Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity

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* Book: A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. Manuel De Landa. Continuum, 2007


From the Wikipedia:

"ANPS is an attempt to loosely define a new ontology for use by social theorists - one that challenges the existing paradigm of meaningful social analyses being possible only on the level of either individuals (micro-reductionism) or 'society as a whole' (macro-reductionism). Instead, ANPS employs Deleuze's theory of assemblages to posit social entities on all scales (from sub-individual to transnational) that are best analysed through their components (themselves assemblages).

Components are characterized along two primary axes/dimensions: a material (Deleuze's 'content') -> expressive axis which defines the variable roles a component may play, and a territorializing -> deterritorializing axis indicating processes in which a component is involved. These components are defined by relations of exteriority, i.e. their 'role' within a larger assemblage is not what defines them (this would be a relation of interiority). This means that a component is self-subsistent and may be 'unplugged' from one assemblage and 'plugged' into another without losing its identity. A third axis defines processes in which specialized expressive media (genetic/linguistic resources) intervene in 'coding'/'decoding' the assemblage.

According to De Landa, following Deleuze's ideas of difference and repetition (what De Landa calls 'variable repetition'), assemblages necessarily exist in heterogeneous populations. The relationship between an assemblage and its components is complex and non-linear: assemblages are formed and affected by heterogeneous populations of lower-level assemblages, but may also act back upon these components, imposing restraints or adaptations in them.

Importantly, De Landa merges Deleuze's ideas of both assemblages and strata into his model of assemblages, regarding the distinction as inconsequential in the context of ANPS. He does however maintain the idea of assemblages as non-essentialist (they are historically contingent actual entities, not instances of ideal forms) and non-totalizing (assemblages are not seamless totalities but collections of heterogeneous components that should be analysed as such)." (