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Foucault, deleuze, and the ontology of networks

Kai Eriksson a a Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland

To cite this Article Eriksson, Kai'Foucault, deleuze, and the ontology of networks', The European Legacy, 10: 6, 595 — 610 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10848770500254118 URL:

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Finland. thus preventing any direct comparison to the currently prevailing topological metaphor of the network. insofar as it is posed as a philosophical question. in the nineteenth century.1 According to Choay. 10. showing how it became possible to think of a boulevard as dividing the city like a railway divided the countryside. pp. This center was not a particular place but rather a node of traffic or. However. By the second half of the nineteenth century. which explains why the idea of the network was also understood mainly through biological analogies. It is interesting to see that Hausmann perceived the space organized by the new traffic lanes as cutting through Paris in a way reminiscent of the current discourse on networks. It was crystallized in models like the nervous system or blood circulation system. as Hausmann described it. institutions. Email: kai. Department of Sociology. Deleuze. This was largely due to the diffusion of railways and the spread of telecommunication systems. University of Helsinki.The European Legacy. It was divided into subsystems each of which had a center of its own.1080/10848770500254118 . and the whole system was compared by Hausmann to that of blood circulation. articulating what at root is inarticulable. the connecting lines of this network were like arteries. Wolfgang Schivelbusch refers in his excellent history of railway journeys to a piece of writing by Francoise Choay on Georges Haussman’s rearrangement of Paris’s road ¸ network. The network metaphor occupies an ontological space. PO Box 10 (Snellmaninkatu 12). This paper examines how the question of the ontology of networks is addressed by these thinkers. 2005 Foucault. FIN-00014 Helsinki. but railways themselves were connected to the metaphor of the network. Vol. and metaphors constitute a conceptual model in and through which an emerging order is given ISSN 1084–8770 print/ISSN 1470–1316 online/05/060595–16 ß 2005 International Society for the Study of European Ideas DOI: 10. seems to assume a network-like shape itself. in light of the analysis of the preconditions of networks. What is crucial here is the way in which different systems. a point of reference.eriksson@helsinki. societal phenomena were conceived in biological terms. No. 6. Schivelbusch traces the similarity between the objectives of city traffic and those of the railway system. networks thus constituted a generic model for considering societal phenomena. 595–610. There are nevertheless some similarities between these two network conceptions. Railways influenced the way traffic arrangements were seen. especially with regard to the historicity of ontology. It may be particularly rewarding to read the constellations studied by Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze from this point of view. and the Ontology of Networks Kai Eriksson Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 Abstract The concept of the network has become embedded in social thought and imagery. but this space.

’’2 A network is thus manifest as a space constituted in and through the interconnections of points. created prerequisites for research practices in which the object of analysis appears as a system of continuously reorganizing relationships. the better the viewpoint developed by Foucault and Deleuze can be seen exactly as a way of approaching and formulating the ontology of networks. events. and the articulation of French thought. The intersections of a network. namely. These are not. What is important is that the identity of places and areas is formed through their position and function as parts of the whole. In French thought. which would no doubt have sounded familiar to Hausmann. practices and images from a ‘‘hierarchy’’ to a ‘‘network’’ during the latter part of the twentieth century. theoretical. as largely a radical rethinking of the relation between identity and difference. to a large extent. What is interesting. as ‘‘a set of interconnected nodes. insofar as the ontology of Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . nor can their thought be reduced to the reasons behind the normalization of the metaphor of the network. nodes. on the one hand. however.596 Kai Eriksson The definition of a network by Manuel Castells. on the other. economic and political processes in a coherent way that nevertheless cannot be reduced to a system. as seems to be the case today. interlinked. by developing a kind of network-based perspective. that is. for the thinkers mentioned have. a large part of the undercurrent within which modern philosophy formulated its problems and undertook its conceptualizations. A node is the point at which a curve intersects itself. The more this ontology is determined in terms of a network. are. It is clear that Foucault and Deleuze are not alone in developing this viewpoint. because the model of the network has the same objective. the transformation of institutions. completely independent phenomena. This is significant. to enable us to think about complex technological. This modern experience of networks has been conceptualized in a more detailed way in modern philosophy. Thus. separate spaces. and curves. therefore. Society and Culture. Although it is clear that the concept of the network has a number of irreducible origins. from the point of view of the ontology of networks. constituted either by the network of boulevards or the global financial system. when viewed the other way around. especially in recent French thought. In fact. it seems to me that it is illuminating to read them precisely from this point of view. In any case. to conceive ‘‘networking’’ and its preconditions as a philosophical question. This is because both Haussman and Castells share a similar conception of the space that a network designates. It thus appears that Foucault and Deleuze can help us to perceive the relation between ontology and the network metaphor. could be seen as parts of the same historical process. that is. Yet it is also true that this experience constituted. was formulated in The Information Age: Economy. and meanings lose their independence and become intelligible and influential only as parts of a larger field that gives them shape. these thinkers have provided a seminal philosophical formulation of the ontological space that has subsequently been understood in terms of the network metaphor. do not have a special meaning-content as distinct places and localities but only as nodes and reference points that have a certain function in the topology of the network. This is why the concept of the network and modern philosophy. rather than their intrinsic significance as such. perhaps one of the best known network theoreticians. it is especially the genealogy of Michel Foucault and the nomadism of Gilles Deleuze that seem to provide a way for thinking about ontology either of ‘‘power’’ or of ‘‘event’’ that is not based on a hierarchy or a closed totality.

and this constitutes their ontological foundation.3 This metaphor points in two directions at the same time: it has clearly become an ‘‘image’’ of the societal dynamics of our time. however. Whereas it was the ‘‘nervous system’’ that constituted the conceptual context for this totality until the first half of the twentieth century. on the backdrop of what has been said. is that the metaphor of the network seems to organize it as well. the conditions of communication have recently been conceived more and more in terms of the metaphor of the network. I am not. Thus. That is to say. going to investigate the idea of the network as such. replaces. the idea of which is based on that of communication—has for the most part been a history of centralization. I shall delineate the forms assumed by the network concept first in Foucault and then in Deleuze. it does not presuppose any coherence—on the contrary. The institutionalized forms of interiority and the practices of exclusion brought out by the history of modernity always presuppose an area of freedom that is the condition of institutionalization but does not become institutionalized itself. Preconditions of Power The history of modern communication—and thus of community. Then. it denies it and attempts to escape from it. however. although the notion of the network does designate a whole. among others. but rather I will consider the space in which the idea is placed as a philosophical question for these thinkers. although there have always been movements in the opposite direction as well. I hope that the analysis I am undertaking can outline the relationship between ‘‘network’’ and ‘‘historicity’’ in ontological terms. politics is . as it were. The broader concern of the paper at hand is how the idea of a network. and that of the ‘‘machine’’ for the most part of the century. It seems. In other words. and the Ontology of Networks 597 Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 networks is given a conceptual form. as a ‘‘political technology’’ and not as an ‘‘opening of space. as the formation of a new horizon of conception and action. Although Jean-Luc Nancy. yet it bears witness to the fact that the experience of the ‘‘totality’’ of this dynamics can no longer have a consistent collective form. Foucault—following Friedrich Nietzsche—is the thinker who has perhaps most consistently attempted to conceive the ontology of power and communication as a question that has to be considered historically. while organizing our thinking about society. In what follows. and transcends the ‘‘images’’ of communication and community in and through its own unfolding. This has been brought out repeatedly. Deleuze. maintains a certain ahistoricity in itself as a model.Foucault. one can be confident in saying that for Foucault. that the ‘‘totality’’ of communication should have been given exactly this sort of consistent form. is based on the historicity unfolding in and through societal processes and. I will delineate in greater detail Foucault’s and Deleuze’s thought in light of the analysis of the ontology of networks. it has to include in its circles the empirical that continuously undermines. at the same time. has claimed that Foucault tends to see politics as a pure mechanics of forces. to be network-like themselves. To the extent that thought is concerned with the communicative conditions of a community. I will offer my critical comments on the ontology of networks.’’4 that is. the conditions for thinking of networks appear. Hierarchies and enclosures require something that is not hierarchical or closed in itself. particularly in continental thought. differentiation and control.

8 Foucault has. Yet he thinks that the questions relating to psychiatric internment. reoriented theoretical research by bringing into account—in addition to the key political decision-makers and the top-level perspective of action—the fine structuration of power around and through scientific knowledge and institutional practices.’’ (emphasis added). if at all. what is investigated instead is their conditions of becoming established. madness.9 Thus. of acting or speaking. he did not complete the research program he initiated by cutting off the head of all power institutions. of being. for Foucault the ontology of power can be approached only through a whole historical network. or with certain ideas (such as the disciplinary society). do not all relationships have an ontological dimension? Secondly. In fact. It is this very inclination to place the ontology of power within a unitary perspective that appears also to explain why Foucault had difficulties in seeing distinct relationships. in the name of ‘reason’ or ‘normality. Foucault considers the point of reference for the genealogical analysis of power to be that of war or battle rather than that of language: battle is not based on the logic of meaning but on that of events. conceptions. by labeling them as anomalies. social) relationship with the same conditions. psychiatric. which implies various forms of knowledge.6 These events can be realized as historical events only. the thematic of power was traditionally formulated either in juridical terms or in terms of the state apparatus. These constitute what Foucault calls ‘‘the network of power’’ (le reseau de pouvoir). What is at issue more generally is the rejection of self-evident paradigmatic concepts. Despite this significant achievement it seems that the Foucauldian turn remained half-finished. institutional practices. irreducible to established ontological ‘‘structures. not only of the sovereign. In any case. with certain figures (such as the panopticon). juridical and economic systems. and a meaningful interpretation of them can be given. Notwithstanding the scope of his work of redefinition. and the development of penal institutions—while appearing to have minimal importance from the economic point of view—are essential to the general functioning of power. medical. although ontological questions are thought of in their historical relationships. Foucault always studies this movement as the movement of historical networks of knowledge and power and assumes that the history of truth cannot be disentangled from the history of power. is no doubt misleading.5 Unlike Nancy. and cultural ´ relationships. Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . it is clear that one cannot read Foucault’s genealogy of power in a simple way.’’ in their own ontology. On the other hand. the notion of the preconditions of freedom as a unified field or system. sexual etc.598 Kai Eriksson exactly this: the emerging and dissolving of conceptions of truth in the horizon of incessantly changing constellations of power and knowledge: it is a history of truth. the historical expression of which can be identified with certain institutions (such as the penal). ‘‘ultimately I had done nothing but attempt to trace the way in which certain institutions. in relation to established ways of behavior.7 According to Foucault. only after their occurrence. and practices that do not have any obvious (conceptual.’ had ended up exercising their power on groups of individuals. without doubt. The ontology of power is not institutionalized in any single form and cannot be completely thought of in terms of any particular whole. As he notes. firstly. Foucault focuses—eventually—only on the conditions of essential social institutions (penal. etc. It is possible to argue that.) and has left out those that lie beyond the boundaries of his studies—against his evident purpose and the line of his thought—those institutions. mental normalization.

and the Ontology of Networks 599 and secondly that he did not cease to conceive and discuss power in terms of the images and metaphors related to these institutions. and in the process of doing so he reformulated the task of philosophy.’’13 In this sense. with certain qualifications. Nevertheless. Foucault opens up the way to the ontology of power. Heidegger’s way Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . Thus Foucault can be viewed. understood as becoming thinkable always within the political. I think. Two central themes must be brought out at this point. Following Nietzsche. Foucault’s program can. It cannot be posed any longer in terms of a major confrontation between privileged institutions or principles. it is a metaphysical name for the inexpressible. That is. which easily disproves all narrow interpretations. after Heidegger’s later work. No single theme or image—not even that of a disciplinary society or governmentality—can capture all the dimensions of historical movement and the movement of history. for instance. Deleuze. Thus. Firstly. which it is not. technology. These relationships imply this transcendental field insofar as it is understood as a historical category.12 Foucault has emphasized the fact that. Foucault provides a rich and profound analysis of the ontology of power. which is why power/knowledge relationships can be regarded as pointing to the ineffable field of the preconditions of all social and conceptual structures. the line of his rethinking having gone through Nietzsche and having been posed precisely in the realm of the social.10 Thus Foucault disconnects himself from the line of thought in which rationalization becomes an iron cage (Max Weber) or metaphysics achieves its completion in the planetary domination of technology (Martin Heidegger). and politics. which does not itself come into the sphere of expression. Foucault’s notion of the inexpressible is. but rather has to be seen as an endless struggle and transformation within ‘‘the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization.11 In this way Foucault connects himself to a philosophical tradition the main preoccupation of which is the always-incommunicable preconditions of freedom and communication. it has always to be presupposed in social discourse and is therefore necessarily conceived as some kind of a whole. This second point is one on which we should dwell a little longer. concepts such as the sovereign or the state or the institutions that they refer to already presuppose the fine. the ontological question can be articulated only as historical and in the context of omnipresent microrelationships of power and knowledge. existing network of power relations. according to Foucault power and its ontology should not be thought of in terms of any traditional conceptual whole—such as the King or the State—because power relations transcend endlessly the area that these concepts are capable of thematizing. Secondly. however.Foucault. There are various forms of rationalization and technology but none of them can monopolize the whole field of power relations—as if it was one field. although the inexpressible cannot be articulated in itself.14 The omnipresent network of the relationships of power/knowledge constitutes the precondition of any meaningful expression (of both concepts and practices). be understood—up to a point—as a rearticulation and further elaboration of Heidegger’s ‘‘thinking of Being’’ in a situation in which the idea of a dominating technology and central power has crumbled away. Thus it seems that the ceaselessly reorganizing field of the relationships of power/ knowledge names for Foucault exactly what we have been calling the inexpressible: in other words. the state presupposes a whole series of diverse power relations that in numerous ways intertwine with existing practices to produce knowledge. as having rethought Heidegger’s question of Being (Seinsfrage).

firstly.’’ Foucault could articulate the direction of action of a power that is no longer seen as based on a sovereign: power does not manifest itself as an institution but rather as continuously functioning nets of relationships that form into chains with each other: ‘‘Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization. be it a value or a conception. the said as much as the unsaid. which at the same time. moral and philanthropic propositions—in short. regulatory decisions.15 Dispositif named this network of power.600 Kai Eriksson Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 of questioning is ultimately read here through Nietzsche’s firm sensitivity to historical change. laws.16 The dispositif gathers local and historical relationships under a given network. the truth could not come into view. but this possibility is not a permanent state or principle. Foucault and DISPOSITIF By means of what he termed a ‘‘dispositif. It opens up the possibility for the truth. the cultural sentiment and the discourses connected to the communicative relationships and structures. Secondly. in a given historical . This thematical core defines an area of experience that manifests itself in and through the mutually constitutive interrelationships among theoretical discourses. Foucault defined dispositif as follows: What I’m trying to pick out with this term is. a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses. but it is not the ‘‘totality’’ of these relationships. Thirdly. scientific statements. It exists only in relation to the object of analysis. and self-relationships of the self. in the course of their own differentiation. as a continuously reassembled field. which pulls itself together into a certain grouping only to be dissolved and stretched again into a new order of forces. to the conditions and circumstances where the object is seen as true and meaningful. I understand by the term ‘‘apparatus’’ [dispositif] a sort of—shall we say—formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need. define what this ontology is about. let alone that of all social relationships. rather it is defined always as a historical conflict or displacement. institutions. philosophical. what I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements. Dispositif is to be understood as a network of relationships that.’’ Foucault claims. institutions. Foucault accepted and further elaborated the way in which Nietzsche moved philosophical analysis from the object proper. The concept enabled thinking about the linkages and fields of interaction of questions relating to the conditions of power and knowledge and of the particular systems and new practices developed. This change indicated that the object of interpretation cannot be understood without taking into account the interaction of forces that have produced it as an outcome. social power relationships. the administrative and scientific interests concerning those systems. administrative measures. This field of forces constitutes the precondition of truth: without the constant opposition of forces. and finally the conception of truth that these yielded. Foucault was animated by the Nietzschean view of the world as a battleground between relentless forces. architectural forms. and systems involved. Thus Foucault’s genealogy grounds the ontology of power on the incessantly reorganizing microrelations. as well as in the whole range of different practices.

In this way the network helps research practice to take into account that effects have an inherent. But the network is not the totality of power relationships even if applied only to relationships and fields of relationships actualized in this way. practices. Networks of power and knowledge enable one to analyze the institutions. and supposedly already completed order. Even so. a given network cannot present itself as a unified. it is only through a research program that this relationship is constituted as an object of thought: ‘‘Power in the substantive sense. as they shape each other and become. Although the areas of experience to be analyzed in genealogical research practice always take shape within some definable configuration of power relationships. for these fragmentary and ever-changing chains of relationships and practices constitute precisely what it is. as mentioned above. They form a mutual ‘‘effective history’’ that dissolves only to regroup again. it does not only indicate the historical institutions involved but also opens an ontological dimension to be examined. but is always unforeseeable at the time of the change. and the Ontology of Networks 601 period. doesn’t exist. not an external relationship between each other. harmonious. talking about a general constellation with respect to these experiences is not nonsensical. movements. This is because. the network is to be understood only in relation to an experience thought of in this way. a network always thematizes a certain constellation of power relationships centered around some specific phenomenon or experience from which it receives its meaningfulness. it emphasizes that effects should not be seen as coherent components of an idealized. in terms of their historical interrelationships. a network of the conditions of power and knowledge is not a totality of all social relationships either. as independent and separate from each other. on the contrary. Deleuze. or of the ingredients of these relationships. as has been usual in the academic division of labor. as both an object and a tool.Foucault. and detachments. the inner power distribution of which changes logically when seen in retrospect. on the one hand.18 Therefore. alliances. but rather in terms of flows. redefined and reorganized. static scheme of relationships but instead as ingredients of an open formation. because it is not independent of and does not precede these relationships: it is nothing other than the occurrence of these relationships.’’17 Furthermore. ‘le’ pouvoir. Although theoretical discourses and social practices have an inherent relationship with power. It has a realness of its own as a unifying principle that gathers together diverse practices and institutions. not in terms of essences or structures. They belong to the same ontological level. They do not belong to separate realms of institutional practice and scholarly discourse but presuppose each other in order to be conceivable. although they may have convergent or analogical characteristics and connections. For this reason the network enables articulation of thematic relationships. which occur in both constant institutionalization and disintegration. What is central about a network is that the specific relationships in and through which it is actualized do not constitute a ‘‘totality’’ independent of the analysis. This is also why the conditions of power networks are determined on the basis of different circumstances. but. At the same time. and that their separation is always an analytic operation. It is nothing other than the economy of the Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . not a ‘‘natural’’ state of affairs. depending on the historical circumstances and thematic frameworks in question. on the other. and discourses inherently related to the constitution of the social phenomena in question not. in the course of this process. Thus. organizes the field of power and knowledge as both an object of speech and a field of experience. the regional and temporal relationships operative within them.

category. the constellations of power should not be taken as independent either. Power. It is this mutual relationship that is posed as a problem by Foucault. and can be separated from social relationships only analytically. and even though it gets its sense and significance exclusively by way of a plurality of power relationships. as a series of discontinuous segments. distinguishable from each other. Ultimately. natural. the continuous unveiling of society itself. Yet. power is a phenomenon that can be understood only with reference to this fragmentary concatenation of events.602 Kai Eriksson occurrence of the phenomenon under analysis and does not precede this occurrence in any way. however. necessarily presuppose. Similarly. Yet in the hands of Foucault—as indicated—this realization. or a level of analysis. On the contrary. practices. But above all. as has become clear by now. While power endlessly escapes the functionality imposed on it from outside. Thus power is inherently divided into an irreducible plurality of heterogeneous events. and sentiments. strictly speaking. principle. expression. and as these relationships coexist. whereas power processes produce and institutionalize power as a system. it is the realization. Although the dispositif is nothing other than the ‘‘sum’’ of the relations involved. like discourse in Foucault’s analysis.’’19 Not unlike Foucault’s notion of sexuality. in turn. For this reason this system is to be understood. History can be viewed as a diversification of different forms of power. This is also why power is always discontinuous and heterogeneous. Power takes place temporally and regionally in separate assemblages that—although overlapping and interrelated—are. What remains to be seen is whether the apparent discrepancy between the rich potentialities inherent in his views on the ontology of power. its realization: it is the realization of the social. the very movements and rhythms of power are what provide a voice for the integrative and productive tactics of networks of power. It is rather a texture of mutual relationships among institutions. for they are determined. which he defended Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . although there is no network of power as such. by the formation of power relations. Of course. This is to say that.’’ nor a ‘‘higher order seeking to stand in its way. is therefore not an area. although analyzed brilliantly. as an experience. A power network. as an isolated phenomenon. which are interwoven in a particular historical system and its discourses. for it ‘‘is’’ this sociality. partly overlapping and always influencing each other. and living energy welling up from below. a network of power is the coming into view. the tactical function of which is not coherent or stable: it is a point of intersection of social forces where it both unifies and disperses existing groupings. tends to be discussed in terms of systems of thought and action. is neither a ‘‘primitive. the formation of this system and the practices it gives rise to constantly reorganize the contexts of power and knowledge. in this conception. power relationships are not independent of the networks of systems and conceptions to which they pertain and that they. but is also produced itself by the interaction of these same forces. power is not a pure positivity and not exclusively an effect of a law either. power ‘‘is’’ the social relationships that determine this network. as in Foucault’s notion of sexuality. in practice Foucault approaches these relations through a particular body of ideas and practices within a rather consistent perspective. power networks constantly introduce meaning structures and circumstances through which it is experienced and perceived. As every form produces its own relationship to the limits of power. and mark of these relationships. even this experience of the multiplicity of power relations does not exist in itself ‘‘before’’ the networks and systems that produce it as an experience. which arrange the question of ontology into a series of figures and institutions.

‘‘of analyzing mixed forms. Whereas for Foucault dispositif—as a name for the ‘‘networks of power’’—provided a framework for genealogy. however. this type of approach traces and constructs the ‘‘effective history’’ of discursive and institutional practices. inspired by the influence of Nietzsche. ‘‘does not speak ‘of ’ things. a similar kind of perspective. and the Ontology of Networks 603 against all attempts of totalization. it speaks on the same level as [a meme les choses] states of things and states of content. despite his evident attempts. struggles. both discursive and nondiscursive. however.’’23 ‘‘We set ourselves the task. remained—at the end of the day—ensnared by established structures. In any case. arrangements.’’ As with Foucault. for Deleuze agencement formed a tool for what he called ‘‘transcendental empiricism. Foucault indicates the direction in which ontology could assume a network-like nature. flows. and took up the task of mapping the philosophical conditions of the interplay of machines. and to analyze the conditions through which a given power configuration is formed in terms of movements. the aim of which. was ‘‘not a matter of bringing all sorts of things together under one concept but rather of relating each concept to variables that explain its mutations. and his historical investigations proper. which posited the question of ontology through established totalities. Central to that approach was the need to investigate the ontological conditions of the relationships of macrolevel structures and microlevel movements and flows. Deleuze. Both Foucault and Deleuze shared. and displacements. it constituted a mixture of bodies. ´ Deleuze. As noted.’’ as Deleuze put it. Gilles Deleuze broke away from the last bonds of these structures. According to him. not the other way around.21 Foucault called it ‘‘dispositif.’’ notes Deleuze. although multiplicities are made up of becomings without history. and formations of controversies. is due to the traditionally difficult task of approaching ‘‘history’’ philosophically without using concepts that enclose the phenomena under investigation. by outlining—following Heidegger—the central parameters and directions for approaching ontology and by insistently carrying out this approach in view of empirical relationships. and events that cannot be described in terms of power. arrangements—. it became possible to transgress the rigid subject–object axis still dominant in theoretical discourse. alliances. concerning the nature and aim of philosophical work. assemblages.’’ ` ˆ stated Deleuze. The aim of research for Foucault was to take up a chosen alignment of interlinked entities. uncontrollable events in the disintegration of an order. either in terms of history or of desire. This was accomplished mainly by using the notion of assemblage as an operational device. institutions and discourses in which all the components were on the same ontological level: ‘‘An assemblage of enunciation.’’22 Through this concept. we tend to think too much in terms of history. Deleuze. working with Felix Guattari.Foucault.’’ whereas Deleuze preferred the term ‘‘agencement.20 For Deleuze it was desire—an event at the microlevel—that conditioned power. Philosophy of Assemblages If Foucault. their transformations and dissolutions in a certain historical setting. regarded ‘‘becomings’’ as more important than history. Whereas Foucault positioned strategy in place of social dichotomies. although being inevitably a construction like any interpretative tool. replaced strategy by lines of flight and the movements of deterritorialization—in other words. We set out to follow and disentangle lines Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . in turn.

604 Kai Eriksson rather than work back to points: a cartography. as Deleuze considered the dispositifs of power to be a component of agencements. In order to think Being as one.27 The introduction of the notion of the rhizome must be seen as integral to the authors’ philosophical conception that what is important in philosophy is ‘‘the logic of multiplicities’’ and that all processes which inevitably take place within a given field of multiplicity. and disentanglements rather than essences.’’24 Thus. of hierarchical systems. through the theme of the virtual. or institutions: for him it is desire and lines of flight that set the conditions of power. identical in their meaning.’’ whereas in his own work they ‘‘consisted of a diffuse and heterogeneous multiplicity. ‘micro-dispositifs. one has to be Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . the attributes do not constitute any whole: they cannot be independent of the ‘‘preceding’’ substance. the concept of ‘‘rhizome’’ is without doubt one of the most central ones. ‘‘they referred to a diagram. each particular point in a rhizome can be connected to any other point. yielding a multiplicity that does not allow a unity. which gather together a kind of ‘‘network of virtualities. since neither of them can be articulated in terms of a state or sovereign. although they both presuppose each other.25 The concepts used by Foucault and Deleuze are not.’’29 Ontology becomes articulated in terms of the multiplicity of actualizations. This is analogous to the relationship between substance and attributes in Spinoza. we see a heterogeneous constellation of linkages and alliances between a number of distinct formations. which stretches the field of ontology to a kind of network of relations. Now. alliances. Thus Being lends itself to be thought always from two viewpoints at the same time: on the one hand. being thus impossible to be determined in terms of some final result. and of the ‘‘whole’’ of the virtual. that the thesis of the dispositifs of power seemed to move in two directions. from the multiplicity that this whole actualizes in itself. Although each actualization has its own virtuality. communication. must be regarded as becomings. on the other hand. Deleuze stated. In this respect they are analogous to Foucault’s relations of micropower. the actualization—of the attributes. in which substance exists only through its attributes.’ ’’26 Deleuze’s conception of philosophy is characterized by an aspiration to think through flows. that is. instead of confronting a technological or conceptual totality. on the other hand. These kinds of structures define the position of any single node and its relation to any other node in a given system. on the one hand. involving microanalysis. It constitutes a whole that constantly reorganizes itself according to creeping runners. but. He hinted that in the direction they took in Foucault’s program. however. they seem both to emerge from a similar philosophical territory.28 Yet these kinds of criteria are typical of treelike structures. Deleuze thought about ontology also. structures. in fact. which is the absolute precondition of the actual. the theme of the virtual requires as its counterpart the idea of actuality. being coined in a work written with Guattari in 1976 in which it was opposed to tree-structure. so as to make up a hierarchy in which the order of nodes has been predefined. and above all. Instead. but at the same time this substance is nothing but the realization—or. on the other. This line of thought is not unlike Foucault’s conception of the dispositif either—in fact. what is the figure through which Deleuze conceived the ontology of networks? Although he thematized it again and again through new concepts and viewpoints throughout his work. Thus Deleuze conceives ontology always from two different directions. and history. according to Deleuze. a kind of abstract machine immanent to the entire social field. movements. from the ‘‘virtual’’ whole.

Deleuze has a simple reason for this: according to him. whereas the formations of expanding virtualities create deep loops that communicate with each other. striving toward utmost concreteness. as the later Heidegger attempted systematically to do. It is essential to notice that the mutual relationship that constitutes what ontology is opens up precisely in light of the metaphor of the network. although in somewhat different terms. This is because the virtual is not a homogeneous unity but rather actualizes differences and is only in and through these differences. consisting in folds. and the Ontology of Networks 605 able to think of the ‘‘whole’’ of these virtualities. By claiming that history provides merely the condition that ‘‘makes possible the experimentation of something that escapes history. in that they bear witness to one and the same thing.33 What is interesting in an event. identities and boundaries. ‘‘is its effectuation in states of affairs or in lived experience. in its specific consistency. also according to Giorgio Agamben. escapes History.32 It is important to keep in mind that they are not independent areas or parts but are above all related to the same phenomenon. Deleuze differs from Foucault especially in relation to the question of the historical.38 Also Nancy. he claims. through which they alone differentiate themselves. is not its existence within a specific social field but rather its ability to produce a ‘‘concept’’ that can be extracted from the historical state of affairs. despite its own simultaneous opening of different directions. as distinct from linguistics. he did not. however. refrains explicitly from affirming its ‘‘historicality.’’36 The network of relations (agencement). but the event in its becoming. take their shape and determine their boundaries always in relation to other virtualities.Foucault. as Keith Pearson has noted. for instance. independent of its real (historical) properties. he nevertheless pursues his own philosophical work through the differentiation and creation of concepts (and philosophical figures). Incessantly expanding and differentiating virtualities communicate with each other. such as a revolution.34 ‘‘What History grasps of the event.31 Deleuze utilized the concept of depth already in ´ ´ ´ Difference et repetition. the virtual is at heart ahistorical. although the analysis can be accomplished only through a particular (historical) Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . Deleuze. Although he releases philosophy from the confines of power institutions. Given this background.30 From this ensues a metaphor of depth that Deleuze exploits himself: the actualities’ own virtualities form a sort of small circuit. remains in the final analysis external to the historical. when defending the ‘‘materiality’’ of ontology. within various dimensions of depth. Whereas Deleuze severed himself from thinking philosophy in terms of institutional wholes once and for all.’’ says Deleuze. presupposes both of them. is concerned only with the pure existence of language. it is true.’’39 Philosophy. which.’’37 Deleuze refuses a historical determination of philosophy. as mentioned above. however. yet he considered the arrangements he studied to ‘‘enter into history only indirectly.’’35 Deleuze regarded his philosophy as a transcendental empiricism. in its self-positing as concept. which he considers to be the essential task of philosophy. He makes a distinction between ‘‘becoming’’ and ‘‘history. Yet the differentiating movement of the same seems to bring about different depths and distances that—if conceived as a whole—together yield a vision of a network.’’ and connects philosophy to the realm of the former. that communicate constantly with each other without being inflexible. Virtualities differ in terms of which of them are directly connected to most others and which of them are directly connected only to a few. conceive of philosophy definitively from the perspective of the analysis of historical relations like Foucault did.

who bases his work on relationships and processes that only come into view historically. To my mind. the whole idea of the limits of language that characterizes Agamben’s work. not this phenomenon itself. For.40 Of course.41 In contrast. he nevertheless thought this network from the outset as a net (dispositif) laid between ‘‘the historical’’ and ‘‘the philosophical. in the final instance. although the difference with regard to Deleuze is often hardly distinctive. but rather that it created a whole new power network with its idea of control. the effort to think about this empirical dimension of ontology must be understood as an attempt to take historical change as a philosophical question. Yet. Deleuze was originally a philosopher of irreducible multiplicity. for instance. it is this very field. the ontology of ephemeral events that are meaningful for us becomes displaced. For Deleuze. in other words. implicates a view of a particular form of language that is distinctive to us. in this way. Yet his meditation on the experience of language. this reflection seems. to take place in ahistorical terms. if history is nothing but the capturing of the unsuppressed and principal process of life in transient and subordinate structures. What is always fundamental are the forces that result in the coming into existence of a given historical phenomenon in the first place. problem. tracing the mechanisms of thought and practice in their historical configurations instead of perishable lines and rhizomes. is not directed so much by the idea of its limits—insofar as these limits are understood as historical limits—but rather by its possibility. philosophy cannot be disentangled from these: on the contrary. For. as a central development. In Foucault. In any case. which Agamben has termed the factum loquendi. in the end. the network-like ‘‘nature’’ of ontology as systematically as Deleuze did. therefore. It is on this point that Deleuze (and Nancy) differs most from Foucault. they are inherently related. Deleuze seems to think that. Foucault thinks that the technology of Panopticon. these structures cannot appear as ontologically significant. Although Deleuze always reflects on philosophy from two directions at once. the question that Foucault asked was ‘‘does not ontology and its interpretations—since they are intimately connected—inevitably change in the course of history? Does not history deprive us of our continuities by breaking the thread of transcendental teleologies?’’42 If Foucault’s problem was related to bringing out the ontological significance of singular and isolated power relations. actual spatio-temporal things are merely actualizations of variations that persist outside of historical time. Foucault lays it between history and philosophy. according to Foucault. if it is true that ontology is nothing external Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . For this reason Agamben is inclined to think that language does not have a destiny. whereas Foucault was a thinker of cultural institutions. with a powerful ontological dimension. and the changing relations between them. or idea of the network in connection to issues that are historically relevant for us that. the fact that there is language. Deleuze’s neglect of these is clearly connected to describing the ontology of transitory historical–political relationships. among other thinkers. Foucault appears as more sensitive to the fact that history is not only an effect but also a process that constantly generates its own conditions—a process. In this regard. poses a challenge to thought today. was not merely the actualization of ahistorical variations. Yet. If Foucault perhaps failed to consider.606 Kai Eriksson experience of language. by the unchanging preconditions of language.’’ To put it differently: if Deleuze always tightens his net between the virtual and its actualizations. preoccupied more with the lines of flight than with areas of stability.

Furthermore. Moreover. as this ontology itself seems to have a network-like nature. It is in between these two directions of looking at ontology. This is because ontology is determined. it is heterogeneous and is constituted by the irreducible multiplicity of ontological chains and conditions. is there not a danger of being driven exactly into the kind of situation about which thinkers since Heidegger have been warning us? That is. and the Ontology of Networks 607 to life in itself. This ‘‘double exposure’’ of ontology is evident in both Foucault and Deleuze. which communicate with each other and which can be examined in the context of the metaphor of depth. insofar as the ontology of networks itself resembles a network (the metaphor of depth). however. It should still be kept in mind. through individual interpretations and theories that do not appear to share any obvious ground with the former. It gathers the chains and series in the same picture. on the other. But if the conditions of communication and freedom are understood as indistinguishable from life and history. yet their ontological conditions remain readable. As in the perspective of Foucault’s dispositif. in other words. it seems that today this conception is used increasingly in terms of a network. and those remaining relatively isolated and unattached. the space it occupies is not consistent or uniform. the metaphor of networks operates strongly within philosophy as well.Foucault. on the other. Deleuze. as it were. does not the thought that attempts to see these conditions as inherently connected Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 .43 Yet the network designates something—a whole—that at any given time has boundaries. even though they do not have to be precisely determinable. it is network-like also in the sense that it does not constitute any particular system: although the ontology of networks appears as chains. Although it is clear that many interpretations and discursive traditions can be traced back to some common historical horizon or ground. and series. connections. To be more specific. that the boundaries of the network are articulated. the boundaries of which are realized in the mutual relationships between the above-mentioned conditions of influential discursive practices pervading many social institutions. between the conditions mentioned as they communicate with each other. this is not always possible: the ground or origin in general is always heterogeneous and must be perceived in this plurality. from the point of view of the (historical) ‘‘structure’’ of ontology. and from that of the fields of singularities (the ontological dimension of which can be brought out). a certain community of fate. Thus the ontology of networks becomes manifest also as a network. on the one hand. then the inexpressible realm of ontology has to be conceived of precisely as historical. Conclusion Insofar as the ontology of networks (and the networks of ontology) is not determined outside of the realization of and thinking about networks but rather in this very historical event in itself. they are articulated in and through the mutual relationships. Instead. But as we have seen. incessantly being reorganized. then it can also be approached historically. and when this relationship changes the whole network changes accordingly. namely. that a network does not draw its boundaries independently. through historically influential ways and structures of thinking and. as we have seen. on the one hand. always puts up the network as a conceptual whole. a certain thematic or historical relationship.

1996). trans. is it not the task of philosophy to keep this difference in force and defend it against efforts to liken Being with this or that form or way of life in which it finds its expression? However. Yet it is only between the very historical change. the operation has the opposite effect: now we may notice that not only the central institutions. Histoire de la sexualite. Ibid. and the process of maintaining it was what philosophy was all about. though. Wolfgang Schivelbusch. 1976). Similarly. but about affirming existence as it is. 1: La volonte de savoir (Paris: Gallimard. the more it also becomes historically mediated by social and historical forces. This is why it does not eliminate the ontological difference but connects it to all that which has a manifestation. Jean-Luc Nancy. Michel Foucault. Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori. in fact. This is so because a network articulates questions that have become relevant in our time. ed. risk ending up outside the sphere of philosophy. 123. Michel Foucault.’’ and ‘‘variations. the affirmation of social relations and institutions does not mean a loss or elimination of the ontological difference. Heidegger considered philosophy to be based on the distinction between Being and beings.608 Kai Eriksson Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 with life. 1989). or cultural notions. Notes 1. thinking about language in its historical connection. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Michel Foucault. James Faubion. (New York: The New Press. Foucault. 2. Foucault. 116. For him. 1991). John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e). 5. James Goldstein and James Cascaito (New York: Semiotext(e). this weaving itself is nothing other than the giving birth to new discourses and objects: to words and things in mutual determination.’’ on the other. that the network can be woven. to the same horizon with the political. 470. the work of great thinkers.’’ ‘‘concepts. It seems that the more ontology assumes a network-like shape. The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century. Society and Culture. R. The Experience of Freedom. 1 of The Rise of the Network Society (Cambridge: Blackwell. with the changeable confrontations and practices of life. 2000). Foucault Live: Interviews. Anselm Hollo (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993). The Information Age: Economy. ontology founds an area that transcends all theoretical. or established academic or social conceptions can be interpreted from the ontological perspective but. concealed sphere of the truth. trans. 3. 126. Power. 11. 78. and the prevailing multiplicity of ‘‘events. One may mistakenly think that the ontological difference is lost. precisely for reasons that cannot be reduced to discursive dimensions only. ´ ´ 7. with the history of life. Michel Foucault. Power. . 139. trans. 10. 1966–84. 127. social. as it were. Ontology is thus brought closer to everyday life: it is no longer about revealing a deep. trans. 9. 117. 6. because it is precisely the ontological difference that founds philosophy? Famously. Ibid. 1992). Power. on the one hand. 4. Robert Hurley et al. trans. neither presupposes capturing the pure existence of language into a grammar nor fixing freedom into a constitution. in other words. Manuel Castells. 8. After all. vol. because the deep ontological dimension is brought. Rather. 145. Simultaneously. this was a demarcation that had to be actively maintained.

Michel Foucault. Deleuze.. 21. 1991). ´ 37. 1987)..’’ ‘‘In each apparatus we have to untangle the lines of the recent past and those of the near future: —that which belongs to history and that which belongs to the process of becoming’’ (Deleuze. 111. Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . breakage. 22. trans. ed. Foucault. Jean-Jacques Lecercle. Eliot Albert and Alberto Toscano (New York and London: Continuum. James Williams.’’ trans. Ibid. ed. 229. Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. the dimension of power is for Foucault ‘‘invisible and unsayable. 198. Arnold I. and trans. Gilles Deleuze. 1988). 27. some lines reproducing or giving rise to others. Colin Gordon. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. 29. Negotiations. Gilles Deleuze. in Foucault and His Interlocutors. Deleuze. 36. 162). ‘‘These apparatuses. 164). Mapping the Present: Heidegger. According to Deleuze. 1995). 2004). 32. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. Keith Pearson. 28. 39. trans. Foucault and the Project of a Spatial History (London: Continuum.’’ in Deleuze and Guattari. 22. Deleuze. Daniel Smith. 31. ‘‘Desire and Pleasure. ed. Deleuze. Brian Massumi has translated the terms. Foucault Live. Negotiations. See ‘‘Introduction: Rhizome. 1972–1990. 33. Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze (London: Routledge. The History of Sexuality. 187. 98. 1992). What is Deleuze and Guattari’s Philosophy? trans. Michel Foucault. trans. Colin Gordon et al. Foucault and Heidegger: Critical Encounters (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 81. 146–7. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: The Athlone Press. 2003). vol. Williams. Ibid. ‘‘[h]istory is the archive. 194–5. Ibid. 2. 31. as ‘‘apparatus’’ and ‘‘assemblage’’ in ´ Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Brian Massumi (London: The Athlone Press. whilst the current is the sketch of what we are becoming. 184. 2002). Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. trans. Eric Alliez. 25. 2001). 201–2. 24. 18. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. see also Foucault. Negotiations. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson (London: Verso. 189. 1 of The History of Sexuality. Power/Knowledge. trans. 1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Deleuze and Language (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Foucault. Negotiations. whereas Martin Joughin uses ‘‘arrangement’’ and ‘‘apparatus’’ in his translation of Negotiations. Timothy Armstrong (New York: Routledge. and intro. 160. Michel Foucault. the drawing of what we are and what we are ceasing to be. 1972–1977. Michel Foucault: Philosopher. 92. 86. Dialogues. Foucault. 8–9. ‘‘are composed of the following elements: lines of visibility and enunciation. 1980). and the Ontology of Networks 609 12. 16.. 30. 34. (New York: Pantheon. Deleuze. Davidson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 81. by means of variations or even changes in the way they are grouped’’ (Deleuze. all of which criss-cross and mingle together. trans. 17. 20. vol. 26. 102–5. The close relationship between Foucault and Heidegger has been suggested recently by Stuart Elden. 202. 196. 19.’’ See G. A Thousand Plateaus. lines of splitting. fracture. 1994). Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. The Experience of Freedom.’’ according to Deleuze. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. 1997). Pearson. 38. 15. What Is Philosophy? trans. An Introduction. eds. lines of force. ´ 35. lines of subjectification. 1989). and by Alan Milchman and Alan Rosenberg. Nancy. 23. Michel Foucault. Gilles Deleuze. 1990). Germinal Life. 13. 2003). Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage. The Signature of the World: Or. 14. respectively. 21. 30. viii. According to Deleuze.

42. Downloaded By: [HEAL-Link Consortium] At: 16:44 25 November 2009 . Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Giorgio Agamben. 1986). Rodophe Gasche. 180. Potentialities. 67–8. Williams. 175.610 Kai Eriksson 40. Michel Foucault. trans. Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. 165. The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Deleuze. ´ 43. 41. 1999). 149.