My Reading Notes: You Can Have Them

I have been updating my long-neglected faculty home page, mostly because I am trying to learn HTML and CSS. I think it is coming along nicely, though experienced coders may disagree.


One of the things I decided to do is to put my reading notes there, free to download. The idea is not very complex: I think they may be useful to others, and so I want to share them. I have not done this before, so I am not sure about all the ramifications. The only really good example I have seen is Michael Hardt’s reading notes on Deleuze & Guattari, which I found really useful, and I was glad he shared them.

So there you go. Take them. I hope they are useful. If they are, maybe you wouldn’t mind sharing yours as well. Augment the common stream. Stoke the general intellect. Make rhizome everywhere.


Royal Science: Hegel’s Fault?

For those of you who are interested in Deleuze & Guattari’s critique of Royal Science and their alternative, nomad thought, I just ran across this paragraph from Hegel, in the preface to the Philosophy of Right, where he says:

Philosophy with us is not as it was with the Greeks for instance, pursued in private like an art, but has an existence in the open, in contact with the public, and especially, or even only, in the service of the state.

I have always found D&G’s worry, that the State and philosophy are intimately bound up together, to be a bit overblown, but in the context of Hegel’s particularly statist conception of philosophy, it makes much more sense.

This is just a fragment from my wanderings, of course. I am sure there are those who have pursued this set of linkages much more fully…

In Failure…a Grace?


I am just rereading Plateaus 6 & 7 (BwO and the Face) with my reading group, Becoming-Poor.  Reading them this time through, I felt like I was lifted on a wave of life.  Really hopeful chapters, and many things to note, but one in particular relates to an idea I wrote about before, the idea that, as D&G put it in What is Philosophy?:

the victory of a revolution is immanent and consists in the new bonds it installs between people, even if these bonds last no longer than the revolution’s fused material and quickly give way to division and betrayal.

Here, in Plateau 6, they say something similar, although in a different register, in relation to Artaud:

Even if Artaud did not succeed for himself, it is certain that through him something has succeeded for us all.

Tahrir, Spain, Occupy, Bahrain, Syria…or even Spain in the 1930s, Hungary in 1956, Tienanmen, Iran in 2009…it seems the question we should never forget to ask is: in what way, through the many who made these events happen, has something succeeded for us all?

Marx: Pretty Good Communist Thinker


My students just had an extremely insightful discussion of two chunks of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts: “Alienated Labor” and “Private Property and Communism.”  The class has to do with the idea of community, and so we pay attention not just to Marx’s critique of the current society, but also to his imagination of the community to come.  This latter element is underdeveloped in the Communist Manifesto, but it is actually, to my mind on this reading, quite robust in the chunk on “Private Property and Communism,” especially if we augment Marx with Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari.

Marx develops his critique of capitalism by arguing it alienates people from 1) the product of their labor (which is owned by the capitalist), from 2) their species-being (they are not fulfilled in their productive activity but sell it as labor in return for a wage), and from 3) each other (from other workers with whom they compete, and from capitalists to whom their productive activity has been sold).

Communism, Marx argues, is the positive overcoming [Aufhebung] of alienation, and, necessarily also, the overcoming of the relations of private property.  One form of communism, crude communism, is merely the universalization of the property relation, whereby each individual becomes able to participate in owning property.  The second form is one in which either the state overcomes private property (presumably through a form of state-socialism) or the state has been overcome but property has been left in place [this passage is short and not as clear].  The third form of communism is the full form: a “positive overcoming of private property as human self-alienation, and thus as the actual appropriation of the human essence through and for man…the restoration of man as a social, that is, human being” (p. 71 of the Simon collection).  This process, this overcoming of alienation and private property, this movement to construct communism, is “the riddle of history solved and knows itself as the solution” (p. 71).

Clearly the liberals would worry about this vision, assuming it entails a Rousseauian absorption of the individual into a single and undifferentiated social whole.  But Marx is quite subtle here.  He says, basically, that what it means for people to restore themselves as social beings is to realize that the individual is a fiction, an invention of bourgeois society.  The individual is always already a product of, connected to, and dependent on others; s/he is, in other words, always already social.  This is true in a biological sense: each person’s bodily existence is dependent on the procreative and nurturing activity of many, many ancestors.  Similarly, the creative/productive activity of a given individual is utterly dependent on a host of other creators/producers from whom s/he has learned.  The things I make, in other words, are not really made by me alone, but by something I call ‘me’ that is really more like a dense knot of ideas and skills (what Marx called “senses and aptitudes”) that only exist because of the creative activity of many thousands of other humans.  To an extent my body, my senses and my aptitudes are mine, but they are also, just as much, everybody’s.  This is a lot like what Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil:

I shall never tire of emphasizing a small terse fact…namely, that a thought comes when “it” wishes and not when “I” wish, so that it is a falsification of the facts of the case to say that the subject “I” is the condition of the predicate “think.” It thinks; but that this “it” is precisely the famous old “ego” is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion. and assuredly not an “immediate certainty” (Section 17).

This is the immediate inspiration for the view of Deleuze and Guattari.  For them the individual is an assemblage, a complex open system that is constantly exchanging matter and ideas with its outside.  For them each of us is an intensity on the plane of consistency: we all arise out of the same collective soup, and while we are distinct from each other, none of us is in any way self-contained or independent.  We are intensities that exist only as part of millions of other intensities scattered across the plane of consistency.  I think this is a good way to read Marx’s line that each of us “is therefore a particular individual” but also “equally the totality” (p. 73).  “The overcoming of private property,” Marx writes,

means therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and aptitudes [Eigenschaften], but it means this emancipation precisely because these senses and aptitudes have become human both subjectively and objectively.  The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object derived from and for man…Need or satisfaction have thus lost their egoistic nature, and nature has lost its mere utility by use becoming human use (p. 74).

So overcoming private property means overcoming Locke’s argument in Chapter 5, where he says that God gave the earth to humans in common, but he also gave us property in our own bodies, so that when I use my body-labor to produce a product, that product is entirely the result of my own efforts (actually he says 99%), and so it belongs entirely to me.  Locke posits that this individual with a proprietary body exists already in the state of nature, but Marx refuses this ploy.  Locke’s bourgeois, independent, proprietary individual is for Marx an alienated version of ourselves, one that obscures our true social, or human, character.

So for each of us, life in communism does not mean surrendering our natural individual freedom to a social whole.  Rather it means rediscovering the real condition of our lives: each of us is an intense accumulation of matter and ideas on the common plane of consistency.  We are each an assemblage that opens out onto other assemblages, that realizes itself only in common society with millions of other assemblages.

This line of thinking seems to dovetail quite nicely with Hardt & Negri’s idea of the common, and in particular Marx’s idea of our aptitudes being common resonates with H&N’s argument that the most important ‘common’ that is being produced today is the common intellect: the ideas, codes, affects, languages, norms that work best when they are freely shared [Marx seems to offer (here in EPM) a shadow of the “general intellect” idea that is most often thought to be found in the Grundrisse.  In addition to the discussion of common sense and aptitudes, he talks of “general consciousness” or “generic consciousness” (p. 73)].

This argument is certainly not yet fully formed in my mind, but I think I am clear on the point that in thinking communism today, we should very much  return to Marx (and especially the early work), not just as a formal historical exercise, but because he offers a rich kernel of ideas that are strikingly concordant with the way communism is being thought today.

Lodge Yourself on a Stratum (or, For Exodus)


This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times.

I have always loved this passage from A Thousand Plateaus, but I have also chafed a bit at how they want us to spend so much time paying attention to the stratum.  I thought it was just a kind of unreflective pragmatism, an acceptance of the fact that, like it or not, you have to start from where you are.  But Hardt & Negri (Commonwealth) suggest something more positive.  They say that the family, corporation, and the nation are the most important social institutions that capture us presently.  But mostly what these institutions are doing is gathering and mobilizing our common power.  As such, we should pay very careful attention to them, not because they are currently dominant and we have no choice but to work with them, but because they are storehouses of our common power.  As we struggle to leave capitalism and the state and build an alternative common life together, we will have to reappropriate our common power, make it our own again, and turn it toward our own common project.  So it makes sense to know intimately where that common power is currently stored, and how it is being put to use.  Lodge yourself on a stratum.

People Are the Source of All Power


Here is a thought whose recurrence in me today was prompted by Commonwealth.  Hardt & Negri insist on Foucault’s argument that power can only be exercised over free subjects.  That is, the nature of power (i.e. biopower, pouvoir, constituted power) is that it tries to act on the free activity of people, either to repress it or to cause it to flow in particular directions.   The free activity of people–their drive that continues to churn, to create, to assert itself–is primary.  (This is what D&G call desiring-production, and we could call it puissance, or constituent power, or, my favorite, kratos.)  We commonly think of domination as sequentially prior to resistance, that domination is imposed and then a resistance is born.  But that is wrong.  Domination must always impose itself on something, and that something is the ongoing free activity of people.  In that sense, resistance is just the temporary guise that already-existing free activity takes as it continues to churn, to escape whatever controls have been imposed so that it can continue its work, continue to pursue its insistent project of creation.

All this made me think of my post on Far From Heaven, in which we can see people heavily constrained by norms of race, class, gender, and sexuality, who nevertheless continue to churn, to desire, to create.

Planning, Food Movements in Oaxaca, and (natch) Deleuze and Guattari

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I recently participated in the joint AESOP/ACSP Planning Conference in Dublin.  This paper was a joint piece with my colleague Branden Born at the University of Washington.  Again, this was was an audience of planners, and so our comments were geared toward advocating for D&G in that context, but as with my previous talk for AESOP this one might be of use to a wider audience.  We were also trying to explore what D&G’s “new land” might look like in actual practice, and we try to do that in the context of alternative food movements in Oaxaca, Mexico.  If anyone is interested, there is  a longer paper that goes into more detail, especially on the Oaxacan movements.




This paper argues that planning should pay more attention to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. And we should pay more attention to them even though, if we take their work seriously, their ideas profoundly destabilize the existence of the state, of capitalism, and probably also planning as we know it.

In their work, Deleuze and Guattari force us to abandon our assumptions that capitalism is permanent and that the state is benevolent. They urge us to discover new forms of life beyond capitalism and the state. Though this line of thinking may seem extreme at first, too radical to be useful, we argue that elements of the kinds of life Deleuze and Guattari advocate are currently being pursued all over the world, by all sorts of people. In the paper we examine examples of such activity specifically from the alternative food movement.

A survey of the recent literature in planning shows that planning academics are beginning to engage with Deleuze and Guattari’s work (e.g. Hillier 2007, Jones 2007, Nyseth et. al. 2010, in addition to many papers at ACSP conferences). But we think this work has not yet articulated the real force of Deleuze and Guattari’s vision.  We think that a fuller engagement with Deleuze and Guattari would force planners to ask troubling existential questions about planning, questions like: is planning really what we assume it to be, and should we be doing it at all? Though these questions are worrisome, and perhaps even frightening, we think planning would benefit greatly from engaging with them sincerely.

The paper, and our talk, are organized in three parts. First we outline briefly Deleuze and Guattari’s political vision. Then we describe empirical cases that help us imagine how some elements of Deleuze and Guattari’s politics might look in practice. Lastly, we offer some initial thoughts about what Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas might mean for planning theory and practice.

Deleuze and Guattari’s Politics, Briefly Stated (in 9 minutes)

To talk about Deleuze and Guattari, we need to start with Hobbes. Hobbes insisted that people, all of us, are the source of all political power. The state only exists, he argued, when people decide to surrender their power to it, and they agree to let it rule them.

Marx said the same thing about economic production: labor is the source of all economic value (this is actually Ricardo of course), and capital is unproductive, a vampire (this is Marx) that feeds on the value that labor produces.

Deleuze and Guattari extend these arguments to make a more general, but parallel, claim that the capacity to produce anything in the world resides in people. They call our productive capacity “desiring-production.” As with popular power in Hobbes and economic value in Marx, for Deleuze and Guattari desiring-production is alienated from people by the various systems of the social order.


They call these systems of the social order “apparatuses of capture”: the family, the state, capitalism, etc. Each of these captures our productive force, our desiring-production, constrains it, channels its flows, and causes it to act in limited ways that reinforce the social order (capitalism is actually a different kind of force (an axiomatic), which were don’t have time to explain in the talk).  Deleuze and Guattari insist that only desiring-production is productive: the apparatuses are unproductive systems of control that function to imprison desiring-production and use its creative force for their own ends.

Given this state of affairs, Deleuze and Guattari insist, what we need is a revolution. But their idea of revolution is not at all the same thing as revolution in the classic sense, in which workers organize into a party and seize the state.  For Deleuze and Guattari, revolution means freeing desiring-production from the various apparatuses of capture. Deleuze and Guattari are much closer to what the anarchists have always called social revolution in which ordinary people directly take up the project of governing themselves, bypassing corporations, parties, and the state (e.g. Bakunin, 1973; Proudhon, 1969; Kropotkin, 1995).  What Deleuze and Guattari are calling for, in short, is an ongoing struggle by people to create a world without the state and without capitalism by inventing and nurturing autonomous, radically democratic forms of life.

To pursue this revolution, Deleuze and Guattari propose a method they call schizoanalysis. Through schizoanalysis, we rediscover and reappropriate our own desiring-production, and we help it flourish on its own terms.  They argue that for our desiring-production to flourish it does not need to confront and smash the apparatuses; rather it needs to create what they call “lines of flight.” It needs to create escapes, exoduses, withdrawals from the apparatuses of capture. As elements of desiring-production flee, they begin to discover other, similar elements, also in flight from the apparatuses.  In the best case, these elements can begin to connect with each other, to form what Deleuze and Guattari call “rhizomes”— horizontal and centerless networks of affinity—in order to strengthen and preserve their lines of flight.

This mutual aid is important because the apparatuses of capture will always seek to reincorporate the escaped elements into new-and-improved apparatuses. As a result, we must continually renew our escape, and continually seek out new connections with others.

Most often, escaped desiring-production does not stay free for long. It is recaptured. Usually, this process of flight and recapture alters the apparatus somewhat, modifying it as it adjusts to the flight that has occurred. And so along these lines we might imagine a reformist strategy whereby successive flights and recaptures incrementally improve the conditions of life within the system. For example, the organic food movement initially tried to create a food system beyond corporate-capitalist agriculture, but it was soon pursued and recaptured through branding and commodification. Nevertheless, this process of flight and reabsorption probably improved significantly the quality and healthiness of corporate-capitalist food.

But this kind of reformism is not at all Deleuze and Guattari’s agenda. They are revolutionaries. They hope that if more and more elements of desiring-production are able to flee and connect into rhizomes, as flight becomes generalized, the collective impact will be to erode the foundation of the apparatus of capture. It will become unstable and collapse. At the same time, as the escaped elements connect into rhizomatic networks, these connections can feed off each other, ideally developing a chain reaction of uncountable connections that multiplies endlessly. An emerging common power beyond the state and capitalism, growing at an accelerating rate.

Deleuze and Guattari insist that as desiring-production flees and connects into networks, these new rhizomatic entities cannot themselves form an alternative system of apparatuses. Rather the rhizomes being formed aim at a radically different human condition.

If the lines of flight can manage to multiply quickly, they can grow and spread to the extent that their interwoven lines begin to trace out a new surface, a moving and fluid surface that also has some measure of heft or consistency. This is what Deleuze and Guattari call “a new land,” a generalized condition in flight from the apparatuses, in which becoming, flow, and desiring-production pervade the community, and they choke out or overgrow the apparatuses of capture, at least for a time.

new land

Deleuze and Guattari are clear that in this new land there will be forms of organization, ways to create consistency or routines or regularity of life. But for them this organization must always be immanent, it must always emerge out of the collective power of people themselves. It cannot be directed or managed by a transcendent or central power. People cannot be governed by an entity above or outside themselves. This means that people in the new land must manage their own affairs for themselves. They continually create new radically democratic forms of life.

Such forms of life, as we have been stressing, are not governed by a State. Deleuze and Guattari urge us to flee all States, to join up with others in flight from States so that we can, together, break through to a new land without the State, that wards off the State. Deleuze and Guattari are offering a radical non-state vision of unmistakable intensity.

And so their position on any kind of planning under the auspices of the state is not difficult to infer.

Oaxaca Rhizing

While at first Deleuze and Guattari’s vision might be hard to envision as a real possibility, we argue that examples are, in fact, everywhere. It is just a question of learning where to look and how to see. Examples include actions like workers occupying and managing their factories; residents squatting urban land for housing or for agriculture; attempts to create alternative local economies; initiatives to create Community Supported Agriculture.

We’d like to outline two example cases from the alternative food movement that we think resonate with Deleuze and Guattari’s hope for a new land. We discuss several others in the paper. The cases come from a set of loosely networked organizations working on different forms of food sovereignty in Oaxaca, Mexico. Each project has many parts, some more in line with Deleuze and Guattari’s politics, others less so. In our account, we selectively focus on those aspects that reflect Deleuze and Guattari’s vision. Our goal is not to give a complete picture of the cases themselves, but rather to give a better sense of the look and feel of concrete practices that might exemplify the new land project.

Some context: the southern Mexican state and city of Oaxaca has a rich history of active indigenous groups, social movements, and a well-developed food culture. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and smallholder farms are the norm in the countryside. Maize is of particular importance here: the region is the ancestral home of the crop, and there is a strong economic and cultural connection to it. While many of the small farmers in the region use Green Revolution technologies, among some of them there is a move away from such technology. They are exploring alternative practices, including the reintroduction of heritage crops such as amaranth, and the use of organic practices and traditional technologies such as extensive hand and animal-assisted labor. GM corn is a contentious topic for local farmers. They see transgenics as a threat to the genetic biodiversity of the area in general, and particularly to the genetic diversity of maize. In the urban food system there is also great change, as the influence of Western diets and the industrial food system grows. Obesity is rising and processed junk food is common at every small bodega. Traditional small markets are losing ground as mega-stores gain a stronger foothold both in Oaxaca and Mexico more generally. All of this sets the stage for resistance and flight.

Indeed, many groups in Oaxaca are resisting the absorption of Oaxacan culture and agriculture into the global industrial and corporate-capitalist food system. Here are those that we mention, and a bit of what they do and how we see them as part of the new land project.

CEDICAM (Center for Integral Farmer Development) is a farmer-to-farmer agricultural education group. The smaller-scale case is the Autonomous Network for Food Sovereignty (RASA), which is a loose network that advocates for cultural preservation and food sovereignty, often through urban and peri-urban agriculture.

CEDICAM has permanent sites in 12 villages around Oaxaca and a presence in dozens more. It works through farmer-to-farmer demonstrations and sharing best practices with other farmers. CEDICAM is entirely farmer-operated. Participating farmers eschew many intensive industrial agricultural techniques. They have achieved increased yields through a sophisticated regime of seed saving and plant hybridization combined with symbiotic multi-cropping of milpa (the traditional combination of corn, squash and beans) and mostly natural pest management. This turning away is easy to read as an attempt to discover a line of flight, and the commitment to horizontal networking and collective decision-making by the base resonates with Deleuze and Guattari’s desire for escaped elements to join together into rhizomatic networks.

The other example, the Autonomous Network for Food Sovereignty (RASA), works for food sovereignty and security in the city of Oaxaca, particularly for marginalized groups such as women and indigenous people. It is a decentralized network of some 100 members, it has no paid staff, and it goes from periods of great activity (small conferences, meetings, site visits, trainings) to near dormancy. The group lacks an institutionalized leadership. However, leaders do emerge: members step forward to coordinate activities for which they have a particular interest or expertise.

RASA also coordinates a periodic forum in which people gather to share information about urban agricultural practices and other self-management techniques. In all RASA activities, members decide what they want to learn, how they will learn it, and what they want to do with their knowledge. The network provides support for both education and implementing the projects that members choose to take up.

As with CEDICAM, RASA has created a form of horizontal, rhizomatic organization that provides sufficient structure for the group to sustain itself while also allowing members the freedom to engage on their own terms the project of food sovereignty and self-sufficiency.


These concrete experiments resonate with Deleuze and Guattari’s project, and they can give us a better idea of what kinds of practical steps we might take if we want to take up a similar project of our own. When we think only within Deleuze and Guattari’s work, such steps might be hard to imagine because of the abstractness and revolutionary intensity of their vision. However, while they advocate revolution, while their ethics and politics insists on a wholesale movement beyond the state and capitalism, nevertheless they are clear that this revolution must be an immanent one. That is, the revolution must emerge from the everyday practices and struggles of people trying to free themselves from the control of the state and capital, to develop their own plot of new land. As they do, as they learn what free activity feels like, they find others, connect with them, form themselves into rhizomes, into non-hierarchical networks without centers or leaders. “This is how it should be done,” Deleuze and Guattari write,

lodge yourself on a stratum [apparatus of capture], experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight …(Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 161, emphasis added).

Deleuze & Guattari’s project is a patient one, a project of experimenting, of learning slowly but insistently about our desire, about how this desire might spread and be shared, and about how we might manage our common affairs for ourselves. They even call their method a “pragmatics.” Not the conservative pragmatism of Lindblom, but a revolutionary pragmatism that both is patient and at the same time aims at a breakthrough, at a generalized transformation of society.

Revolutionary activities—activities that aim at a new land, at a life beyond the state and capitalism—are happening right now, all over the world. People are tinkering, experimenting, tending their plot. Therefore, the task must be to seek out these activities, to recognize them, and to help them grow and spread on their own terms.

And so maybe in Deleuze and Guattari’s pragmatics, and in initiatives like CEDICAM and RASA, we can see an opening for planning, a possibility for taking intentional action, for intervening in the world in order to change it. Perhaps it is on the ground that we might begin to imagine an engagement between planning and Deleuze and Guattari’s agenda. Planning here could even mean planning under the auspices of the state. State planners are certainly “lodged on a stratum,” they clearly operate within the state’s apparatus of capture. And so from that position they might experiment with lines of flight, effect little escapes. What this might mean most practically is for planners to seek out and ally themselves with groups like CEDICAM and RASA, not to direct them or shape them or cause them to flow in particular directions, but to help them. Deleuze and Guattari’s work suggests that the project for planners would be to help lines of flight flee according to their own desire, to help those lines make connections with other lines, to facilitate the growth of rhizomes, to multiply the instances of free activity beyond the state and capitalism that are already underway. For Deleuze and Guattari this revolutionary project to liberate desire must always be immanent, it must always be the work of people themselves. It cannot be carried out by a transcendent entity, by a body that stands outside of the community. Planning, therefore, would have to become immanent; it would have to become, over the long term, an activity carried out not by formal “planners” but by people themselves as they struggle to take control of their own activity. Deleuze and Guattari thus imply both 1) that ultimately planners must become participants, that they must join the common struggle to move beyond the state and capitalism that is already underway, and 2) that everyone must become planners, everyone must take up and master the project of understanding and intervening in the affairs of the community. It is a project to radically generalize the activity of planning, a generalization that would mean, at least, the eventual end of both planning as a profession and as a state activity.


Works Cited

Bakunin, M. (1973) Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings. Translated by S. Cox and O. Stevens. London, Jonathan Cape.

Hillier, J. (2007) Stretching Beyond the Horizon. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Jones, H. (2007) Exploring the Creative Possibilities of Awkward Space in the City. Landscape and Urban Planning 83, pp. 70-76.

Kropotkin, P. (1995 [1892]) The Conquest of Bread. Edited by M. Shatz. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Nyseth, T., J. Ploger, and T. Holm (2010) Planning Beyond the Horizon: The Tromso Experiment. Planning Theory 26 April, pp. 1-25.

Proudhon, P. (1969) Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Translated by E. Fraser. New York, Anchor.

Deleuze & Guattari: Democrats

Sorry for the delay in posting new things.  I have just returned from the Lisbon and the Deleuze Studies Conference, and Dublin and the AESOP/ACSP planning conference.  Here is the text of my talk at the Deleuze Studies conference, arguing that D&G are basically democrats (understood the way I understand democracy), but that Lefebvre is an essential addition to D&G if we want to think space well.


For Urban Democracy


Deleuze and Guattari rarely use the word democracy. So it may seem strange at first that this paper argues that it is both possible and fruitful to read in their work a deep desire for democracy. When I say democracy, I don’t mean the liberal-democratic State with its elected representatives, parties, and laws. Rather I mean radical democracy, a democracy in which people directly manage their own affairs for themselves. Democracy as a form of life in which the constituent power of people is continually activated and practiced. Even though Deleuze and Guattari don’t use the term, I think they offer a bold and exciting vision for this kind of democracy.

But I think Deleuze and Guattari are less useful for thinking about space. I think they have an interest in space, in thinking in terms of spatial imagery, but it is more metaphorical and conceptual than it is concrete and practical. You could think space with Deleuze and Guattari alone, but I think in order to think it well, and in particular to think urban space well, we need to augment Deleuze and Guattari with the work of Henri Lefebvre. Lefebvre shares much politically with Deleuze and Guattari, but he offers us a large corpus of explicit thought on space and the urban.

What is Democracy?

In order to defend the claim that Deleuze and Guattari are democrats, let me first say something about democracy as I understand it. And what I will say here is an abbreviated version of the much longer exposition of democracy in my book that was recently released.

Let me do this by way of an etymology. Democracy is of course demos and kratos. I will get to demos in a second, but first let me recover kratos. We typically think of kratos as rule, or government, or authority. But I want to think of it according to its deeper or more original meaning, as the power to create, the power to invent something new, the power to produce. Deep at its root, I want to argue, kratos means potentia, puissance, or constituent power. It does not mean potestas, pouvoir, or constituted power. Or, rather, those latter meanings came later, through some misadventures in Greek society.

So now…demos. For the Greeks demos usually meant only the many poor, but as Hardt and Negri argue, in the modern era demos has come to mean everyone, anyone at all.

So then democracy today is an idea that brings together demos and kratos: everyone, all people, together with their kratos, their puissance, their power to create something new. It means a form of life in which people, everyone together, directly produce the world and manage that world for themselves.

(And so democracy does not mean, cannot mean, liberal democracy, or the liberal-democratic State, or the welfare State. As Hobbes demonstrated so clearly, these arrangements are oligarchies. They necessarily involve people surrendering their kratos to a potestas, to a Leviathan that rules them, to what Hobbes called “a power that is able to overawe them all.”)

So democracy is people reunited with their kratos. But if we think of democracy this way, then being democratic, which would mean fully retaining and using our kratos, is something we could not sustain for long. It would require too much activation and effort. It would overwhelm us. That is why we need to think of democracy not as a state of being but as a process of becoming. Democracy is better thought of as a struggle to become democratic. A struggle by everyone, all of us, to come to know our kratos, and to learn to use it effectively.

Deleuze and Guattari

Perhaps you can already see how this streams into Deleuze and Guattari. A central feature of their intellectual and political project, of course, is to emphasize, seek out, and celebrate our own creative and productive capabilities, our own “desiring-production.” Throughout Anti-Oedipus, desiring-production is captured, controlled, and ruled by Oedipus, and by the socius. But desiring-production is always working away inside the apparatuses that contain it. And so the mission of schizoanalysis is to discover our desiring-machines, to learn them, and to free them up to operate according to their own drives.

Deleuze and Guattari insist that desiring-production is primary—it is the source of all production. The apparatuses are unproductive; they merely contain desiring-production’s force. This idea is already very much there in Hobbes, who insisted that people are the source of all power, that the State is necessarily parasitic on that power. It is there too in David Ricardo, who made clear that Labor is the source of all value, and it is there in Marx, who subsequently showed that Capital must suck on that value like a vampire.

So, what is to be done? In A Thousand Plateaus they develop the argument that our project must be to to help desiring-production escape the apparatuses that contain it, to help it create its own lines of flight. But Deleuze and Guattari warn us that single lines of flight are very difficult to sustain. Most commonly, they are recaptured. Or, they go too far, they careen off into death or oblivion.

So it is crucial, they say, for escaped elements to connect with others, for them to form rhizomes of fleeing elements that augment each other’s speed, that help each other avoid recapture and remain in flight.

One the one hand, this activity of fleeing-and-connecting is destructive. As it flees, each element of desire carries with it a piece of the apparatus (or stratum or socius). As more and more flights are launched, the apparatus is increasingly abandoned, and it begins to erode, rot, and crumble.

But on the other hand (the more important hand), fleeing-and-connecting is a creative act: Deleuze and Guattari say that the elements in flight, as they connect up into rhizomes, begin to trace out, with their continual flight, and new plane, a new earth, a new land. A new land that is pervaded by the dense traces left by schizoid, molecular elements of desiring-production in flight.

We know the apparatuses will return in this new land, that the capitalist axiomatic, the molar aggregate, the subjected-group, and the sovereign State will reassert themselves. Deleuze and Guattari are clear that exodus is never achieved once and for all. The apparatuses must be continually warded off. There is no freedom, no being free; there is only a becoming free. Escape is a perpetual struggle. A struggle to become democratic.

So far I have been talking about desiring-production just in the abstract, but Deleuze and Guattari also think of it as something that drives more specific and recognizable political struggles. In Anti-Oedipus, for example, they want people to engage in schizoanalysis in order to refuse the imposition by psychoanalysis of the subject and the Oedipal triangle and to come to know their own desiring-machines. Or in A Thousand Plateaus they imagine people who are currently ruled by the State fleeing the state and governing themselves. Or they want producers of economic value to flee capitalist axiomatic1 and manage production for themselves. In the abstract, the new land is pervaded by desiring-production and is beyond any socius. But the new land is also, more specifically, a land pervaded by democratic community beyond the State, a land pervaded by free activity beyond capitalism. In the new land, people struggle to produce the world, and manage their affairs, for themselves. They rediscover their own puissance, their own kratos, and they practice using it. And they ward off the re-imposition of potestas and pouvoir. The new land is pervaded by self-management, by people fleeing oligarchy and using their kratos to govern themselves in common. It is a profoundly anti-oligarchic politics. It is, in so many ways, democracy.


I know Deleuze and Guattari talk about smooth, striated, and even holey space, they are famous for the term deterritorialization, they talk of nomads moving across the desert, they want us to discover “a new land.” But I think their talk of space remains largely conceptual and metaphorical.

Henri Lefebvre’s work trains its attention explicitly on both the symbolic and concrete aspects of space. His political analysis is quite similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s, which is to say he understands democracy similarly, as the struggle of people to realize their own power and use it to manage their affairs for themselves, but he embeds his analysis of political struggle explicitly in an analysis of space.

Lefebvre’s argument goes like this: capitalism and the State dominate society as a joint force, a force he calls the “State Mode of Production.” He insists that in order to dominate society the SMP must necessarily control of the production of space. The SMP produces what he calls abstract space, a space that reduces the complexity of space as a whole to a homogenized and standardized grid on which the regime of private property defines equivalent entities that can be measured, recorded, and exchanged in the market.

Not surprisingly, then, he argues that the struggle against the SMP is necessarily a struggle over the production of space.

Revolution was long defined…in terms of a political change at the level of the state [and] the collective or state ownership of the means of production….Today such limited definitions will no longer suffice. The transformation of society presupposes a collective ownership and management of space founded on the permanent participation of ‘the interested parties’ [the inhabitants or users of space] (Production of Space, p. 422).

Revolution must struggle for differential space, a space that is other than abstract space, in which the inhabitants or users of space re-appropriate the production of space, and they produce and manage it together in common.

Lefebvre applies this more general analysis of space to the city and urban space in particular. Under capitalism, what has been produced is something he calls the industrial city, a city in which private property and exchange value organize space, in which people are segregated from each other and warehoused in sterile living spaces Lefebvre calls habitat. This separation renders them politically passive, and they function as workers and consumers rather than active participants in urban life. The industrial city’s purpose is to be an engine of capitalist economic growth. This city is an oligarchy, managed for its inhabitants by an elite few state experts and corporate managers.

In urban society, by contrast, inhabitants appropriate urban space, they make it their own again, and use it to meet their needs. Urban society draws inhabitants together into spaces where they encounter each other and engage in collective and meaningful negotiations about the kind of city they desire. These encounters build a shared sense of common purpose, but they also serve to make inhabitants aware of the substantive differences among them, differences they must manage and mobilize as they decide their urban future together. In urban society, inhabitants are active socially and politically. Through a process he calls l’inhabiter (which he contrasts with habitat), inhabitants participate fully in urban life. In urban society the purpose of the city is not economic accumulation but the free development of each person’s human potential. Urban society is, in short, a city in which urban inhabitants produce and manage the space of the city for themselves without the state and without capital. It is spatial autogestion or self-management. It is radical democracy.

It is important to stress that for Lefebvre urban society is not a utopia, not an ideal society to come. It is rather what he calls a virtual object, a possible world that is inchoate, that is not yet fully formed, but that is already in the process of emerging inside the body of the actual industrial city. If we know what to look for, he says, we can see urban society emerging, here and there, if only for a brief moment.

Or sometimes, as in Spain in 2011, its emergence is more spectacular and endures for much longer. In this context, what becoming democratic would mean is a struggle to perceive this emerging urban society, this spatial autogestion, and to help it grow and flourish on its own terms.

I think we could read Lefebvre’s urban society as Deleuze and Guattari’s new land made palpable, alive, real. Urban society is urban inhabitants fleeing from the industrial city and coming together to appropriate space and manage it in common, to engage each other in substantive discussions and debates about the future of the city, to discover their desiring-machines, their puissance, their kratos, to learn how to use that power together, to resist potestas, to manage the city for themselves. A becoming democratic, but a becoming democratic that is always, necessarily, both urban and spatial.

In Revolution We Are Transformed

Protest signs at the Spanish Revolution

As the wave of revolutions continues rolling across the globe, and we are subjected to the pronouncements of left pundits of the more traditional bent who, after some initial excitement, somberly judge each to be a failure, I think we would do well to return to What is Philosophy? where Deleuze & Guattari offer what is to my mind the right way to think about these events:

A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed suffering of men and women, their re-created protestations, their constantly resumed struggle.  Will this all be in vain because suffering is eternal and revolutions do not survive their victory?  But the success of a revolution resides only in itself, precisely in the vibrations, clinches, and openings it gave to men and women at the moment of its making and that composes in itself a monument that is always in the process of becoming, like those tumuli to which each new traveler adds a stone.  The victory of a revolution is immanent and consists in the new bonds it installs between people, even if these bonds last no longer than the revolution’s fused material and quickly give way to division and betrayal (p. 177).

I am thinking particularly here of Spain (as always), but Egypt too…