Exteriority of Relations
Part of the Assemblage Theory of Manuel DeLanda, and contrasted with the interiority of relations.
From a commentary at http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=541
"What does it mean to affirm the exteriority of relations? As DeLanda explains it, an entity is never fully defined by its relations; it is always possible to detach an entity from one particular set of relations, and insert it instead in a different set of relations, with different other entities. For every entity has certain “properties” that are not defined by the set of relations it finds itself in at a given moment; rather than being merely an empty signifier, the entity can take these properties with it, as it were, when it moves from one context (or one set of relations) to another. At the same time, an entity is never devoid of (some sort of) relations: the world is a plenum, indeed it is over-full, and solipsism or atomistic isolation is impossible.
Put differently, no entity can be absolutely isolated, because it is always involved in multiple relations of one sort or another, and these relations affect the entity, cause it to change. But this is not to say that the entity is entirely determined by these relations. On the one hand, the entity has an existence apart from these particular relations, and apart from the other “terms” of the relation (i.e. apart from the other entities with which it is in relation) precisely insofar as it is something that is able to affect, and to be affected by, other entities or other somethings. On the other hand, what the entity is is not just a function of its present relations, but of a whole history of relations which have affected it — or of “aleatory encounters” (as Althusser might say) with other entities, over the span (temporal and spatial) of its existence.
DeLanda distinguishes between the properties of an entity (which are what it takes with it to another context) and the capacities of that same entity (its potential to affect, and to be affected by, other entities). “These capacities do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities” (11). An entity’s capacities are as real as its properties; but we cannot deduce the capacities from the properties; nor can we know (entirely) what these capacities are, aside from how they come into play in particular cases, in particular relations, in particular interactions with other particular entities.
What this means is that entites of various sorts and scales — persons, but also (to use DeLanda’s own list) networks, organizations, governments, cities, nations — are all entirely real. (DeLanda resists putting “society” in this list, because he fears that such a term implies the logical topmost point of a hierarchy, a category that includes everything. He insists that entities always come in “populations” — taking the term in the sense it is used in “population genetics” — so that there can never be one, all-integrating topmost entity. Though I take his point, I also see no objection, on his own principles, to talking about societies in the same way we talk about any other level of entities. More on that in a moment).
To say that both individuals and wider social formations (and narrower, sub-personal formations as well) are real, is to be committed to what DeLanda calls “ontological realism.” This is in opposition both to the neoclassical economists who only recognize the reality of the individual, and think that anything of broader (logical or social) scope is just a linguistic fiction; and to the Hegelians (and Hegelian Marxists, and perhaps Durkheimian sociologists as well) for whom only the social is real, and the individual is regarded as a linguistic or ideological fiction. This means also to think entities non-essentialistically (every entity is historically contingent: its existence and its properties cannot be inferred, let alone be deduced logically; for the entity exists only as an effect of processes over time which could have gone otherwise). And further, it is to recognize that all entities (not just living things, but everything) are mortal — they have dates of coming-into-existence and passing-out-of-existence, they are not platonic forms but occupy a finite and bounded stretch of time and space)." (http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=541)