Tag Archive: DeLanda


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.

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.

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.

 

After reading Larval’s post about the hegemonic fallacy , thinking about object oriented philosophyand Bruno Latour I came up with the thought that the researcher requires a hybrid model for analysis. A model that avoids prescribing a determined mode of analysis and is capable of accounting for all, or at least the majority, of the dimensions of the object.


Overall, the hybrid model of analysis does not outline a metaphysical ontology, but it does hope to achieve pragmatic analysis that can cope with ontology (or at least the ontic entities that compose the world).


 

Here are my first brief thoughts about “Hybrid Model Analysis”


 

The main objective of hybrid model analysis is to construct an object-oriented approach for researchers that avoids what Larval has termed the “Hegemonic Fallacy.” Instead of the researcher relying on one style of analysis, the hybrid model forces the researcher to explain the object of analysis in its diversity. For example, when the researcher is examining the object of cars in the world, the hybrid model would not allow the researcher to select one particular dimension of cars to explain their existence. The problem of selecting one dimension is that it would only reveal and prioritise one aspect of cars and neglect other factors. Imagine if I analysed the discursive construction of cars in various discourses. While the analysis of these discourses would prove invaluable, its language bias would fail to capture the hybrid nature of the object in question. The result of examine the discursive construction would be to remained traped within the hegemonic fallacy. The hybrid model would not neglect the importance of discourses disseminating meaning about cars, but it would claim there are other dimensions (political economy, environmental factors, technological capability, and so on) that construct the object. The challenge for the researcher is to conceptualise how all these dimensions interconnect and influence one another in the object of analysis.



How then is hybrid analysis connected, or related, to an object-oriented approach? In general, I claim that hybrid analysis is object-oriented due to the fact that it forces the researcher to approach (and hopefully explain) the real (and diverse) dimensions of the object of analysis. Hybrid analysis is a form of empiricism that does not assume` pre-given entities (subject, language, mind…) and has to begin anew for every researched object. What the researcher ought to discover is that there is some transference from the object that ‘communicate’ what dimensions compose the object.


 

* For now I want to sidestep the important question of “what is an object?” Presently, I would only infer that an object  is similar to the concept of an assemblage that DeLanda outlines in A New Theory of Society.


(More to follow soon…)

 

Harman on DeLanda

Here is a link to a recording of Graham Harman discussing Manuel DeLanda’s Assemblage Theory.

it is from a talk Graham gave at LSE comparing assemblage theory with Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory.

Thanks to the anthem-group for posting the recording.

Media as Discourse – Lacau and Mouffe’s social constructivism ‘message without a medium’

In a follow up to a previous post on Deleuze and Guattari’s third major group of strata – alloplastic strata – I will now critique LacLau and Mouffe’s social constructivism. In general, while I see the merits of discourse analysis, I cannot but help feel it is a limited approach to understanding how the world is literally constructed, which is a limitation found in other forms of social constructivism.  The aim of considering Deleuze and Guattari’s model, or diagram, of stratification is it offers one a way out of language-dependent understanding of how the world is constructed and a more comprehensive idea of articulation. Hopefully, Deleuze and Guattari can help to demonstrate the limitations of Laclau and Mouffe specifically and social constructivism in general. 

 

            Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis is an example postmodern theorising that insists on what Derrida terms as the structural undecidability of the social. Laclau and Mouffe do no deny that there is meaning and grounds in ‘social life.’ Instead, their point is the social lacks a foundational centre, or transcendental signifier. This lack within the social allows for an infinite play of meaning and different forms of articulation to co-exist and compete with one another. This is what Laclau and Mouffe, in Derridean terminology, refer to as the structural undecidability of the social.  To demonstrate the structural undecidability of the social Laclau and Mouffe embrace deconstruction as a methodology and adopt the view that everything can be regarded as a text (in the Derridian sense of text). In a deconstructionist reading a double reading of a text is preformed. It is at this point the text is thought to contain a discourse. The first reading of the text is faithful and attempts to follow the dominant interpretation. The second reading is unfaithful; attempting to find what is excluded, neglected, and repressed within the text. It is the second reading that is crucial for undercutting the first reading, demonstrating how the dominant interpretation depends on what it excludes. Ultimately, LacLau and Mouffe’s deconstruction is a textual analysis, and argues that any object can be discursively constructed. How then do Laclau and Mouffe define a discourses?

            Overall, a discourse is defined as a ‘differential ensemble of signifying sequences in which meaning is constantly renegotiated.’ Discourses, in Deleuzian terminology, are regimes of statements that attempt to signify and give meaning to the world. For example, there are neo-liberal discourses that are composed of statements (regimes of signs) that contain views about trade, freedom, human rights, states, and so on. These (multiple) neo-liberal discourses function to give meaning to social life and compete with other discourses to achieve dominance in a discursive field. It is this attempt, and tendency, of discourses to dominant discursive fields that allows Laclau and Mouffe to discuss the practice of articulation.

            On the whole, articulation (and especially hegemonic articulation) seeks to define meaning within a discursive field. Articulation acts to both modify and fixed identities. A Caribbean example can help explain the process of articulation. Imagine a newspaper reporter was asked to compose a summary of the Jamaican sprinters performance in the Beijing Olympics. What is being asked of the reporter is for a regime of statements to be produced that articulate how the sprinters’ performed. LacLau and Mouffe’s structural undecidability and infinite play is evident from there being no ‘correct’ way to articulate the sprinters’ performance. Theoretically, a multitude (even infinite) ways of articulation are available for the reporter. What could emerge is a dominant/hegemonic discourse in the discursive field. For example, the reporter, and other media, might predominantly articulate the success of the Jamaican sprinters through focusing on Usian Bolt. The effect of this dominant discourse would restrict, repress, and neglect other forms of articulation that become marginal discourses. The Jamaican women sprinters, for example, could become marginalised as the dominant articulation of the Jamaican sprinters is a discourse constructed on the ‘nodal point’ of Usain Bolt.

            The aim of Laclau and Mouffe deconstructionist discourse analysis is to reveal the dominate discourse in a discursive field (first reading) and identify what is excluded in the articulations of these dominant discourses (second reading). In terms of media analysis LacLau and Mouffe offer a textual/deconstructionist method that concentrates on the ‘messages’ (articulation) within the media. The major problem Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis is it fails to move beyond a language-centred approach and remains in what Frederic Jameson refers to as the ‘prison-house of language.‘ Despite defenders claiming that Laclau and Mouffe are not reductionists, their approach has little to say about the content (i.e. first articulation) in the stratification process. It is for this reason that LacLau and Mouffe are idealists.

            It would be error to agree with Norman Gera’s claim that LacLau and Mouffe are invoking a shamefaced idealism. However, it would also be an error to claim that LacLau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis is a path towards a non-idealist constructivism. Instead it would be more appropriate to label LacLau and Mouffe as idealist because their discourse analysis concentrates on how interpretations and meanings are given to the world from humans. This is their ‘constructivist idealism’ and is based upon the argument that objects (or the world) do not reveal their meaning to us in a direct and automatic fashion; their meaning has to be given and articulated. Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis is therefore interested on how meaning is socially articulated and given to the world. Unlike Deleuze and Guattari, Laclau and Mouffe are more concerned with discourse than they are about geology (inorganic), biology (organic), and technology (alloplastic). It is for this reason that Laclau and Mouffe are not radical constructivists and remain social constructivists. Their discourse analysis can only explain the construction of the world when there is discourses and articulation of meaning. Deleuze and Guattari radical constructivism moves beyond this limitation, evident in their abstract diagram of stratification, and account for how construction of the world occurs geologically, biologically and socially. A radical constructivist approach, therefore, does not ask what discourses are constructing the social and analyses what processes of stratification are constructing the world.

            An additional problem of Laclau and Mouffe is there structural undecidability and claims of an open (non-totalising) world are constructed on the impossibility of a discourse achieving complete dominance and closure. The objection is not against there position of structural undecidability, or there claim of an open world. Instead, the problem is Laclau and Mouffe cannot explain their positions outside the realms of discourse analysis. It is language, and the impossibility of meaning, that provides Laclau and Mouffe with evidence that the (social) world is structurally undecidable and open. In contrast, Deleuzian complexity theory, as a process ontology, offers a more complete, and convincing, account of structurally undecidability and openness of the world (and not only the social world), which is achieved from the incorporation of non-linear dynamics in DeLanda’s assemblage theory. Arguable, where Laclau and Mouffe only achieve openness and structural undecidability in language, Deleuzian complexity theory achieves a material openness and undecidability. [I explain is this material openness in another section, which will focus on Deleuze and complexity theory]

            Why is this problem? In terms of political transformation Laclau and Mouffe only provide a project that is interested in the politics of meaning. For Laclau and Mouffe the structural undecidability of the social provides the opportunity to transform and challenge dominant discourses. Politics is therefore about a fight over meaning and interpretation. However, LacLau and Mouffe’s (radical) political project is limited from concentrating the significance of meaning. DeLanda provides a critique of such social constructivist projects:

           

The reason such a change is important for members of a given movement is not because categories directly shape our perception (as social constructivists would have it) but because of unequal legal rights and obligations which are attached by government organisations to a given classification, as well as practices of exclusion, segregation and hoarding of opportunities which sort people out into ranked groups. Thus, activists trying to change a given category are not negotiating over meanings, as if changing the semantic content of a word automatically meant a real change in the opportunities and risks faced by a given social group, but over access to resources (income, education, health, services) and relief from constraints

 

The point of DeLanda’s critique is that political struggles are largely aimed as transforming the machinic intermingling of bodies and not only caught in a dispute about semantic meaning. Political struggle is not only the construction of new meanings, but, and more importantly, about the construction of new realities achieved from deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. Struggles about racism, for example, were not only about the meaning of a categorical definition (black/white), but were about constructing new machinic assemblages of bodies where access to resources and relief from constraints was not hierarchically ranked in terms of ones race. It is because Deleuze and Guattari’s account for the intermingly of bodies in alloplastic strata that they offer a way out of LacLau and Mouffe’s politics of meanings, which is a language-oriented approach to politics. Deleuze and Guattari do not deny there are discourses in alloplastic strata (i.e. regime of signs), it is just that Deleuze and Guattari identify that the ‘social’ is more complex than is present in Laclau and Mouffe discourse analysis.

            Following DeLanda critique of social contrustivism I can also identify the constraints of LacLau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis when it comes to analysing technology. In McLuhanian terminology Laclau and Mouffe only provide a means to understand the message (i.e. expression) and not the medium (i.e. content). If the dissertation were to adopt Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse analysis it would fail to move beyond classifying technology as a text. This is a fundamental problem for any research that is attempting to examine technology. Technology, and specifically, media technology, is not merely mediums that disseminate meanings and discourses. It is important to recognize that new media technologies actualize a new reality (e.g. the simulation of virtual reality). Deleuze, in his book on foucault, refers to this as the construction of new visibilities. 

            Overall, Laclau and Mouffe provide an effective framework for achieving a discourse analysis of media. In terms of alloplastic strata, to a certain extent, Laclau and Mouffe can help for analysing the expressive components of alloplastic strata, providing the second articulation is a discourse. However, as the Google chapter illustrates, the second articulation is not always in the form of a discourse. It is at this point that Laclau and Mouffe ideas of articulation become ineffective and limited in comparison to Deleuze and Guattari’s defining articulation as (at least) a double articulation process. In conjunction, Laclau and Mouffe are unhelpful for understanding the content (first articulation) of alloplastic strata. Their language-centred discourse analysis fails to provide a method for analysing (media) technology and how it literally constructs the world from focusing on the messages and not the (material) mediums (e.g. the symbiotic relationships/assemblages formed with technology).  


See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985), Ernesto LacLau, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time (London: Verso, 1990), Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: LacLau, Mouffe, and Zizek (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), and Martin, J. 2002. “The Political Logic of Discourse: A Neo-Gramscian View”. History of European Ideas. 28, 21-31

Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: Laclau, Mouffe, and Zizek (Oxford: Blackwell) p62

Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: Laclau, Mouffe and Zizek p65

Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: Laclau, Mouffe and Zizek p85

Cited in Mark Bonta & John Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy: A Guide and Glossary p8

Norman Geras, “Post-Marxism?” New Left Review 163: 1987 40-82, p65

Jacob Torfing, New Theories of Discourse: LacLau, Mouffe, and Zizek p45

Manuel DeLanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity p62