Tag Archive: assemblage theory


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.

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.