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Manuel DeLanda “Deleuze, Materialism and Politics”

DeLanda, Manuel 2008. Deleuze, Materialism and Politics. – Buchanan, Ian; Thoburn, Nicholas (eds). Deleuze and Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 160-177

Even the systematic keeping of records, a practice that involves writing and could therefore be considered discursive, is indeed non-discursive: it makes use of a logistical form of writing – keeping track of dosages and visits in hospitals, of daily behaviour and performance in schools and barracks, of the content of warehouses and raw materials used in factories  – a type of writing that may serve as data for those who develop a discourse but that does not lend itself to endless hermeneutic rounds as real discourses do. (161)

To put it in a nutshell: while pairing a certain category of crime, like stealing, with a certain category of punishment, like cutting off a thief’s hand, is clearly a discursive practice, the actual act of mutilation is equally clearly a non-discursive one. The reduction of the non-discursive, to think of mutilation as a ‘deconstruction of the body’ as one clueless academic once remarked to me, is a symptom of a deep political conservatism hidden under radical chic. (162)

In his work with Félix Guattari, for example, he gave us the concept of a process of double articulation through which geological, biological and even social strata are formed. The first articulation concerns the materiality of a stratum: the selection of the raw materials out of which it will be synthesised (such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur for biological strata) as well as the process of giving populations of these selected materials some statistical ordering. The second articulation concerns the expressivity of a stratum. (162) This second articulation is therefore the one that consolidates the ephemeral form created by the first articulation and that produces the final material entity defined by a set of qualities expressing its identity. (163)

What really matters is not to confuse the two articula-tions with the distinction between form and substance, since both operate through form and substance: the first selects only some materials, out of a wider set of possibilities, and gives them a statistical form; the second gives these loosely ordered materials a more stable form and produces a new, larger-scale (molar) material entity. (163)

In other words, the linguistisation of world-views that took place in the twentieth century after the so-called ‘linguistic turn’, forming the basis for the rejection of materialism and the spread of conservative idealism, can be explained within the theory of double articu-lation as a result of the unique status of this specialised line of expression. Thus explained, the power of language can be accepted while the con-ceptual obstacle represented by its illegitimate extension circumvented. (165)

Relativising the micro–macro distinction to specific scales removes the conceptual mistake of thinking there are only two levels of scale operat-ing in social processes. Unfortunately, Deleuze himself tends to fall into this trap, moving too fast to the macro-level with concepts like ‘the socius’ or ‘the social field’. My solution to this problem is to systemati-cally exclude entities like ‘society as a whole’ from the theory: the largest entities, territorial entities like kingdoms, empires and nation-states, should be considered to be every bit as singular and unique as local com-munities and organisations. (166)

In general, what needs to be excluded from a materialist social ontology are vague, reified general terms like ‘society’ (or ‘the market’, ‘the state’, etc.). Only hacceities (individual singularities) operating at different spatio-temporal scales should be legitimate entities in this ontology (DeLanda 2006). (166-167)

Authority has two aspects: legitimacy and enforcement. Foucault focuses on the latter in an effort to go beyond the problematic of legitimacy. But however important it was for his work to stress enforcement practices, practices of legitimisation must also be taken into account. Roughly, it is practices of enforcement – including not only visibilities, that is, surveillance, but also the keeping of biographical records and the disciplining of bodies – that constitute the first articulation, while practices of legit-imisation perform the second articulation. (168)

More importantly, every time a command is given within an authority structure of any type the very fact that people obey it without question expresses, in a behavioural way, the legitimacy of that authority. For the same reason, any act of disobedience expresses a challenge to that authority even if it’s carried out in silence. It is for that reason that such acts must be punished, that is that the authorities must make an expressive example of the disobedient person. On the other hand, the punishment itself – ranging from torture to physical exercise, as when a soldier is punished by forcing him to do a hundred push ups – is part of the first articulation, that is it is an enforcement practice. (170)

In particular, understanding the double historical source of legitimacy and enforce-ment in the rational-legal form, jurists and soldiers, is crucial for any political undertaking that attempts to bring real change. But above all, what is crucial for politics is to situate the analysis at the right level of scale. That is, we should avoid the mistake of thinking that we have discovered the essence of ‘disciplinary society’ when all we have achieved is figuring out how certain practices of enforcement propagated through a population of organisations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (171)

Unfortunately much of the left today, particularly within humanities departments in universities, has become prey to this double danger: abandoning materialism while at the same time politi-cally targeting reified generalities (Power, Resistance, Capital, Labour). A new left may yet emerge from these ashes but only if it recovers its footing in a mind-independent reality and if it focuses its efforts at the right social scale. This is where philosophers can one day make a difference. (177)

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