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Delanda Review as Published-libre

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Book Review
Manuel DeLanda
,
 A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory And SocialComplexity
. London: Continuum, 2006. ISBN 978-0-826-49169-5 (paperback)This book is an ambitious philosophical endeavor to “introduce a novel approachto social ontology” (p 1). Benefiting from his unique position at the confluenceof Deleuzian philosophy and complexity theory, DeLanda attempts to lay thefoundations of a theory of social assemblages. His approach is utterly realist—asserting “the autonomy of social entities from the conceptions we have of them”anddealingonlywith“objectiveprocessesofassembly”(p1).Thefirsttwochaptersare theoretical and rich in the brilliant insights so familiar to readers of DeLanda.The final three chapters—where the theory is explicated through a series of casestudies of assemblages starting from the scale of 
 subpersonal components
, andascending one level at a time up to the scale of territorial-states—however, fail tocarry forth this brilliance.Chapter 1 takes the highly entrenched notion of “totality” to task, particularlyin its sophisticated Hegelian form. DeLanda targets the idea that the “parts” whichconstitute a “whole” (in this case society) form a seamless totality, analogicallyequivalent to a body with a functional unity of its constituent organs. He callssuch a conception, in which parts cease to have a meaningful existence outsidethe whole (eg the relation of the arm to the body),
 relations of interiority
. Thisorganismicnotionoftotality,ashemaintains,foreclosesthepossibilityofanalyzingboth the contingent interactions between parts as well as the emergent propertiesof the complex whole. In contrast, DeLanda proposes a conception of wholescharacterized by
 relations of exteriority
, where parts are self-subsistent and retaina certain autonomy vis-`a-vis other parts and the whole. This is a shift of attentionfrom the inert
 properties
 of the component parts to their
 capacities to interact 
.Hence, a part could be detached from an assemblage and attached to anotherwhere it
 could 
 realize totally different
 capacities
 while retaining its own defining
 properties
 (eg a guitarist changing her band). The role(s) that a component of anassemblage plays could be located within three continuums: material/expressive;territorializing/deterritorializing; coding/decoding.Chapter 2 elucidates the “topological diagram of an assemblage” (p 25) byopposingassemblagetheorytoessentialistapproaches,whichpresumethepresenceof eternal archetypes defining the identity of any particular entity. DeLanda’sapproach challenges such reified general categories (eg “human”) by declaringthe ontology of any assemblage to be unique, singular and historically contingent;in other words,
 flat 
 “since it contains nothing but different scaled
 individualsingularities
(p28).Theoverallconnectivitybetweentheseindividualsingularitiesis what defines the
 actual
 space of possibilities or the
 degrees of freedom
, which isstructured by the
 virtual
 diagram of the assemblage.Chapter 3 starts off the social assemblage analysis by examining persons andinter-personal networks. On the question of subjectivity DeLanda favors a Humean
 Antipode
 Vol. 40 No. 5 2008 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 935–937doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00646.x
C
2008 The AuthorJournal compilation
 C
2008 Editorial Board of 
 Antipode
.
 
936
 Book Review
approach in which the individual person, emerging from sub-personal componentssuch as impressions, ideas, habits and skills, actualizes its emergent capacitiesin the course of matching means to certain ends. The analysis proceeds with thestudy of inter-personal conversations and networks. Consonant with the relationsof exteriority principle, interpersonal networks are defined in terms of the strengthof the links, presence or absence of emotional content and the level of reciprocitybetween individuals—rather than the properties of the persons occupying the nodalpositions.Chapter 4 examines institutional organizations and governments, particularlyconcentrating on
 authority structures
. Here DeLanda utilizes Weber’s three idealtypes of authority structures, which are
 rational-legal
,
 traditional
 and
 charismatic.
His next object of analysis is the relations of exteriority between organizations,which assemble either as
 networks
 (eg Silicon Valley) or as
 hierarchies of organizations
 (eg the US Government).Chapter 5 brings spatial aspects of assemblages into focus. DeLanda beginswith individual buildings, continuing to larger scale assemblages such as thoseemerging out of populations of buildings (eg residential neighborhoods, industrial,governmentandred-light districts andfinally cities). He paysparticular attention tothecomponentpartsthatdeterminetheoverallconnectivityofanurbanassemblage(egcorridors,hallways,streets,transportationnetworks,sewagepipes,gasconduits,etc). He defines assemblages of cities with reference to two models:
 hierarchiesof central places
, where a city of higher rank displays a higher degree of servicedifferentiation than lower rank cities do and it can provide them with the servicesthat they lack;
 networks of maritime ports
, in which cities are seen as occupyingnodes in a network of changing relays and junctions, not as fixed points in space.Thecasestudyendsatthescaleoflargeterritorialstateswhichhistoricallyemergedwith the incorporation of cities by means of organized violence and warfare.Although DeLanda’s bottom-up analytical model is very generative, it also bearscertain shortcomings. The model’s emphasis on the vertical axis does not allow anelaboration on trans-scalar connectivities between relatively distant assemblages.The relation of the smaller scale to the larger is taken as primary, which implies thatthe link between any two disconnected individuals is
 necessarily
 via a commonlarger scale. Thus, contrary to its intentions to reframe social assemblages interms of contingencies rather than necessities, and to assert their ontology as
 flat 
, the model leaves the prevailing conception of nested scales unchallenged,failing to take into account the trans-scalar lines of flight between seeminglydisconnected individuals or places.
1
There is, however, an immense and growingbody of literature on “scale” within Geography, in which vertical models are beingreassessed with the consideration of trans-local connectivities and their relationsto other spatialities such as space and place (Leitner et al. 2008). DeLanda’s
topological
 approach could have a lot to benefit from an engagement with thesedebates.Another important but unarticulated aspect of DeLanda’s theory is
 non-linear causality
.Thepicturesuggestedbythebottom-upapproachisthatofaratherstableand singular social formation, which leaves aside the power relations within thediagram,theunevennessoftheconnectivities,andthevaryingdegreesofflexibilitywithin relations of dependencies in networks and hierarchies of assemblages.As such, DeLanda’s model barely leaves any room for inventive discussions of 
heterogeneity
. How does one look for the fissures or trace the seams? How to think 
C
2008 The AuthorJournal compilation
 C
2008 Editorial Board of 
 Antipode
.

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