Friday, December 31, 2004

Reading :: Mind in Society (supplemental notes on dialectics)

Originally posted: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 20:04:22
Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes
by L. S. Vygotsky
After reading A Thousand Plateaus, it's a relief to get back to something that makes sense on the first reading. I picked up Mind in Society to revisit Vygotsky's use of dialectics, and ended up breezing through the whole book in the space of a few days.
I reviewed this book a while back, but here are some additional notes on how dialectics play into Vygotsky's work:
Vygotsky based his psychological work on the Marxist framework. For example, he uses Engels' contrast "between natural and dialectic approaches to the understanding of human history. Naturalism in historical analysis, according to Engels, manifests itself in the assumption that only nature affects human beings and only natural conditions affect historical development. The dialectical approach, while admitting the influence of nature on man, asserts that man, in turn, affects nature and creates through his changes in nature new natural conditions for his existence. This position is the keystone of our approach to the study and interpretation of man's higher psychological functions and serves as the basis for the new methods of experimentation and analysis that we advocate" (pp.60-61). Vygotsky goes on to say that stimulus-response theories are naturalistic in this sense: they are unidirectional, assuming that human behavior reacts to nature but does not change nature (p.61). His analytical approach, on the other hand, is based on Engels' assertion that human behavior does change nature. Three analytical principles follow:
- "Analyzing process, not objects." Psychology should be developmental; we should reconstruct stages of development rather than focusing on milestones. We should "trace" development. (pp.61-62)
- "Explanation vs. description." Vygotsky accuses associationist and introspective psychology of being descriptive rather than explanatory, and notes that explanation alone doesn't suffice. His analogy is that, based on description alone, a whale seems closer to a fish than a terrestrial mammal. Rather, we should pursue genotypic (explanatory) rather than phenotypic (descriptive) explanations: "By a developmental study of the problem, I mean the disclosure of its genesis, its causal dynamic basis. By phenotypic I mean the analysis that begins directly with an object's features and manifestations" (p.62). He goes on to give examples from research into early speech development. And he quotes Marx for support (p.63).
- "The problem of 'fossilized' behavior." Since Vygotsky is interested in processes and their explanations, he is drawn to a study of "process that have already died away, that is, processes that have gone through a very long stage of historical development and have become fossilized" (p.63). These -- what I take to be "operations" in the Leontievan sense -- have been around long enough that they have become "mechanized," detached from the activities that originated them. "They have lost their outer appearance," Vygotsky says, and so "their automatic character creates great difficulty for psychological analysis" (p.64) -- particularly Vygotsky's analysis, which must reconstruct their development. Vygotsky says that we can get to this development by focusing, once again, on the process: we can alter the behavior and "turn it back to its source through the experiment" (p.64). We can see him doing this through his many case studies.
Vygotsky summarizes: "To study something historically means to study it in the process of change; that is the dialectical method's basic demand. To encompass in research the process of a given thing's development in all its phases and changes -- from birth to death -- fundamentally means to discover its nature, its essence, for 'it is only in movement that a body shows what it is.' Thus, the historical study of behavior is not an auxiliary aspect of theoretical study, but rahter forms its very base" (pp.64-65). The dialectical method's basic demand, then, is for a historical study of change, particularly in terms of the qualitative transformations that an organism undergoes.
Vygotsky amplifies this point in his discussion of child development. "Our concept of development implies a rejection of the frequently held view that cognitive development results from the gradual accumulation of separate changes. We believe that child development is a complex dialectical process characterized by periodicity, unevenness in the development of different functions, metamorphosis or qualitative transformation of one form into another, intertwining of external and internal factors, and adaptive processes which overcome impediments that the child encounters" (p.73).
In their afterword, Vera John-Steiner and Ellen Souberman call Vygotsky's method "interactionalist-dialectical" (p.124) -- a good term, since there are plenty of psychological theories that are interactionalist but not dialectical.
A few things might strike us here. First, Vygotsky's relentless focus on development is, as he says, based on the Marxist dialectical account. Recall that Deleuze & Guattari declare dialectics "dead" because of multiplicity (see my more recent review of A Thousand Plateaus): signs don't simply develop, they form interconnections that are antimemories, antigenealogies, antihistories. Serres and Latour make similar charges. Vygotsky's whole thesis, that psychology is developmental, tends to elide the sorts of ahistorical associations that these other authors highlight. In fact, Vygotsky explicitly argues against an associational understanding of psychology. This makes some sense given the problems on which Vygotsky was working, but it also suggests that there might not be enough room in his approach for nondevelopmental phenomena.
We can also contrast with Bakhtin, who was working at about the same time on his philosophy of language. Like Vygotsky, Bakhtin was conscious of cultural-historical development and wanted to produce an interactionist understanding of it. But Bakhtin, unlike Vygotsky, thought in terms of dialogue rather than dialectic. Vygotsky's interactionalist-dialectical approach -- in my tentative reading -- assumes historical development of a unitary consciousness through a series of dialectical events, i.e., a series of interactions with the environment. Bakhtin's interactionist-dialogical approach, on the other hand, does not assume a unitary consciousness or a permanent settlement. The "voices of the mind" (see Wertsch) are voices of different participants interacting, never coming to a permanent agreement that would produce a unity of consciousness. That is to say, Bakhtin's dialogism provides a basis for a cultural-historical understanding of associations; perhaps Vygotsky's dialectical materialism does not. And maybe that's why I recognized so much Bakhtin in the more lucid patches of A Thousand Plateaus.
Obviously I'm in the middle of thinking through these issues, and I'm pretty sure things are not so clear cut. I'm planning to reread Vygotsky's Thought and Language soon, along with parts of Morson and Emerson's Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, so hopefully I'll have more answers soon.

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Reading :: A Thousand Plateaus (second attempt)

Originally posted: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 06:26:15

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
By Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari

I first read this book -- or rather, a big chunk of it -- just over a year ago, and my review was not entirely positive. "I found the book to be excruciating," I confessed, "and abandoned it on p.178." But in that intervening year I found myself recommending it to a variety of people. The idea of the rhizome was too valuable and kept making too many connections with other things I was seeing. So the realization eventually sunk in that I would have to go back and read the whole thing. I read the Gulag Archipelago when I was 15, I told myself, so I should be able to make it through this thing.

And I did. The book is still maddening, but now I have a better idea why. And although I still stand by the general criticisms of my previous review, I do understand the authors' project much better. Sit back, because this is going to be a long review. With subheadings.


Jenny encouraged me more than once to finish this book. "Play it like a record," she told me more than once, moving her hand as if rotating a turntable, encouraging me to take seriously Deleuze and Guattari's claim that the book can be read in any order because it is a rhizome. If this book were a record, it would be something like Skinny Puppy's Brap or Severed Heads' Since the Accident: full of starts and stops, looping, tempo changes, motifs, unexpected juxtapositions, and refrains that appear to be external references but that enter into a new internal relationship full of tensions. These are two of my favorite albums -- but maybe that's because they don't take weeks to get through.

I listen to these records the way that I read books: straight through. So I "played it like a record."


Many of these refrains in this book, though, really are references to other work. For instance, take this passage from the allegorical chapter on "the Geology of Morals":

The professor cynically congratulated himself on taking his pleasure from behind, but the offspring always turned out to be runts and wens, bits and pieces, if not stupid vulgarizations. (p.42)

You see a lot of offhand (and unpleasant) statements like these in A Thousand Plateaus, statements that first appear to come from nowhere. They are so frequent that sometimes I felt that the book was authored with the French Poststructuralist version of Mad Libs. But it turns out that this is a direct reference to Deleuze's scholarship. In response to an anonymous critic, he once said:

But I suppose the main way I coped with [writing about historical philosophers] at the time was to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed. (Negotiations p.6)

What this tells me -- besides the fact that Deleuze thought of his scholarship in terms of sexually administered comeuppance, which I think is fairly creepy -- is that A Thousand Plateaus probably isn't the best Deleuze or Guattari book to start out with. It was the capstone of their individual and collaborative work, I think, and I'm quite positive that there were hundreds of references like this one. As I said in the previous review, you have to work your way into the system all at the same time, and that's because the authors deliberately choose not to frame the text or situate it. (They lie about its rhizomatic nature -- there is definite progression in the book, and the conclusion is genuinely a conclusion -- but that progression is obscured and each part of the book refers to concepts developed in the other parts and in previous scholarship.) And as we all knew, the authors have made no real attempt to make the book very readable. Here are two more quotes from Negotiations. The first is about Anti-Oedipus, their previous collaboration:

There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you're even more perverse and depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first or containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and so on. Or there's the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is "Does it workl, and how does it work?" How does it work for you? If it doesn't work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading's intensive: something comes through or it doesn't. There's nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. (Negotiations p.8).

I guess I am implicated here, since I am after all writing copious annotations and a little review essay. And here Deleuze discusses A Thousand Plateaus, then in progress:

We'll do the sequel because we like working together. Only it won't be anything like a sequel. With a bit of help from outside, it will be something so different in its thinking and language that anyone "waiting" for us will have to say we've gone completely crazy, or we're frauds, or we couldn't take it any further. It's a real pleasure to confound people. Not that we just want to play at being mad, but we'll go mad in our own way and in our own time, we won't be pushed into it. ... We're going to stop compromising, because we don't need to anymore. And we'll always find the allies we want, or who want us. (p.9)

A Thousand Plateaus, then, was an experiment and they knew that it could be taken as mad. Well, mission accomplished. The book is tremendously self-indulgent in this respect, written for those in the loop and/or for the authors themselves, and written to confound the critics. Consequently, there's a lot of air here. I imagine that the Cliff's Notes version of this book would be about 60-80 pages. This review is considerably shorter, but I'll hit the highlights and try to make things clearer -- realizing the entire time that clarity is counter to the authors' intention. And I'm quite certain that I've missed a lot of things here, but that's what the comments section is for.


Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. ... It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. (p.21)

As I noted in the previous review, the rhizome is an antigenealogy (p.11, 21), an antimemory (p.21), "an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automation, defined solely by a circulation of states" (p.21). But I missed the most important point, which is right there in capital letters: "RHIZOMATICS = SCHIZOANALYSIS = STRATOANALYSIS = PRAGMATICS = MICROPOLITICS" (p.22). Yes, rhizomatics is pragmatics. The veil lifted when I got to this point. Deleuze and Guattari's project is an exercise in pragmatics, a monist, materialist attempt to make sense of the world by examining interactions. It is, as Andrew Pickering claimed of his own pragmatic project, a "theory of everything" (TOE). Much of what follows in the book has to do with this essentially ecological understanding of the world and how it applies to materials as well as signs. For instance, in a later chapter the hand is described as a foot that has been "deterritorialized." Biological evolution is described using the same terms as writing and economics. In my previous review, then, I drastically underestimated the project: it's not a semiotics, it's a TOE.

And so it makes sense at the end of this chapter that the authors finally tell us that "the tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance" (p. 25). Yes, no wonder Latour is so intrigued by rhizomes, since alliance of humans and nonhumans is his obsession. Filiation/lineage/arborescence exists, but rhizomatic alliances among heterogeneous elements are what causes the whole mess to work.


This short chapter, a critique of Freudianism, introduces the notion of multiplicity. Freud's problem, the authors seem to say, was that he believed in essential coherence rather than relative coherences. He was always looking for the root of the problem, which always led to the same thing -- and away from the discovery of the rhizome, away from the discovery of multiplicities, which are "lines of flight or deterritorialization, becoming-wolf, becoming-inhuman, deterritorialized intensities" (p.32) -- that is to say, not simply different representations of the same thing, but different positionings of material assemblages that may have relative coherence. (For more, I commend Annemarie Mol's The Body Multiple and my review of it.) Here's the important part: Multiplicity

was created precisely in order to escape the abstract opposition between the multiple and the one, to escape dialectics, to succeed in conceiving the multiple in the pure state, to cease treating it as a numerical fragment of a lost Unity or Totality or as the organic element of a Unity or Totality yet to come, and instead distinguish between different types of multiplicity. (p.32)

Yes, multiplicity is a way to escape dialectics. We forget about dualisms, absolute coherence, and most of all dialectical syntheses. Alert readers will sense a parallel to Bakhtin's project, which I'll discuss in a moment.

Multiplicities can be arborescent (macro; extensive, divisible, molar, unifiable, totalizable, organizable, conscious or preconscious), or they can be rhizomatic (libidinal, unconscious, molecular, intensive, "composed of particles that do not divide without changing in nature" (i.e., molar) "and distances that do not vary without entering another multiplicity and that constantly construct and dismantle themselves in the course of their communications." Rhizomatic multiplicities are composed of particles, "their relations are distances; their movements are Brownian; their quantities are intensities, differences in intensity" (p.33).

Citing Elias Canetti, the authors provide another distinction: mass (crowd) multiplicities and pack multiplicities. "The leader of the pack or the band play move by move, must wager everything every hand, whereas the group or mass leader consolidates or capitalizes on past gains" (p.34). The first is schizo, the second is paranoid (p.35).

Nevertheless, the different types are not dualistically opposed: "There are only multiplicities of multiplicities forming a single assemblage, operating in the same assemblage" (p.34). And "there are no individual statements, there never are. Every statement is the product of a machinic assemblage, in other words, of collective agents of enunciation (take 'collective agents' to mean not peoples or societies but multiplicities)" (p.37).

And this is the crux of the authors' criticism of psychoanalysis. Finally, some light breaks through: "We are criticizing psychoanalysis for having used Oedipal enunciation to make patients believe they would produce individual, personal statements, and would finally speak in their own name. ... at the very moment the subject is persuaded that he or she will be uttering the most individual of statements, he or she is deprived of all basis for enunciation" (p.38). Psychoanalysis is looking for an absolute coherence, an absolute subject, an individual to diagnose. It fails to understand the social, dialogic relations that produce individual voices.

See Voloshinov's Freudianism for another stab at this basic point.


This is where the going really starts to get tough. The chapter is written allegorically, as a lecture delivered by the fictional Prof. Challenger: "The same Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle, gave a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology in a fashion befitting his simian disposition" (p.40). Challenger's lecture uses geology as an extended metaphor for understanding how parts of the material world cohere.

He says: the Earth is "permeated by unformed, unstable matters" (p.40) which tend to flow in all directions. But it folds strata, "acts of capture" (p.40) which lock some of these matters into relatively coherent and stable aggregates. "They operate by coding and territorialization upon the Earth" (p.40), which is to say that the components of strata enter into mutual stable material-semiotic relationships. But at the same time the Earth continually becomes destratified and deterritorialized.

The Professor doesn't give a good example here, so I'll give it a try. Let's take Bateson's famous illustration of the blind man with the cane. (Bateson is one of Deleuze and Guattari's favorites, and his notion of the double bind figures prominently in this chapter.) In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (which I really need to reread), Bateson asks: is a blind man's cane part of him? When the blind man taps his stick along the sidewalk and feels a curb, where is the curb perceived? At the end of the stick, where the stick reaches the hand, or elsewhere? The answer is that the whole has to be understood as a system of blind man + cane + curb; it's a molar unit. This molar unit is an assemblage. The assemblage is not just a collection of atomic elements ("man," "stick," "curb"): each of these can be sliced or interconnected infinitely. A blind man's cane has its own components, and these interact with other assemblages; it's simultaneously part of a variety of them. It can be rearticulated, used for support (by a lame man) instead of sense (by a blind man). Assemblages make the unity of composition organized rather than random (p.71) -- they make sense of a heterogeneous jumble of infinitely recombinable parts, not just semiotically, but functionally (cf. multiplicity). Such assemblages are the surfaces of strata, which I take to be a sort of material-cultural space; it provides a unity of composition that "relates to formal traits common to all the forms or codes of a stratum, and to substantial elements, materials common to all the stratum's substances or milieus" (see the conclusion, p.502). Strata "consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance or redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates" (p.40) -- molar aggregates such as the blind man + cane + curb assemblage, I presume. The stratum might also include the city streets, the attitudes toward the blind, the significance of the cane's color (white), etc.

Strata come in pairs and are doubly articulated. "The first articulation chooses or deducts, from unstable particle-flows, metastable molecular or quasi-molecular units (substances) upon which it imposes a statistical order of connections or successions (forms). The second articulation establishes functional, compact, stable structures (forms), and constructs the molar compounds in which these structures are simultaneously actualized (substances)" (p.40). For instance, the authors say, think in terms of geological formation. In sedimentation, materials are cyclically laid down in a statistical order, separated from each other (layers). In folding, these layers are metamorphosed; it "sets up a stable functional structure and effects the passage from sediment to sedimentary rock" (p.41). Sedimentation forms a stratum, folding cements it.

A few things here about sedimentation and folding.

One, notice that here is the account of development and relative stability missing from rhizomes. Latour criticized rhizomes a while back for having no account of development or stability, but an account of sorts does seem to be here.

Two, the example of geology may appear to be a metaphor, but I take the authors at their word when they call it a "relatively simple case" (p.40, my italics). Remember, we're talking about a TOE here, an account that encompasses material, semiotic, and cultural aspects. It clearly encompasses evolution (we'll talk about that in a moment), so why not geology as well?

Three, their statement that "substances are nothing other than formed matters" recalls Bakhtin's statement that form is congealed content. I think the authors are often in sync with Bakhtin, although his project has a considerably narrower scope.

This double articulation is associated with Bateson's double bind. It connotes a dynamic tension between aggregation and cementing, or cycling and stabilizing. I would say that it's similar to the notion of contradiction, except that it's far more multidimensional and multivalent. Let's return to the blind man-white cane-curb assemblage. Suppose you take this assemblage into fiction, give the blind man heightened senses, and turn him into a superhero (Daredevil). The assemblage drifts a bit but still remains relatively stable. Daredevil is still a blind man; he still navigates city streets (on rooftops now, not curbs); and he taps criminals rather than curbs. He doesn't need a cane to navigate, but he still carries a white billy club -- the assemblage is still relatively stable, you see -- and it still functions as a tool. The club has been partially deterritorialized, partially dissolved from the assemblage and reconstituted in a different position, but it remains.

Let's take another example.

Not only is the hand a deterritorialized front paw; the hand thus freed is itself deterritorialized in relation to the grasping and locomotive hand of the monkey. The synergistic deterritorializations of other organs (for example, the foot) must be taken into account. So must correlative deterritorializations of the milieu: the steppe as an associated milieu more deterritorialized than the forest, exerting a selective pressure of deterritorialization upon the body (it was on the steppe, not in the forest, that the hand was able to appear as a free form, and fire as a technologically formable matter). Finally, complementary reterritorializations must be taken into account (the foot as a compensatory reterritorialization for the hand, also occurring on the steppe). Maps should be made of such things, organic, ecological, and technological maps one can lay out on the plane of consistency. (p.61)

What is deterritorialized on one plane is reterritorialized on another (p.54). The vision is one of ecological change, or a complex system -- though system implies too much in terms of preexisting forms. I think Deleuze and Guattari are getting at the notion that we live in a heterogeneous world with no a priori divisions or distinctions, but pragmatic distinctions can be made in multiple ways, both interpretive and functional. And like Latour, they're trying to use a common (symmetrical) language for both.

Also like Latour, they are interested in science as an abstract system that overcodes the other strata through language. Language has temporal linearity, or superlinearity, that distinguishes it from the spatiality of genetic linearity. The resulting "linear overcoding" allows translation, the ability of language "to represent all the other strata and thus achieve a scientific conception of the world. The scientific world ... is the translation of all the flows, particles, codes, and territorialities of the other strata into a sufficiently deterritorialized system of signs, in other words, into an overcoding specific to language" (p.62). One plane, one abstract system of representation. Science derives its power from this deterritorialization of planes into sign systems. (Remember Latour's argument that science is not performed on the world, but on representations of that world: tables of figures, diagrams, maps. And these representations are brought into being through acts of translation.)

The authors distinguish among three kinds of signs: indexes (territorial signs), symbols (deterritorialized signs), and icons (signs of reterritorialization) (p.65). These signs mark thresholds crossed in the movements of de - and reterritorialization (p.67). They occupy regimes of signs (p.65), relatively stable sign systems extracted from strata in which expression and content have been categorically separated (p.65). It's only in a regime of signs that a sign can be called a signifier (p.68). Only in a stratum that has codified the blind man-cane-curb assemblage, for instance, does Daredevil's white club signify blindness.

Content and expression cannot be reduced to sign-signifier. Regimes of signs "express organizations of power or assemblages and have nothing to do with ideology as the supposed expression of a concept (ideology is a most execrable concept obscuring all of the effectively operating social machines)" (p.68).

Writing this review, I realize that most of the major concepts of the book are discussed in this allegory. No wonder it was so inpenetrable. I haven't even gotten to the body-without-organs, which I'll tackle under Chapter 6 below.


"Language is made not to be believed, but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience" (p.76). This observation kicks off the chapter on linguistics, and you can see how it derives from Chapter 3's discussion of language as a deterritorialized, abstract system that represents other strata. Language makes sense of the world by fixing relationships, even though language itself is prone to the drifts and destabilizations that are present elsewhere.

If that sounds like warmed-over Bakhtin to you, you're partially correct. The authors approvingly quote Bakhtin here -- actually Voloshinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, which was translated into French under Bakhtin's name. In fact, I was perplexed that they didn't quote from some of Bakhtin's other relevant work since the parallels were so obvious. But then I realized that it's likely Bakhtin's other works had not yet been translated into French at the time they were writing. I'll try to point out parallels with Bakhtinian thought as I go through the chapter.

(By the way, it's ironic that the authors, who are apparently fond of difficult prose, have chosen the most lucid book of the Bakhtin circle to cite. Perhaps that's why this chapter is one of the most lucid in the book.)

The vision of this chapter is what I would characterize as dialogic in the Bakhtinian sense:

Language in its entirety is indirect discourse. Indirect discourse in no way supposes direct discourse; rather, the latter is extracted from the former, to the extent that the operations of signifiance and proceedings of subjectification in an assemblage are distributed, attributed, and assigned, or that the variables of the assemblage enter into constant relations, however temporarily. Direct discourse is a detached fragment of a mass and is born of the dismemberment of the collective assemblage; but the collective assemblage is always like the murmur from which I take my proper name, the constellation of voices, concordant or not, from which I draw my voice. I always depend on a molecular assemblage of enunciation that is not given in my conscious mind, any more than it depends solely on my apparent social determinations, which combine many heterogeneous regimes of signs. (p.84)

The authors go on to say that self emerges from this assemblage. This all sounds suspiciously Bakhtinian; replace "regimes of signs" with "social languages" and "murmur" with "dialogue," and there you are. But the authors are interested in linguistics as part of a TOE, remember, so they go farther than Bakhtin in discussing language as material. "Representations are bodies too!" they exclaim (p.86). And: "An assemblage of enunciations does not speak 'of' things; it speaks on the same level as states of things and states of content" (p.87). Perhaps this is the answer to Pickering's complaint that Latour shuttles between the semiotic and the performative: the distinction is unproductive because signs can be both bodies and acts (p.87).

This brings us back to the distinction between content and expression that evidently preoccupies the authors. Expressions do not uncover or represent content; these forms "communicate through a conjunction of their quanta of relative deterritorialization, each intervening, operating in the other" (p.88). On one axis, an assemblage is segmented into content -- "a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another" -- and expression -- "a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies" (p.88). On another axis, the assemblage is segmented into territorial or reterritorialized sides that stabilize it and cutting edges of deterritorialization that carry it away (p.88). The second axis sounds quite a bit like Bakhtin's distinction between centripetal and centrifugal forces, with the added point that centrifugal (deterritorializing) forces carry things away into other assemblages. And of course the first axis sounds a lot like a monist, materialist explanation of what Bakhtin calls dialogue.

The authors give a nice example using feudalism, once again mingling materials and signs in an undifferentiated (symmetrical) fashion. Here's a nice quote about how technologies fit into the picture:

Even technology makes the mistake of considering tools in isolation: tools exist only in relation to the interminglings they make possible or that make them possible. The stirrup entails a new man-horse symbiosis that at the same time entails new weapons and new instruments. Tools are inseparable from symbioses or amalgamations defining a Nature-Society machinic assemblage. They presuppose a social machine that selects them and takes them into its "phylum": a society is defined by its amalgamations, not by its tools. Similarly, the semiotic or collective aspect of an assemblage relates not to a productivity of language but to regimes of signs, to a machine of expression whose variables determine the usage of language elements. (p.90)

(Latour calls the Nature-Society machinic assemblage "NatureCulture.")

This brings us back to linguistics, or pragmatics in particular. The authors distinguish between external pragmatics (nonlinguistic) and internal pragmatics (linguistic) (p.91). Pragmatics, they point out, can't be conceived as "pretreated by a phonological or syntactical machine" -- pragmatics must be recognized as emergent from the "abstract machine," the totality of the assemblage being examined. Once we understand pragmatics in this way, as superlinear rather than placing elements in a fixed linear order, we achieve a rhizomatic understanding in which "the interpenetration of language and the social field and political problems lies at the deepest level of the abstract machine, not at the surface" (p.91). Again, rhizomatics = pragmatics and the equation necessitates a materialist, monist, symmetrical understanding of the world.


Now we look at regimes of signs in depth. Here, the authors define a regime of signs as constituting a semiotic system and as a "specific formalization of expression" (p.111). Signs are all about relationships; what is important about the sign is not itself but its associations (p.112). The authors reiterate the three types of signs they discussed in Chapter 3, indexes (territorial), icons (reterritorialization), and symbols (deterritorialization). They form a network or circle: "The question is not yet what a given sign signifies but to which other signs it refers, or which signs add themselves to it to form a network without beginning or end that projects its shadow onto an amorphous atmospheric continuum" (p.112). It's hard to build on this shifting sand, which means that paranoiacs in particular look for the master signifier that is the key to everything: "The sign that refers to other signs is struck with a strange impotence and uncertainty, but mighty is the signifier that constitutes the chain. The paranoiac shares the impotence of the deterritorialized sign assailing him from every direction, but that only gives him better access to the superpower of the signifier, through the royal feeling of wrath, as master of the network spreading through the atmosphere" (p.112). (This reminds me of Foucault's Pendulum and conspiracy theories.)

"But," the authors add, "what counts is less this circularity of signs than the multiplicity of the circles of chains. The sign refers not only to other signs in the same circle, but to signs in other circles of spirals as well" (p.113). And a regime of signs must assume this task of organizing signs into circles -- but it also "must provide the center with more signifier to overcome the entropy inherent in the system and to make new circles blossom or replenish the old" (p.114). This center of significance, the Signifier, is "nothing" -- a pure abstraction or principle. They call this redundancy of the signifier faciality and say that the face is what "releases and recaptures signifying signs" (p.115). That is to say, the face is the organizing principle of a regime of signs, that which collects and reterritorializes signs. When "the face is effaced" and "the faciality traits disappear," we have entered another regime (p.115).

Notice how this slots into the question of multiplicity. In a universe or "amorphous atmospheric continuum" of signs that float free, deterritorialized, we can make sense of things only by looking for a network of signs -- the network is the signifier, individual signs are not, and the network works because the deterritorialized signs become reterritorialized by their relationship to a coherent center. That center is "nothing" -- think of a tangle of string, whose center is nothing but more string, or a knot in a network, which is simply the network's material wrapped around itself. Or perhaps a dust bunny. We use such ephemeral centers to segment and organize the environment. But signs can belong to more than one network or signifier, as Annemarie Mol demonstrates so well in her discussion of atherosclerosis: in the hospital, the signifier "atherosclerosis" doesn't have a one-on-one correspondence with a particular object, it is constituted by an entire network of signs, materials, and enactments. And as Mol's study suggests, this is not merely a semiotic explanation. Signs are also material; they encompass everything, literally (p.117). (This is a TOE, after all.)

The authors compare a signifying regime to other types of regimes:

Presignifying. "There is no reduction to faciality as the sole substance of expression: there is no elimination of forms of content through abstraction of the signified" (p.117). Forms are plural and polyvocal. Segmentarity is plurilinear. Think of hunter nomads, the authors say.

Countersignifying. "This time, the semiotic proceeds less by segmentarity than by arithmetic and numeration" -- not arithmetic that is useful for dividing and unifying segmentary lineages, but arithmetic that refers to itself, "which itself determines functions and relations, which arrives at arrangements rather than totals, distributions rather than collections, which operates more by breaks, transitions, migration, and accumulation rather than by combining units" (p.118). Such a number is directed against the State apparatus. Think of warlike, animal-raising nomads, the authors say, giving Moses as an example.

Postsignifying. These regimes can all appear in each other and mix together (p.119). The postsignifying regime intersects with the signifying regime. It "is defined by a decisive external occurrence, by a relation with the outside that is expressed more as an emotion than as an idea, and more an effort or action than imagination" (p.120). "It operates by the linear and temporal succession of finite proceedings, rather than by the simultaneity of circles in unlimited expansion" (p.120). A signifying regime is paranoid and despotic; a postsignifying regime is passional, subjective, and authoritarian. The line of deterritorialization -- when a "packet of signs detaches from the irradiating circular network" -- is given a negative value in the signifying regime, but a positive one in the postsignifying regime (p.122). Again we return to Moses: "the paranoid Pharaoh and the passionate Hebrew." And the scapegoat: Israel became the scapegoat, following its line of flight, turning that line into a positive line (p.122). This postsignifying regime is related to the nomadic countersignifying regime: Israelites become warlike nomads who toppled States. But it is also related to the signifying regime: Israelites were nostalgic for Egypt and repeatedly tried to reestablish an imperial society (pp.122-123).

In the postsignifying regime, "faciality undergoes a profound transformation. The god averts his face, which must be seen by no one; and the subject, gripped by a veritable fear of the god, averts his or her face in return. ... It is this double turning away that draws the positive line of flight" (p.123). This regime is a regime of betrayal, in which man and God continually betray one another. Existence is existence in reprieve, indefinite postponement (p.123).

In this sort of passionate regime, the book becomes the sacred book, taking the place of the face of God (think of the ten commandments on the stone tablet). "It is now the book, the most deterritorialized of things, that fixes territories and genealogies" (p.127).

The chapter goes on like this, but let's skip a bit -- I'm not terribly interested in discussing some of the more detailed categorization. But I found it interesting that the authors equate absolute deterritorialization to "the earth iself" -- which I take to mean the entirety of existence, material in infinite semiotic connection, from which we must build regimes to "conjugate" and make sense (p.143). No universal logic exists; Abstract machines, diagrammatic functions, and machinic assemblages lead to regimes of signs, which in turn lead to languages. Thus, the authorws say, pragmatics is the fundamental element of logic, syntax, and semantics (p.148).

What I began to realize in this chapter is that the authors do indeed have a systematic way of discussing and analyzing the cases they do. Despite their frequently metaphorical language, they are trying to get at a TOE, and they see pragmatics (which, recall, is rhizomatics) as the key building block. Regimes of signs give rise to languages, but I think they are very close to what Bakhtin calls social languages.


Now this was a frustrating chapter to read -- the most frustrating in the book, even more so than Chapter 3. "So what is this BwO?" the authors ask hypothetically (p.150). Well, that's a good question. (One of my notes earlier in the book simply says: "BwO -- WTF?!?")

Let's take a crack at this question. Among the descriptions of psychological disorders and masochistic fantasies, the authors become relatively lucid here:

A BwO is made in such a way that it can be occupied, populated only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is not a scene, a place, or even a support upon which something comes to pass. It has nothing to do with phantasy, there is nothing to interpret. The BwO causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not space, nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree -- to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced. It is nonstratified, unformed, intense matter, the matrix of intensity, intensity = 0; but there is nothing negative about that zero, there are no negative or opposite intensities. Matter equals energy. Production of the real as an intensive magnitude starting as zero. That is why we treat the BwO as the full egg before the extension of the organism and the organization of the organs, before the formation of the strata; as the intense egg defined by axes and vectors, gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving group displacement, by migrations: all independent of accessory forms because the organs appear and function as pure intensities. The organ changes when it crosses a threshold, when it changes gradient. (p.153)

All clear? Recall that in Chapter 3, the Earth is described as a BwO (p.40). Referring to Bateson's term "plateau," the authors add that "every BwO is a plateau in communication with other plateaus on the plane of consistency" (p.158). The BwO has to do with the resistance to organization into strata. And I think the authors are, again, not simply speaking metaphorically when they say that the BwO is the Earth. "It is matter that occupies space to a given degree." The intensities and thresholds and gradients can be applied materially and culturally and economically.

The BwO is opposed to the organism: The organism is

a stratum on the BwO, in other words, a phenomenon of accumulation, coagulation, and sedimentation that, in order to extract useful labor from the BwO, imposes upon it forms functions, bonds, dominant and hierarchized organizations, organized transcendences. The strata are bonds, pincers. ... We are continually stratified. But who is this we that is not me, for the subject no less than the organism belongs to and depends on a stratum? Now we have the answer: the BwO is that glacial reality where the alluvions, sedimentations, coagulations, foldings, and recoilings that compose an organism -- and also a signification and subject -- occur. ... The BwO howls: "They've made me an organism! They've wrongly folded me! They've stolen my body!" The judgment of God uproots it from its immanence and makes it an organism, a signification, a subject. It is the BwO that is stratified. It swings between two poles, the surfaces of stratification into which it is recoiled, on which it submits to the judgment, and the plane of consistency in which it unfurls and opens to experimentation. If the BwO is a limit, if one is forever attaining it, it is because each stratum, encased in it, there is always another stratum. ... A perpetual and violent combat between the plane of consistency, which frees the BwO, cutting across and dismantling all the strata, and the surfaces of stratification that block it or make it recoil. (p.159)

But the BwO is not simply reality, and it becomes clear near the end of the chapter that "intensities" refer to intensities of desire:

The BwO is desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires. And not only because it is the plane of consistency or the field of immanence of desire. ... Money, army, police, and State desire, fascist desire, even fascism is desire. There is desire whenever there is the constitution of a BwO under one relation or another.

Desire can be an organizing principle, I suppose, but not a totalizing one or a teleological one. Desire is postponed, immanent. The authors here use masochism as a metaphor for infinitely postponed desire in which routes and circulations are blocked. Again, we can turn to Negotiations to make a connection: Deleuze suggests there that in a control society, desire is infinitely postponed.

What an exhausting chapter. Frankly, the authors never quite break the surface here, but near the end they almost do. Again, I think that reading earlier works in the authors' oeurve would make this elusive chapter much more comprehensible.


Faciality was discussed in Chapter 5; it was the redundancy of signs that together form a signifier. Sometimes clumps of signs deterritorialize, break away from one regime, and reterritorialize on another face.

Why "face"? The term refers to the two axes of signifiance and subjectification:

two very different semiotic systems, or even two strata. Signifiance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies. Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passions, and redundancies. (p.167)

Semiotics are mixed; strata always come in twos, at least; so the intersection of these two strata (white wall/black hole) is a special mechanism, a face. The person's face is what makes her words meaningful (p.167). It is an organ of meaning-making, and in this sense, the face is an absolute deterritorialization: "it is no longer relative because it removes the head from the stratum of the organism, human or animal, and connects it to other strata, such as signifiance and subjectification" (p.172). (This is in contrast with the hand, which is a relative deterritorialization of the paw.)

The authors give us four theorems:

First theorem. Deterritorialization never happens alone. There are always at least two terms, and each term reterritorializes on the other, serving as a new territoriality for the other. Reterritorialization implies a set of artifices that enables this reterritorialization (p.174).

Second theorem. Intensities and speed of deterritorialization do not necessarily correspond.

Third theorem. The least deterritorialized reterritorializes on the most deterritorialized.

Fourth theorem. The abstract machine is effectuated by the face, but also on other things that are "facialized" -- clothes, objects, etc. (pp. 174-175)

The face, the authors tell us, is Christ's. "He invented the facialization of the body and spread it everywhere" (p.176). Everything is facialized now, everything is a potential accumulator of clumps of signs.


Honestly, I got nothing important out of this short chapter. Sorry.


Segmentarity refers to the ways we divide phenomena to get a grip on them. The authors identify three kinds of segmentarity: binary (dualist -- men-women, adults-children), circular ("my affairs, my neighbor's affairs, my city's, the country's, the worlds"), and linear (proceedings) (pp. 208-209). These are all bound up with each other and overlap. "The notion of segmentarity was constructed by ethnologists to account for so-called primitive societies, which have no fixed, central State apparatus and no global power mechanisms or specialized political institutions," the authors say, but segmentarity applies just as well to our own lives. In primitive societies, "primitive segmentarity is characterized by a polyvocal code based on lineages and their varying situations and relations, and an itinerant territoriality based on local, overlapping divisions. Codes and territories, clan lineages tribal territorialities, form a fabric of relatively supple segmentarity" (p.209).

The term supple is important here, opposed to the rigid segmentarity that characterizes the centralization of State societies (p.210). They spend most of their time discussing rigid segmentarity, which characterizes modern societies. And here's where micropolitics comes in. Micropolitics works at the "molecular" level, as opposed to the "molar segments" of macropolitics. For instance, there are totalitarian states -- characterized at the macropolitical level as having "a rigid segmentarity and a particular mode of totalization and centralization" -- that are not fascist. Fascism operates at the micropolitical level, in the smallest political units, as cancerous cells (pp. 214-215) that are suicidal (p.230). Macropolitics are disrupted by contradictions, the authors say, referring explicitly to Marxism; but micropolitics are characterized by lines of flight (p.216).

In this context, the authors begin talking about flow, defined as belief or desire, "the basis of every society" (p.219). Such flows are not contradictions but escapes; yet again the authors use the example of the Crusades, which they call a connection of flows. By connection they mean "the way in which decoded and deterritorialized flows boost one another, accelerate their shared escape, and augment or stoke their quanta"; it is opposed to conjugation, in which those flows encounter "relative stoppage" that generally reterritorializes them and "brings the flows under the dominance of a single flow capable of overcoding them" (p.220). (This sounds a bit like Bakhtin's distinction between the centrifugal and centripetal to me.)

So let's get back to the three distinctions the authors have been sporadically making throughout the book. There are three kinds of lines in this map: primitive (tribe: territorial, lineal), rigid (epire: dualist, overcoded), and flight (war machine: decoding, deterritorialization) (p.222). "Power centers obviously involve rigid segments," the authors say, but the segments are also distinguished and united by a power center or "point of resonance" (p.224). This isn't a contradiction. Think in terms of Latour's work, in which power is defined as a consequence rather than a cause -- the longer and more entangled a network, the stronger it is, but part of extending the network involves coding (segmenting) the environment through representations. And that brings us to Callon, who agrees with Deleuze and Guattari that the most deterritorialized flow determines the dominant segment -- and money is the most deterritorialized of all flows (p.226). Power, the authors say, involves stopping lines of flight (p.229).


We get to affect now, "the effectuation of the power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel." Affect is "not a personal feeling" but a sort of affiliative feeling (p.240). Affect is a key concept in this chapter, which is about becoming through feeling affiliation. The authors' opening paragraphs discuss Willard, the movie in which a young man has creepy affection for his pet rat -- a sort of becoming-rat, the authors say. What goes into that sort of becoming?

Affect is a big part, of course. The authors continue in this vein by discussing becoming as a kind of splicing or grafting into another lineage, epidemic vs. filiation, contagion vs. heredity. They use the same metaphors that Haraway uses elsewhere: vampire, werewolf, cyborg, virus -- all of which reproduce by merging with other organisms rather than through lineage (p.241, 244, 245). If the authors lived in a Protestant country rather than a Catholic one, perhaps they would have included Christianity, which has been called a "mind virus" by detractors and an alternative to biological reproduction by its advocates (I Cor 4:14-15, I Cor 7).

Becomings involve entering into assemblages or complex aggregates (p.242). And this brings us back to multiplicity.

This is our hypothesis: a multiplicity is defined not by the elements that compose it in extension, not by the characteristics that compose it in comprehension, but by the lines and dimensions it encompasses in "intension." If you change dimensions, if you add or subtract one, you change multiplicity. Thus there is a borderline for each multiplicity; it is no way a center but rather the enveloping line or farthest dimension, as a function of which it is possible to count the others, all those lines and dimensions constitute the pack at a given moment (beyond the borderline, the multiplicity changes nature). (p.245)

Packs are multiplicity; "Each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and ... a multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities, according to its thresholds and doors" (p.249, their italics).

Later in the chapter, we get to the example of the tick discussed in chapter 3, this time in terms of affect. The tick's "three affects": it is attracted to the light, so it goes to the tip of a branch; it is attracted to the smell of mammals and abandons the branch when it smells one go by; it is attracted to skin and digs in (p.257). This list of attributes, by the way, is very Latourean.

Let's skip a bit. The authors later get into the question of assemblages, which all operate on the same plane in an antihierarchical fashion (p.268). (This reminds me of actor-network theory, again, but especially John Law's discussion of method assemblages in his book on research methods.) Each world is an assemblage effectuating the Cosmos (p.280). Becoming is an antimemory; becoming is rhizomatic (p.294).


The refrain is the authors' account of relative stability. Every milieu is coded, where a code is a periodic repetition; each milieu is vibratory. But each code is perpetually transcoding (p.313). The key of a milieu's existence is that it achieves a periodic repetition, but the effect of that repetition is to produce "a difference by which the milieu passes into another milieu" (p.314). (This sounds like Bakhtin's discussion of genre as both remembering its past and adapting to new conditions.)

Territories -- not the things on national maps, but more like animal territories -- are an act of marking that "territorializes" milieus and rhythms (p.314). "There is a territory precisely when milieu components cease to be directional, becoming dimensional instead, when they cease to be functional in order to become expressive. There is territory when the rhythm has expressiveness. What defines the territory is the emergence of matters of expression (qualities)" (p.315). Still talking about animals' territories, the authors give the examples of colors in birds and fish.

The assemblage, they say, is fundamentally territorial; "the territory is the first assemblage" (p.323). "In a general sense, we call a refrain any aggregate of matters that draws a territory and develops into territorial motifs and landscapes" (p.323). Ages are assemblages (p.346).


Remember nomads and the war machine? They were discussed in earlier chapters, particularly Ch. 5. Nomadology is opposed to the State and centralization. Its invention, the war machine, has been used by the state but at its heart is nomadic. The war machine has three rules:

1. Question hierarchies. The war machine is a band or pack, a rhizomatic structure rather than a hierarchical or lineal one. The leader is prevented from acquiring stable power because when s/he is opposed, it is by someone who might take a pack with them. The war machine is about alliances rather than hierarchies.

2. Blackmail by betrayal. And that means that the leader has to manage these alliances. Again, this all sounds very Latourean/Machiavellian, and we're reminded of Latour's understanding of power as a consequence rather than a cause. The leader is a leader by virtue of holding the alliance together, not by her or his personal strengths and virtues.

3. Volatile sense of honor. These imply a volatile sense of honor in which betrayal is valorized and the warrior has a "fundamental indiscipline" (p.358).

The war machine also has several axioms that I won't get into. I'll hit what I think are the highlights.

Using this frame of nomadology, the authors get to the question of science. The war machine perpetuates a "nomad" or "minor science" (p.361). They cite Michel Serres' work. These nomad sciences are not legalistic, but focus on consistency; becoming and heterogeneity; nonlinear (smooth) rather than linear (striated) relations; and problematic rather than theorematic modeling (p.361). Legalistic science consists of reproducing, making sure the same phenomena recur in the same striated space, "constantly reterritorializing around a point of view." Nomad science consists of following. In this "ambulant" model, "the process of deterritorialization constitutes and extends the territory itself" (p.372). In the legalistic model, "a 'method' is the striated space of the cogitatio universalis and draws a path that must be followed from one point to another." In the nomad model, one occupies "a smooth space that it must occupy without counting" (p.377). (There are obvious applications to Law's work on method assemblages.)

The authors also apply it to types of human organization. There are three types: lineal (primitive), based on clan lineages; territorial (State), based on metric power or the impulse to striate things; and numerical (nomadic), which uses numbers directionally rather than dimensionally or metrically (pp. 388-390). In the numerical (nomadic) organization, "the arithmetic base unit is therefore a unit of assemblage, for example, man-horse-bow, 1x1x1 ... and the formula becomes more complicated to the extent that certain 'weapons' assemble or articulate several men or animals, as is the case of the chariot with two horses and two men" (p.391). Nomadic organization uses numbers to describe assemblages, not to measure space.

There's lots more in this chapter, but let's leave it for now and get to the next one.


The last chapter talked a bit about the State. This one talks about how the State captures things: people, territory, the war machine. They see the State as animated by a rhythm between signs and tools; "the combination, sings-tools, constitutes the differential trait of political sovereignty, or the complementarity of the State" (p.425).

The State's first pole of capture, called "imperial or despotic," "corresponds to Marx's Asiatic formation" (p.427). It overcodes existing codes such as the linear codes of agricultural communities. This overcoding submits them to the despotic emperor. This overcoding is the Signifier -- something that makes sense in conjunction with Chapter 5. This system, they say, is a system of "machinic enslavement" (p.428). Great. What Marx didn't understand, the authors say, is that the State preceded rather than followed from developed forces of production. "It is not the country that progressively creates the town but the town that creates the country. It is not the State that presupposes a mode of production; quite the opposite, it is the State that makes production a 'mode'" (p.429). More startlingly: "Everything is not of the State precisely because there have been states always and everywhere. Not only does writing presuppose the State, but so do speech and language" (p.429). Indeed, language is used to bridge differences and develop State relations: "language was made ... for translation, not for communication" (p.430).

The State may be everywhere, but "the appearance of a central power is thus a function of a threshold or degree beyond which what is anticipated takes on consistency or fails to" (p.432). Thresholds of consistency coexist. One threshold is the Town's: "The town exists only as a function of circulation, and of circuits," that is, it exists because of what the roads take into and out of it. "It is a phenomenon of transconsistency, a network, because it is fundamentally in contact with other towns. It represents a threshold of deterritorialization, because whatever the material invoked, it must be deterritorialized enough to enter the network, to submit to the polarization, to follow the circuit of urban and road recoding" (p.432). The State's threshold is different: "it is a phenomenon of intraconsistency. It makes points resonate together ... it makes the town resonate with the countryside. It operates by stratification: in other words, it forms a vertical, hierarchized aggregate that spans the horizontal lines in a dimension of depth. In retaining given elements, it necessarily cuts off their relations with other elements, which become exterior, it inhibits, slows down, or controls these relations" (p.433). It takes the territory as an object to stratify and resonate. The Town breaks free when the State's overcoding produced decoded flows; capitalism, they say, is the fruit of the towns, arising "when an urban recoding tends to replace State overcoding" (p.434). But capitalism triumphed through the State (p.434).

Now we get to the apparatus of capture, which (again, following Marx) comes in three forms: rent, profit, and taxation. Of the three, taxation is what monetarizes the economy (p.443). The really interesting part is that capitalism deterritorializes by taking "materialized labor" (commodity) as its object; the State reterritorializes (p.454). In capitalism, the States change form and become models of realization for it (p.454). Indeed, capitalism is so successful partially because "it continually sets and then repels its own limits, but in doing so gives rise to innumerable flows in all directions that escape its axiomatic." It continually disrupts its own models (p.472).


We used the terms smooth and striated earlier. The difference is that of fabric and felt. Fabric is striated, constituted by at minimum two elements (usually vertical and horizontal), creating a delimited and metered space. Felt is an "anti-fabric": fibers entangled at the micro level. It is smooth (p.475), but smooth like patchwork: heterogeneous, amorphous, nonformal space (p.477). Smooth is nomos, striated is logos (p.478).

Striated space is the line between two points; think of latitude and longitude (p.480). Smooth space is the point between two lines (p.480); it emphasizes trajectories, vectors, haptic rather than optical sensation (p.479). Striated space is the space of the State, whereas smooth space is the space of the nomads -- as we saw in the chapter on regimes of signs.

One place where this discussion of two spaces is being hashed out, the authors say, is mathematics. They credit Riemann for developing the notion of multiplicity, which they say marked the end of dialectics (p. 483). There are two types of multiplicity: "one qualitative and fusional, continuous, the other numerical and homogeneous, discrete." Or: nonmetric and metric, acentered and centered; rhizomatic and arborescent; smooth and striated (p.484).

Striating involves making, not just measuring, differences (p.489).

There's a discussion of capitalism toward the end of the chapter, but let's save that for another time. I'm tired.


See, I told you they were liars. For all the discussion of the book as rhizomatic, the conclusion approaches a conventional conclusion, with summaries of the major ideas of the book.

I'm sure you can see why my copy of this book has so many post-it notes sticking out of it. The book is rich with ideas and frameworks, and reading it the second time has actually been a rewarding experience, though usually not an enjoyable one. As I said, I've left a lot out and I'm sure I've gotten some things wrong. So please do leave comments if you'd like.

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, December 16, 2004

(Tracing Genres through Organizations - An update)

Originally posted: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 05:38:07

Read my book yet? If not, what's taking so long? Timothy L.J. Ferris says that "Clay Spinuzzi?s book is a pleasure to read." Peter Merholtz says that "I bought it because I think genre theory is potentially the most-important-yet-least-appreciated topic in information architecture." T.D. Wilson says that "This is a text that should be read by every systems designer and by anyone interested in the role of the information user in systems design." I have to agree.

I've set up a page for compiling reviews, references, and comments. So grab a copy, make notes, and post your observations. And if you see other reviews, if you're using my book in your course, or if it's made its way onto your program's recommended reading list, please let me know.

Blogged with Flock

Friday, December 10, 2004

(My own personal paradigm shift, part 2)

Originally posted: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 08:26:38

Sitting in my hotel room at SIGDOC in October, I blogged about my "paradigm shift" in which I abandoned my previous forms of organizing my life -- based on taxonomies and hierarchies -- in favor of flatter, more combinable ways. Now it's December, and I'm happy with the progress.

Looking back, I think part of the change is due to my recent readings, which all seem to emphasize questioning, upending, or thinking outside hierarchies. But a lot of it has to do with new responsibilities I've taken on. At any rate, it's been a real shift.

Much of this shift has to been fueled by reading 43 Folders and trying out software. And this software has become vital to my working life, sparking some surprising shifts. I no longer use to-do lists, for instance, something that would be unthinkable anytime during the past six or seven years. I've found substitutes. So here's the roster of software I'm currently using. I started writing about these, but let's just link to the reviews instead.

- Quicksilver

- Notational Velocity

- Sciral Consistency

- BibDesk

- SubEthaEdit

- Mozilla Firefox

- Mozilla Thunderbird

And a failure. I tried several applications for managing complex projects, including xTime Project, OmniOutliner, and Process. But at the end of the day, I kept coming back to a simple Excel spreadsheet I had set up as an interim solution. Excel let me sort by any category and gave me extraordinary leeway in designing project fields. The only think it's missing is an incremental search. (Yes, I'm sure you could do this in OpenOffice or Gnumeric too.)

Try them out. And if you find some good apps, let me know.

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

(Reading Roundup: Deleuze on Control Societies)

Originally posted: Wed, 01 Dec 2004 10:40:29

I'm up to my elbows in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus for the second time, and am getting a little more out of it this time. It's still agonizing, thanks for asking -- sort of like reading the book of Leviticus, only with more S&M references. But I've also been doing some other reading which is shaping how I see some of the issues I've been working through.

For instance, when I mentioned Zuboff and Maxmin's recent book to my invaluable colleague Mark Longaker, he immediately recommended Deleuze's final chapter from Negotiations. I've read it a few times since then, and once again today. The argument has quite a bit of relevance for what I'm doing. Deleuze argues that whereas the 20th century was primarily marked by disciplinary societies (in Foucault's terms), control societies are taking over. Disciplinary societies are based on confinement and centralization (p.178). Think in terms of Taylorism, or Foucault's prisons, or hospitals, schools, factories, families. But all of these confinements are breaking down, Deleuze says, and in its place is control: "the ultrarapid forms of apparently free-floating control that are taking over from the old disciplines at work within the time scales of closed systems. ... With the breakdown of the hospital as a site of confinement, for instance, community psychiatry, day hospitals, and home care initially presented new freedoms, while at the same time contributing to mechanisms of control as rigorous as the harshest confinement" (p.178). Deleuze quite clearly sees this control society as a threat as bad as, perhaps worse than, the disciplinary society Foucault described. In the disciplinary society, factories produced a body of workers that could be controlled en masse by management, as well as an avenue of mass resistance via unions. But in the control society, we're not talking about factories producing goods, we're talking about businesses producing services; in this society, individuals relate to each other, compete against each other, and their wages fluctuate continually, "bringing them into a state of constant metastability punctuated by ludicrous challenges, competitions, and seminars" (p.179). This metastability is brought into education as well: "school is being replaced by continuing education and exams by continuous assessment. It's the surest way of turning education into a business" (p.179). So you have a sort of "endless postponement" (cf. Body-without-Organs in A Thousand Plateaus) rather than a defined avenue of development; you travel in continuously changing "orbits," you "undulate," you find yourself switching jobs and careers and positionalities (p.180). The factory is gone, as are unions and lifetime employment; the best way to get a raise, as a friend once told me, is to switch jobs.

Capitalism in a control society becomes distributed and "essentially dispersive"; "it's a capitalism no longer directed toward production but toward products, that is, toward sales or markets" (p.181).

Now there are several reasons why these insights are striking. First, they parallel Zuboff and Maxmin's insights quite closely, but while Zuboff and Maxmin see these developments as generally positive, they fill Deleuze with dread: "We're told businesses have souls, which is surely the most terrifying news in the world" (p.181). Second, they give us a framework for reexamining much of the work being done in design and workplace research. For instance, the disciplinary/control divide provides a nice way of describing the difference between participatory design (developed for factory work with strong unions and lifetime employment) and contextual design (developed for software engineering in the US). Third, they demonstrate quite clearly why analyses like Simon Head's fall short: the new economy has not reproduced Taylorism, it is using some Taylorist techniques to establish control without centralization.

I'm a bit suspicious of how far these insights will travel, though. They bear more than a whiff of the Marxist obsession with economics, and there doesn't seem to be any bounds on its explanatory power. But that doesn't seem to be the case in A Thousand Plateaus. I'll keep investigating that book, which is turning out to have some insights of its own.

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Reading :: Competitive Telecommunications

Originally posted: Thu, 11 Nov 2004 23:49:30

Competitive Telecommunications: How to Thrive Under the Telecommunications Act

by Peter K. Heldman, Robert Heldman, Thomas A. Bystrzycki

Competitive Telecommunications provides a dire assessment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It critiques the free-market reasoning behind the Act (p.6); complains that it has led to "cream-skimming" (that is, abandoning low-profit markets for high-profit ones), the betrayal of universal service (p.16), and the halt of new infrastructure development (p.29). It suggests that the Act gave no game plan to protect local areas from obsolescence (p.27). It charges that telecommunications companies are in the middle of consolidating further and providing less service to their rural areas while overburdening high-population areas with new features.

The book was published in 1997. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had just been enacted. That is to say, like another book I've reviewed, this one is more about predicting the Act's future impact than discussing its past impact.

Not surprisingly, the author sometimes avails himself of the slippery slope fallacy, suggesting that free competition will result in consequences analogous to environmental pollution. He beseeches us: "Just think ... just think ... just think ..." (p.51).

Despite these flaws, the book does do a good job of sketching out the stakeholders, issues, and technologies involved in telecommunications. And the flaws themselves point up the strong policy disagreements that were being aired during and immediately after the passage of the Act.

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Reading :: The Art of War (Machiavelli)

Originally posted: Wed, 10 Nov 2004 21:08:17

The Art of War

by Niccolo Machiavelli

Although it shares its title with Sun Tzu's famous book (reviewed elsewhere on this site), Machiavelli's The Art of War is a very different piece. Where Tzu's work is essentially a collection of maxims mostly regarding strategy, Machiavelli's book covers everything from recruiting to arming to formations, strategems, principles, punishments, espionage, and even the question of what sorts of martial music should be played. Machiavelli is as in love with ancient Rome as ever, so he draws liberally from the Roman and Greek traditions -- both in his martial recommendations and in his writing style.

The genre of the book interests me. Whereas The Prince is sort of a handbook and Discourses is more like a treatise underpinned by historical study, The Art of War is written in the form of a dialogue. The dialogue is not very dialogic, though: one interlocutor speaks at length about war, while the others lob occasional softball questions at him. In practice, these questions really get in the way of the discussion.

The discussion itself is rather interesting on a number of levels. I'm mostly interested in how Machiavelli influenced actor-network theory at this point, so I was busy looking for parallels with the study of scientific knowledge. (You may remember that Latour's Science in Action makes extensive use of the war metaphor and he has been sharply criticized for it.) So my reading tended toward strategy and metaphor. With that in mind, I noticed some interesting things about the book.

First, Machiavelli draws on some of the same themes and advice he forwards in Discourses. Princes should not have absolute power, and should be kept away from professional soldiers, who have a vested interest in war (p.19). Professional warriors are a bad idea in general, because overspecialization results in corruption (p.23). Rather, the citizenry should provide soldiers that form a militia (like the Reserves): they should support themselves in their own trades most of the time, gathering periodically for drills and being ready for longer campaigns while avoiding a huge drain on the country's resources. Above all, the citizenry should remain armed because in that way they can remain free (p.30).

The problem with this arrangement is expertise, since in avoiding overspecialization, the militia also misses out on intense pathways for developing expertise. Machiavelli suggests that older members of the army must provide guidance and expertise to the younger ones (p.27). This arrangement, Machiavelli thinks, provides flexibility as well as depth of experience and depth of bench. In fact, this combination is a big theme for Machiavelli: in conscription, in training, in arranging formations (pp.84-86), he always attempts to balance expertise and flexibility. This is of a piece with his advice here and elsewhere, which frequently boils down to "it depends." Indeed, the book's advice is frequently undercut by his admission that conditions have a great deal to do with the success of various measures; it becomes clear that this military advice is largely useful for those who already have deep experience with these matters. Consequently, as with the Discourses, The Art of War is full of interesting advice and fascinating anecdotes whose application is often unclear.

I said a moment ago that I read The Art of War primarily to shed more light on actor-network theory. I found it to be not so illuminating as Machiavelli's other two books, but still interesting. The emphasis on contingency leads naturally to flexibility, which sheds some light on how Latour and others seem to see actor-networks; the discussion of allies, alliances, and strategies seems familiar enough; but I wasn't able to pull out concrete parallels. Still, I enjoyed the book quite a bit -- which is not something I expected to say about a book on military strategy. >

Blogged with Flock

Monday, November 08, 2004

Reading :: The New Ruthless Economy

Originally posted: Mon, 08 Nov 2004 08:15:26

The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age

by Simon Head

I share an interest in work and economy with my colleague Mark Longaker, though his is based on some genuine research while mine is a tyro's interest. So when Mark recommended Simon Head's The New Ruthless Economy to me, I jumped at the chance to read it. The book tries to come to grips with the issue of the "new economy," the tech-supported service sector, just as Zuboff and Maxmin's book The Support Economy does (see my recent review). But whereas Zuboff and Maxmin believe that capitalism will evolve into a newer, kinder, gentler form, Head argues that the new economy looks a lot like the old one: Taylorism has taken new, more pervasive forms. "Ford and Taylor were mostly intent on controlling the bodily movements of workers tied to machine shops and assembly lines," Head tells us. "But today's scientific managers are trying also to control the minds of their white-collar employees" (p.109).

Head gives us many examples of this new Taylorism. Like Zuboff in her classic The Age of the Smart Machine and later in The Support Economy, and like Harry Braverman in Labor and Monopoly Capital, he traces the recent history of labor from Francis Taylor's early books to the present. He makes much of the punishing environment of call centers (see also Michael Muller's work at US West). And he recounts some really horrifying anecdotes about these working conditions and how they have resulted in considerable hardship to the workers. In one of the later chapters, he demonstrates how scientific management has negatively affected health care through the rise of HMOs. Near the end, he argues (unpersuasively to my mind) that "the Democratic party ... is still the political force best placed" to deal with the problem (p.179).

I think that Head makes quite a few good points in the book, although I confess my reaction to it was similar to my reaction to Fast Food Nation. Sure, it persuasively links many current corporate practices to Taylorism, and I'm sure they are direct descendants or at least strongly related. (See Muller's work at US West, again, in which he proffers the CARD technique as an alternative to the time-and-motion study methodology called GOMS.) But I think that Head never really comes to grips with the problems that have sustained the various permutations of scientific management, and therefore his solutions are vague, tentative, and/or unworkable.

The problems include, first and foremost, the rapid upscaling of industries, particularly in the service sector. "Informating," as Zuboff calls it, means that workers have to learn and become comfortable with a much greater number of genres than ever before, and furthermore that more workers have to be literate in the first place. And as I've argued elsewhere, the officially sanctioned genres are not adequate for supporting workers' flexibility; workers typically adapt or invent their own idiosyncratic genres to provide this flexibility, and that means an even greater proliferation of genres. Finally, as Zuboff and Maxmin argue, workers are expected to make more lateral connections with workers in other organizations, meaning that genres developed in one company migrate quickly to others. The result is an increasingly complex landscape of information for workers to navigate; Johndan Johnson-Eilola uses the term "datacloud." The problem that organizations face, then, is how to stabilize this ever-changing landscape enough to keep the organization relatively coherent. Scientific management is not a particularly good solution to this problem -- besides the ethical difficulties, it tends to be inflexible and unrealistic -- but it thrives exactly because it appears to provide control and unity in an increasingly uncontrolled, discontinuous environment. Suggesting to the harried, worried CEO of a large organization that workers need to be given more control, without providing some sort of assurance that the organization will remain stable, as Head does, seems fruitless.

Add to that the fact that workers are availing themselves of greater job mobility, which means that they spend less time learning the craftwork that Head seems to think is the antidote to scientific management. You can blame earlier scientific management for this fact -- due to deskilling -- but also blame the increasing physical mobility that the automobile has brought us, something that has unmoored workers from particular regions and neighborhoods and made it less likely for them to try to "work it out" with a single employer or seek lifetime employment. Remember that even if these problems can be laid at the feet of scientific management, they're our problems now and we have to make a genuine attempt at solving them.

I don't have the answer to this problem. But I can tell when someone else doesn't have the answer either.

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Reading :: The Rebirth of Dialogue

Originally posted: Sat, 06 Nov 2004 07:51:59

The Rebirth of Dialogue: Bakhtin, Socrates, and the Rhetorical Tradition

by James P. Zappen

I'm going to be talking about Bakhtin and dialogue soon, and it's been worrying me. My upcoming project involves comparing dialogue and dialectic in the works of the Bakhtin Circle and in Vygotsky's works. I'm curious whether the difference between the two -- a difference that Bakhtin seems to think is quite fundamental -- is damaging to the many Bakhtin-Vygotsky syntheses being used in cultural-historical studies. Of course, I have been trying to limit my inquiry to what those two circles meant by the terms dialogue and dialectic -- I didn't want to get bogged down in more general, more ancient uses of the terms. That is, I wanted to limit myself to how Vygotsky conceived of dialectic, not how Socrates did. The more extended spadework, I thought, could be done by someone else.

Fortunately someone else already has. In The Rebirth of Dialogue, Jim Zappen does a very good job of reexamining dialogue and dialectic in the Socratic dialogues, taking as his starting point Bakhtin's discussion of these dialogues from Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Bakhtin's argument (overstated but still in the ballpark, Zappen suggests) is that the earlier Socratic dialogues are closer to the actual, unfinalized dialogues that Socrates had with his interlocutors; the later ones more closely reflect the finalized dialectic scripted by Plato. The former involved testing the interlocutors in their own terms, drawing ideas from them, working together on developing a common stance, but not completely committing to it or holding it up as an absolute answer. The latter involved a teleological progression to the final(ized) absolute answer. As Zappen puts it,

From the perspective of the more mature dialectic and rhetoric of Plato or Aristotle, Socrates may seem to be, at best, a canny rationalist and, at worst, a devious manipulator. But the Socrates who emerges in studies of the early dialogues (including Mikhail M. Bakhtin's) was less concerned with establishing positive knowledge and persuading others to accept that knowledge, by whatever means, than he was concerned with improving his own and other people's lives by examining, together, their most fundamental beliefs. ... This art of dialogue disappears as it is transformed into Plato's dialectical rhetoric and Aristotle's dialect and rhetoric but reappears in the nineteenth century in opposition to the unified truths of philosophy and science and the persuasive purposes of traditional rhetoric.

Echoing Bakhtin, Zappen argues that we can read past Plato's almost certainly distorted portrayal of Socrates' many interlocutors to reconstruct their actual arguments. (Latour does something similar in Pandora's Hope; I think a lot of folks do.) Through sensitive and painstaking examinations of the dialogues, Zappen manages to mine a lot of gold.

Near the end, Zappen addresses Socrates' complaint about writing in the Phaedrus, reading it as a complaint about a medium that cannot engage in dialogue -- one in which the words are finalized and cannot entertain others' utterances or answer back. He links this point to digital media and discusses some of the many projects in which he has engaged, from online courses taught in MOOs to his more recent Connected Kids project. I was glad to see this connection between classical rhetoric and modern computers-and-writing topics. But I'm not entirely convinced that these electronic texts would satisfy Socrates.

In any case, The Rebirth of Dialogue was really fascinating and proved very helpful for working out some of the thoughts I've been having about dialogue. It also made me want to go back and read some of those dialogues over again; it's been a while. Maybe I'll tackle them again soon.

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Reading :: After Method

Originally posted: Tue, 26 Oct 2004 21:56:59

After Method: Mess in Social Science Research

by John Law

Just over a year ago -- I remember it was on a plane to SIGDOC, so it must have been mid-October -- I wrote an email to a group with whom I've been discussing research methods. The email, based on my recent readings in science and technology studies, suggested that we should stop thinking of research in terms of hierarchical categories (paradigms contain methodologies which contain methods, etc.) and start thinking of all these components as enacted practices that occupy the same level of scale. In fact, I'll be presenting on the topic at CCCC 2005, and Kristie Fleckenstein is writing an article on this same topic (almost certainly better considered than my presentation will be).

As I say, the inspiration was the work being done in science and technology studies. And one of the most active scholars in that field is John Law. So I was happy to find out that Law was writing a book along roughly the same lines that our group had been discussing. I finally got the book in the mail the other week, and it doesn't disappoint. Law really gets that "mess" in social science research -- that is, the inability to draw this research into hard boundaries with unequivocal answers -- is insoluble and ultimately undesirable. He also gets the problem that I've attempted to wrestle with elsewhere and that I've called the problem of unintegrated scope: the impulse to impose levels of scale so that one level can be construed as a master level of which the others are just effects. In After Method, he takes on this problem by describing what he calls "method assemblages." He gives two definitions:

In chapter 2 I defined this for the case of representation, as the enactment of a bundle of ramifying relations that shapes, mediates, and separates representations in-here, represented realities out-there, and invisible out-there relations, processes, and contexts necessary to in-here. In chapter 3, I offered a parallel definition appropriate to objects: that method assemblage is also the crafting of relations that shape, mediate and separate our object in-here, its relevant context out-there, and then an endless set of out-there relations, processes and all the rest that are a necessary part of the assemblage but at the same time have disappeared from it. As is obvious, the two are similar in form. But the post-structuralist philosophical tradition suggests a different vocabulary. If we use this then method assemblage becomes the enactment of presence, manifest absence, and absence as otherness. More specifically, method assemblage becomes the crafting or bundling of relations or hinterland into three parts: (a) whatever is in-here or present; (b) whatever is absent but is also manifest in its absence; and (c) whatever is absent but is Other because, while it is necessary to presence, it is not or cannot be made manifest. Note that it is the emphasis on presence that distinguishes method from any other form of assemblage. Note also that to talk of crafting is not necessarily to imply human agency or skill. The various ethnographies we have explored suggest that people, machines, traces, resources of all kinds -- and we might in other contexts extend the list to include spirits or angels or muses -- are all involved with the process of crafting. (p.84)

Clear enough? It might help to know that Law says that paradigms (the most abstract level of the research hierarchy) are embedded in craft skills (the most concrete level). That is, the hierarchy of research is an attempt to make sense out of a flat, uniscalar set of practices/enactments. And once we get that, it makes sense to think of assemblages as self-assembling elements that are entangled rather than constructed (p.42). When we hear people talking about, say, ethnography as a methodology, a method, or a paradigm, we may become agitated if we are used to thinking of these as separate levels of a hierarchy; but if we think of the whole assemblage as uniscalar, it makes a lot of sense that ethnography would slip across these categories. It makes a lot of sense that methods such as experiments can lose and gain elements until they become, say, usability testing.

I hesitate to call Law's book a Copernican revolution, but it does make sense of these incoherences that we so often see in research when people try to define and operationalize it. Despite Law's style -- which varies from lucid to obtuse and self-indulgent, alas -- this book is an important book that draws together and reinterprets many of the STS threads that have been developing since the early work of Latour and Woolgar. Buy it, read it, quote it. >

Blogged with Flock