Planning Against the Political

Jonathan Metzger, Phillip Allmendinger, and Stijn Oosterlynck have a new volume out.


Here is the publisher’s blurb:

This book brings together a number of highly innovative and thought provoking contributions from European researchers in territorial governance-related fields such as human geography, planning studies, sociology, and management studies. The contributions share the ambition of highlighting troubling contemporary tendencies where spatial planning and territorial governance can be seen to circumscribe or subvert ‘due democratic practice’ and the democratic ethos. The book also functions as an introduction to some of the central strands of contemporary political philosophy, discussing their relevance for the wider field of planning studies and the development of new planning practices.


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.

Democratizing the City Using…Planning?


As I mentioned in a recent post, we just read some Marxist critiques of planning in my planning theory class, one by Fogelsong (”Planning the Capitalist City”) and one by Harvey (“On the Ideology of Planning”). These old readings brilliantly show how state-led planning in capitalist societies is necessarily an activity that preserves capitalist social relations and thus the capitalist system. The common complaint about these readings, though, is that they do not offer a clear alternative. Of course there is always state-socialist planning (which may be, as one of my students perceptively hypothesized, the alternative the authors (Harvey) actually do favor but cannot advocate out loud). But there is also here, embedded in the Fogelsong, something perhaps of use.

Fogelsong says that capitalism is subject to crises, and planning’s function is to manage those crises so capitalism doesn’t collapse. Fine. But he focuses specifically on spatial contradictions, those having to do with urban land. One contradiction is what he calls the “capitalist-democracy contradiction,” which is: despite the fact that urban land is mostly privately owned, nevertheless it has a social function, a use value for urban inhabitants. Fogelsong says that there is some need to socialize control over urban land so that its social functions can be ensured (if not, the self-interested decisions of private owners may well ignore these social functions, which will produce unrest that could threaten capitalism). But of course fully socializing decisions about urban land would eliminate the system of private ownership that is capitalism. Fogelsong thinks about this socialization in terms of democratization, i.e. socialization requires and involves greater real-democratic control over the decisions that produce urban space. So, as an alternative to the trap of planners-as-handmaidens-to-capitalism, we could imagine planners working to create mechanisms to increase popular participation–and here I mean participation that really does increase the control people have over the production and management of urban space (rather than the same old bullshit)–as a way planners might begin to alter the very structure of the capitalist city. Not just using state control of space to ensure a modicum of social function, but finding ways to increase popular control over space so that people themselves can ensure the social function, constrain the privileges of private ownership, and work toward a more really-democratic, and therefore less capitalist, city. I am not sure how far this can be pushed, or what its limits are, but it seems, for planning, a fruitful direction to explore.