists limit an object to what is possible. However, it seems that this confuses the difference between possible and potential. For an object-oriented philosopher of the virtual, the virtual is a crucial (and real) ontological dimension that enables one to contemplate how an object is not reducible or exhausted by its actual existence. In other words, any ontology that includes a virtual dimension attempts to account for potentiality.

Following Deleuze, Shaviro asserts that we should not differentiate between the virtual and the real, ‘the virtual…is altogether real in its own right…it is just that this reality is not actual. The virtual is like a field of energies that have not yet been expended, or a reservoir of potentialities that have not yet been tapped’ (Without Criteria, p35). As a reservoir of potentials, there are processes of actualisation, when certain potentials of the virtual are actualised. However, actualisations of the virtual do not exhaust the potential of the virtual. Shaviro is aware that Whitehead never uses the word virtual, but does argue that Whitehead’s distinction between the actual and the potential resembles the Deleuzian distinction between the actual and the virtual (Without Criteria, p37). Therefore, for Whitehead the potential is a real (virtual) ontological dimension of the world that needs to be acknowledged. We cannot only focus on actual identities (although actualists will contend this point).

We may then ask what Whitehead claim composes the virtual/potential aspect of his ontology. One answer is that the virtual is a composition of eternal objects. As Shaviro notes, ‘alongside events or actual entities, Whitehead also posits what he calls “eternal objects.” These are “Pure Potentials.” Shaviro defines Whitehead’s eternal objects in the following:

“’any entity whose conceptual recognition does not involve a necessary reference to any definite actual entities of the temporal world is a called an ‘eternal object’ (Whitehead, Process and Reality). This means that eternal objects include sensory qualities, like colors (blueness or greenness) and tactile sensations (softness or roughness), conceptual abstractions like shapes (a helix, or a dodecahedron)…eternal objects are ideal abstractions that nevertheless (in contrast to Platonic forms) can only be encountered within experience, when they are ‘selected’ and ‘felt’ by particular actual occasions” (Without Criteria, p39)

At least two things are noteworthy about eternal objects. First eternal objects are virtual, but nevertheless real. Second, eternal objects are actualised in particular occasions, but are not reducible to these particular local actualisations. To understand why eternal objects are virtual and not reducible to their local manifestations in particular point in time, it is necessary to regard eternal objects as neutral and indifferent:

“’Eternal objects ‘involve in their own natures indecision’ and ‘indetermination’ (Whitehead, Process and Reality); they always imply alternatives, contingencies, situations that could have been otherwise. This patch of wall is yellow, but it might have been blue. This means that their role is essentially passive…You might say that yellowness  ‘in itself’, understood as a pure potentiality, is utterly indifferent to the actual yellow color on this particular patch of wall…Eternal objects, like Deleuze’s quasi-causes, are neutral, sterile, and inefficacious, as powerless as they are indifferent” (Without Criteria, p41)

There seems an important argument that eternal objects need to be thought of as neutral. At one level, the neutrality ought to mean that the virtuality of eternal objects is not reduced to local or particular manifestations. In other words, we need to be careful about equating the virtual with the actual. In terms of thinking ‘yellowness’ as both an eternal object with particular manifestations it seems unproblematic. Therefore, the book that sits in front of me with a yellow cover does not exhaust the potentiality of ‘yellowness’ as an eternal object. However, it is perhaps worth considering if the neutrality of eternal objects has any significance for an OOP political analysis. We can maybe draw the political significance of eternal objects from a (re)reading of Foucault’s analysis of the Panopticon in Discipline and Punish. [I have also selected this example to provocatively suggest Foucault has the potential to be read as a type of object-oriented philosopher].

It might seem odd to (re)read Foucault’s analysis of the Panopticon as an example of discussing an ‘eternal object.’ At one level, Foucault is examining the physical attributes and design of a particular building. Foucault’s fascination with Bentham’s Panopticon is that the design of the building allows an observer a fixed central position that makes it possible to gaze upon those people confined within the Panopticon. The result is that Foucault is able to consider how the Panopticon functions as a form of disciplinary power that produces the subjectivity of those confined. One of Foucault’s main findings is that as a form of imprisonment, the Panopticon differs from a dungeon as ‘full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is the trap’ (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p200). However, Foucault is aware that merely focusing on the Panopticon as a means of imprisoning delinquents is in itself a limitation. We could suggest that this type of analysis of analysis is too empirical and remains at the level of actual objects. In other words, it fails to conceive of the Panopticon as a (Deleuzian) virtual idea or (Whiteheadian) eternal object. Indeed, Foucault is aware that the potentiality of the Panopticon is more than particular local manifestations of a Panopticon. Foucault writes that the Panopticon ‘is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars into to work (Discipline and Punish, p205). In other words, the Panopticon as an eternal object is not reducible to those experiences that actualise a manifestation of panopticism, and Foucault warns that the Panopticon ‘is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use’ (Discipline and Punish, p205). In order to detach the Panopticon from any specific manifestation there requires the need to conceptualise as an ‘eternal object’ or what Deleuze and Guattari would refer to as an abstract machine. The effect is that a Panopticon is both virtual and actual.

One other issue needs addressed. Whitehead and Shaviro both understand eternal objects as ‘neutral’ and ‘indifferent’ to their manifestations in particular occasions, and it seems strange to claim that Panopticon – as an eternal object – is ‘neutral’ and ‘indifferent’. Indeed the Panopticon seems overtly political and not neutral. Yet such a criticism I would suggest would be too concerned with the particular and actual uses of panopticism in our actual experience. As an eternal object the Panopticon is indeed ‘neutral’ and ‘indifferent’, we need only think that particular manifestations of the Panopticon could be used from different and antagonistic political ideologies (Fascism, Liberalism, Socialism). Therefore, as an eternal object, panopticism is indifferent to particular manifestations and is not exhausted from these previous manifestations.

Arguable,  constructivism or construction is a loaded term in academia. Whenever one uses constructivism or construction it usually means they are social constructivists. However, like Deleuze and Latour I find value in using the term and would like to see it detached from social constructivism. Maybe we could propose there are social constructivists (e.g. Berger & Luckmann) and (radical) constructivists (e.g. DeLanda, Latour, Deleuze). I would claim the difference between the two are the following:

Social Constructivism  is concerned with the social construction of reality

(Radical) Constructivism is concerned with the construction of reality

The two ‘schools of thought’ appear similar, but their differences are significant and leads to two different positions. Social constructivists argue that reality is always social mediated and mind-dependent and Radical contructivists argue that mind-independent entities exist and they are knowable.  It is along these dividing lines that the battle of constructivists are drawn. The former is anti-realist and the later is realist.