Tag Archive: Realism

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.

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.

Following the previous post that introduced a hybrid model of analysis I would now like to consider why this type of analysis is required. Larval has alrealy outline his reasons for object oriented philosophy (read here)

In ‘We have Never be Modern’ Latour discusses the problem for the social scientists that attempt to explain the world in terms of either subject/society or object/nature. His generally thesis seems to be that modernity has created a constitution that separates, and purifies, Society from Nature and Nature from Society. If Latour is correct then we are required to reject this purification and distinction of Society and Nature and come to realise modernity is not real. The implications of ‘We Have Never Been Modern’ runs counter to a lot of common knowledge; think about university departments and the segmentation of knowledge production. A common distinction that plays out the Society and Nature distinction is separating Social Sciences (politics, sociology, cultural studies) from Natural Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics). Interestingly, one of the subjects that really questions the division of Natural Science and Social Science is Geography, a subject that I was lucky enough to study at undergraduate level.

How then does the nature and society distinction play out in explanations of the world? Consider the question, ‘what creates human’s needs and interests?’ An ‘ordinary person’ might argue that it is the object that determine the needs and interests of the subject,  referring to the object, for example, as either God or the economy. In this explanation the “flow of determination” goes from the object to the subject. However, the social scientist could argue that the ‘ordinary person’ is misguided and the “flow of determination” goes from the subject to the object, where ‘Gods. money, fashion and art only offer a surface for the projection of our needs and interests’ (Latour, 1994;p52). Accordingly, the social scientist claims that ‘the inner properties of objects do not count, that they are mere receptacles for human categories’ (Latour, 1994; p52). We may classify this argument, where the subject determines the object, as social constructivism, which holds the position that it is the meanings, categories, and classifications that are important to explain the world.

In contrast, the ‘ordinary person’ could argue that it is society that determines the object, claiming that they have ‘free will’ and are a ‘rational actor.’  For example, the ‘ordinary person’ could claim that it was their  own ‘free choice’ and not economic needs that made them purchase a commodity. Critiquing this view of the ordinary person, the social scientist will claim that ‘free will’ and ‘rational choice’ are myths that conceal the real turth of how the object determines the subject. We only need to imagine a Marxist social scientist arguing that the subject is experiencing is nothing other than false consciousness where the material/economic base determines the superstructure (beliefs, views, culture…).

We seem to be at an impasse. Either the social scientist is left arguing that it is the subject that determines the object or it is the object that determines the subject. This situation is largely sterile as it generates a master/slave dialectic reliant upon the separation of nature and society. In reality the separation of nature and society is a myth and hybrid analysis aims to demystify this embedded myth of modernity.

The example of smoking is a clear phenomenon that transcends, or at least questions, the nature/society divide. As an (quasi) oject smoking is too real to be social and too social to be merely real. In otherwords, smoking is a hybrid that is objective and subjective. It is objective in the sense that smoking has real effects and non-discursive dimensions.  It is subjective as smoking has as categories, classifications, and meanings. The empiricism of hybrid analysis has to account for, at least, the objectivity and subjectivity of smoking, or whatever object it is examining.

In a future post I will propose a model/diagram for hybrid analysis…


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…)


Speculative Heresy have posted a collection of 13 papers/articles from Graham Harman. One of the key thinkers in the emergent speculative realism paradigm. This collection looks an exciting read and I look forward to understanding Harman’s Object-Oriented philosophy.

The papers/articles can be accessed from here.

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.