Assemblage Theory Part 2: Guattari, Deleuze and DeLanda

What is Assemblage Theory? Guattari, Deleueze and DeLanda- Edition

The three main names that come up frequently when reading about assemblage theory are Deleuze, Guattari and Deleuze. So, what is the matter with the three?

Starting with Deleuze and Guattari, in whose philosophical work the concepts of assemblages play a crucial work. However, while Deleuze and Guatarri are often credited as having introduced assemblage theory (AT), the authors have never formalized it as a theory per se and De Landa states that it “hardly amounts to a fully-fledged theory”. I have seen that Deleuze and Guattari quite often are mixed with De Landa, suggesting that DeLanda approaches Deleuze/Guattari’s work to formalize a theory. I have found the article by Nail who closely examines the three authors and writes that DeLanda “relegate “Deleuzian hermeneutics” to the footnotes and focuses on developing his own “neo-assemblage” theory, “not strictly speaking Deleuze’s own” (DeLanda 4)”.  The author further suggests that there indeed are fundamental differences that need to be clarified when using both in e.g. the theoretical background. Based on this, it is necessary to look at both approaches to distinguish but also to find similarities between the two. I am not sure I can do this in detail right now, since I have neither read a Thousand Plateaus in its entirety nor have I had the time to read DeLandas work (but it is ordered!). Nevertheless, I need to move forward with my understanding, which is why I heavily rely on other people’s work. I will try to use this as a stepping stone for my understanding to be able to move on to Latour, ANT and Foucault’s Dispositif.

Deleuze & Guattari:

I thought that the conclusions that Nail draws in his text are nice and concise and give the first impression about Deleuze & Guattari’s AT:

“Deleuze and Guattari, do in fact have a “fully-fledged” assemblage theory. This theory is fully-fledged not in the sense that it explains all the consequences of the theory, but simply in the sense that it gives us the core concepts and typologies by which the theory can be successfully deployed. What Deleuze and Guattari call their “general logic of assemblages” is based on three major theoretical formations.

First, all assemblages are composed of a basic structure including a condition (abstract machine)*, elements (concrete assemblage), and agents (personae). Although the content differs depending on the kind of as­semblage (biological, amorous, aesthetic, and so on), the structural role or function of these three aspects are shared by all assemblages.

Second, all assemblages are arranged according to four basic political types: ter­ritorial, statist, capitalist, and nomadic. Each type describes a different way in which the conditions, elements, and agents of the assemblage are ordered. Each assemblage is always a mixture of these four types to vary­ign degrees.

Finally, all assemblages are constantly changing according to four different kinds of change or “deterritorialization”: relative negative, relativel positive, absolute negative, and absolute positive.

According to this general logic, all assemblages are political. If we want to know what an assemblage is, we need to know how it works. We have to do an analysis of the assemblage: what is its structure? what is its political typology? and what are the processes of change that shape it? Once we understand how the assemblage functions, we will be in a better position to perform diagnosis: to direct or shape the assemblage toward increasingly revolutionary aims. “ (Nail, 2017)

*(conditioned relations à DeLanda)

Not sure about the very last paragraph, but the rest sounds appropriate.


Sellar  (2009) looks into Assemblage theory mainly referring to DeLanda and concludes that AT “offers a range of possibilities for the analysis of complex processes by incorporating principles of complexity and transaction into a theory with diverse applications across variously scaled human and non-human contexts”.

He continues by explaining that DeLanda’s “emphasises processes of formation over final forms; the importance of relations; and the constitution of territories rather than the delineation of boundaries.” This, however, sounds to me as if it is connected to the “assemblage” understanding in French/English that I mentioned in the first part, but not the agencement one that Deleuze/Guattari introduced. Is this one of the main differences?

The author further highlights potential benefits of this take on assemblage theory as outlined by DeLanda, “as it provides a unique way of considering the development of a social assemblage such as occupational science and the processes by which disciplinary territories are formed”. In addition to this, “the theory poses deep philosophical questions about the nature of any whole and, by extension, how we might conceive of human agency”.

Especially the part about the human agency was interesting here, and I will focus on the agency part.

Even though these two conclusions let me peek into the two approaches I need to read more and also re-read the articles. However, these two parts have given me some hints about some of the core concepts in AT which need understand:

From Nail article:

  • abstract machine & conditioned relations
  • concrete assemblage
  • personae
  • territorial, statist, capitalist, nomadic assemblage
  • Kinds of changes: relative negative, relative positive, absolute negative, and absolute positive

From Sellar article:

  • Relations and territories, which Sellar names as two of the key aspects of AT

I am also particulary interested how boundaries are seen/set in assemblage theory and how that connects/ conflicts with (critical) systems thinking.

Even though I am not “there yet” in my understanding of AT, I also need to have a look at Latour and Foucault, as they have ideas similar to assemblage theory, if I understood it correctly. So, while it might be a bit disencouraging to think that I am not there yet, I have to remind myself that this is a learning experience and that with every day I will get closer to understanding AT!

Nail, Thomas. “What Is an Assemblage?” SubStance 46, no. 1 (2017): 21–37.

Sellar, Ben. “Assemblage Theory, Occupational Science, and the Complexity of Human Agency.” Journal of Occupational Science 16, no. 2 (July 2009): 67–74.

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