Manuel DeLanda | A Comparison of Deleuze’s Assemblage Theory and the New Materialist Approach

Originally published on Jun 19, 2017, as video from the Assemblage Thinking Symposium 2017, at the University of the Aegean.

ABSTRACT: This lecture will discuss the fundamental concepts of the theory of assemblages, contrasting the original formulation as found in the work of Deleuze and Guattari with the version of the theory that has been developed in the new materialism. The most important difference is social ontology: whereas D&G consider only individuals, groups, and societies, the new materialist approach is based on a much more detailed break down of the components of a country: from communities and organizations, to industrial networks and government hierarchies, to cities, regions, and provinces.

Manuel DeLanda (born 1952), is a Mexican-American writer, artist and philosopher, who teaches courses on modern science, self-organizing matter, artificial life and intelligence, economics, architecture, chaos theory, history of science, and nonlinear dynamics. He holds a PhD in media and communication from the European Graduate School, and is the author of War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991), A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997), Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (2002), A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (2006), and much more…

7 responses to “Manuel DeLanda | A Comparison of Deleuze’s Assemblage Theory and the New Materialist Approach

  1. wish he would talk more about how one tests one’s sense of having discovered an assemblage to tell if it exists or if one is just projecting some structure/connection where there isn’t any. What are the boundaries/skins and how are they connected/oriented for example?
    on the to do list:

    • I think he would suggest, as I have, that not all assemblages have skins or clear (human interetsted) boundaries but nonetheless associate both extensively and intensely. There is a spectrum of organization from non-associative groupings to extensive integration. “Object” associations take place in fields of matter and force so rarely (mostly banal) have the kinds of simply internal/external relations you ask for.

      • could be what he’s after but that’s true of anything (and really everything as well) that exists and not really the criteria he sets out, without an explanation of what serves the role of the man in the man/horse/bow assemblage one is just insisting rather than describing.
        These folks rightly make the point that this style/genre of assemblage doesn’t have the empirical rigor of ANT

    • not surprisingly as the evangelist of prototyping over archetyping I really like talking about these matters in terms of modeling, gives a way I think of getting at some of what you want this kind of thinking to do without talking literally, rather like Bennett’s strategic/poetic animism experimenting with what we might be able to do (what it affords us, and resists us) to treat these things as if they were an assemblage.

      • You are making me want to go all meta-physical (ontographic?) on you Dirk! 🙂

        Everything is an assemblage or composition (as Latour has argued): a composite of other things relating in strange ways – from quarks to atoms to molecules to bodies to armies to planets. They are all assembled com-positions with more or less degree of integration and causal efficacy.

        Give me an example of any object or community that is not composed of various other units or part of some sub-stack of relations? Entanglement is ubiquitous. The man-horse-stirup-bow working combo/compo does things that the man or horse cannot do alone, so is temporarily potent enough to be considered an (hyper)assemblage.

        Maybe your insistence on a clear demarcation between objects and collections is related to a biological bias? For your all-too-human judgements things need skins and boundaries, like cells and bodies, for you to see them as generating convergent singularizing capacities – or what some call hyper-objectivity, or agency, or whatever.

        I don’t understand your distinction between “talking literally” and talking “strategically/poetically”? All speech-acts are ‘mere’ representations. Talking about assemblages vs. objects/groups is a shift in emphasis and regard, not a waxing and waning of some truth of the matter. The bottom-line is what such concepts allow us to do and think and create. Man-horse-bow does what it does regardless of how we prefer to signify it – irreducible to what each can do on its own. And assemblage theory coupled with ANT and new materialism allows us to participate in the world and understand it is more adaptive ways than our now obsolete super-binary frames or reference that led to such nonsense as nature/culture, mind/body, etc., etc.

        We need to track onto-specific organization and causal potency of assemblages without reference to our folk categories re: boundaries and autonomy.

      • hey m, if you can’t define borders (what’s in and out) and modes of coordination (actual linkages) you don’t have a specific/actual assemblage to work with (off the page/screen), you can take Jane Bennett to be advocating for a literal animistic world or you can follow her lead to take a more more artistic approach and act as if this were so, metaphors and all being what they are and aren’t (what for example could it mean in political circles to talk of a “family” of “man” when one isn’t talking genetics?).
        As for “And assemblage theory coupled with ANT and new materialism allows us to participate in the world and understand it is more adaptive ways than our now obsolete super-binary frames or reference” sounds good do you have an example to share that is practicable, and we can test (which is where I think this thread started)?

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