One of my Sociology and Anthropology lecturers, trying to explain connections, drew two dots on a piece of paper. To one way of thinking these would appear to be separate and distinct.
But, he argued, they were in fact deeply and inherently connected – materially, because they were both on the same page, and conceptually, because they were both dots.
I thought this was a wonderful little microcosm of the greater theories of assemblage – nothing is really so disparate that it can be viewed as entirely separate; more accurately, each ‘thing’ is composed of a network of actants functioning together, exerting influences on each other – a conglomerate held together via the various processes performed by its constituents.
I find it interesting (and upliftingly post modern) that this kind of thinking has permeated the arts and social sciences, as it shares much with scientific concepts – that all matter is composed of smaller parts (molecules and atoms and protons and neutrons). Yet in science this is limited to the physical, while theories of assemblage also extend this to the metaphysical; that is, they have material-semiotic methodologies – as evidenced by the inclusion of concepts as actants within Actor-Network Theory. And, proposing a flat ontology, DeLanda posits that all these actants have an equality of agency, making these concepts as important as the physical components of the networks.
So what, then, is the point of such a recognition, of having this kind of ontology? What does it mean for us that we can view society in terms of actors and networks and various processual linkages? There can be many answers to such a question; for myself, I think it deepens our understanding of how our world works, in particular highlighting the importance of structures at every level, not just the micro or macro. Because theories of assemblage include both ontologies and methodologies, this provides us not simply with a passive understanding, but an active one, and enables us to use this to affect and manipulate these structures.
‘Actor Network Theory’, Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory>
‘Actor Network Rochambeau’, any-space-whatever blog, <http://www.anyspacewhatever.com/2010/11/actor-network-rochambeau/>, November 14, 2010
‘A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity’, Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_New_Philosophy_of_Society:_Assemblage_Theory_and_Social_Complexity>
Foucault, M. (1979) ‘The means of correct training’ in Discipline and Punish, Ringwood: Penguin.
Latour, B. (2004) ‘Summary of the Argument’ in Politics of Nature, Harvard UP, <http://www.bruno-latour.fr/livres/ix_chap5.html>