Castells :: The Power of Identity :: (Part II)

1 05 2009

I’m in the midst of grading student essays that respond to the challenge of defining either activism/activist, social movement(s), or documentary (the film genre).  Not an easy task.  Especially when their teacher continually destabilizes the terms without mercy.  To the point that he can’t quite respond with any coherent definition of his own.

Perhaps this is why I’m intrigued by Manual Castell’s approach to social movement definition, which is essentially to sidestep all generalization and focus on the particularities of each movement.  He is adamant that social movements be “understood on their own terms: namely, they are what they say they are.  Their practices (and foremost their discursive practices) are their self-definition” (original emphasis 70).  In effect, Castells is releasing himself from the duty of definition, but for the purpose of placing attention on the movements in all their distinct singularity (his case studies include the Zapatistas, the “Patriot Movement” of American militias, and the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo).

But while it’s clear that Castells wants to avoid the typical trappings of social movement scholarship (an admirable move) he still has to fall back on some type of organizing structure, in this case adopted from Alain Touraine, a notable social movement scholar whose works remain largely untranslated to the English speaking world.  Castells follows Touraine’s typology for identifying and researching social movements:

  • 1) Identity
  • 2) Adversary
  • 3) Societal Goal (its vision)

Of course, the stakes are raised for using this typology in an age of decentralized, networked operations of resistance.  Using this scaffolding, for instance, Castells notes that the adversary of the three movements mentioned is the “new global order.”  Each specifies this new order in various ways, with Zapatistas highlighting NAFTA, but contextualizing it within the larger spread of capitalism, the militia focused on creeping Federal control, and Aum Shinrikyo emphasizing the multi-national corporations that are harbingers of a unified world government.  The “new global order” may be more properly called neo-liberal capitalism, a sort of movement in its own right.  Neo-liberalism, as mentioned before on this blog, is not just the modes of production of raw materials, but the production of subjectivity—the production of tastes, desires, and affects.  This is a crucial factor to recall when we see that the “vision” of each of these movements is rather weak, because they are primarily defensive movement

What’s interesting about these movements is the reliance on ICTs for dissemination of their rhetoric, whether it’s recruitment or mission oriented.  “Without the Internet, Fax, and alterantive media,” Castells notes, “the Patriots would not be an influential network, but a disconnected, powerless series of reactions.  Without the communication capacity enabling the Zapatistas to reach urban Mexico, and the world, in real time, they may have remained an isolated, localized guerilla force, as many of those still fighting in Latin America” (107).

But while these movements are presenting obstacles, symbolically and physically, to neo-liberal capitalist expansion, we would do well to keep in mind that they’re using the very tools that facilitate that expansion.  Now, I’m hardly of the mindset that one can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, an argument that for some reason quickly devolves into the non-violence/violence debate, but I am saying that scholars and activists remain vigilant about the use of ICTs by social movements.  Nothing shocking here—just a reminder.

Anti-Genealogy as Methodology ~

15 07 2008

I’m intrigued by Deleuze and Guattari insisting so often that the rhizome is the anti-genealogy. If we do indeed read it as a methodology of critical inquiry (as I think is clearly one of their intentions) then we come head to head with a number of critical projects that profess the opposite as the their method. Most notably, of course, are Foucault’s genealogical studies, coming out of the Nietzschean vein (though Nietzsche is much more in line with Deleuze and his notion of constant “becoming” than Foucault is). But for some reason I’m thinking of Kevin DeLuca’s (fantastic) book, Image Politics. His methodology is drawing heavily upon a blend of Laclau & Mouffe with McGee’s ideograph. DeLuca traces (“trace” is a very much a no-no word to D & G) the term “progress” through a sequence of texts, mostly focusing on how radical environmental groups (once again, Earth First! is in the academic spotlight) are attempting to shift the meaning behind that ideograph, and how they approach it as a rhetorical challenge.

I’m intrigued if only because I seem to simultaneously agree with both methodologies. DeLuca’s approach, I think, is systematic without being dogmatic and yields excellent results for the rhetorical study of social movements. However, at the same time, I can see the impulse to force the movements into a Tree-like/Single-Root metaphorical model – precisely what D & G warn against. As the anti-genealogy, rhizomatic approach suggests, how Earth First! operates and came to be is much more messier than what’s presented in DeLuca’s text.

But a crucial point that’s easy to pass over: The dualism they set up between Rhizome/Tree & Tracing/Map is that it’s purposely false and in the end, quite compatible The rhizome can integrate the tree and maps can integrate tracings:

It is a question of method: the tracing should always be put back on the map … the tracing has already translated the map into an image; it has already transformed the rhizome into roots and radicles. It has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. That is why the tracing is so dangerous. It injects redundancies and propagates them (13).

And again, a bit further along:

The important point is that the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies, even if it gives rise to a despotic channel (20).

So in the case of Image Politics, we must take DeLuca’s findings and put them back into the teeming mass of activist networks in order for the tracing to gain it true contextual import.  Not exactly sure what this would look like as a piece of scholarship, but I’m going to mull on it and see what I come up with.  Like D & G say, “Plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with the rhizome” (14).  Or a bit later when they’re even more explicit in their language about collectives: “[S]how at what point in the rhizome there form phenomena of massification, bureaucracy, leadership, fascization, etc., which lines nevertheless survive, if only underground, continuing to make rhizome in the shadows” (14).

Apart from being an exquisite literary sentence, I think D & G are offering something there that will ultimately be productive for explaining how activist networks function (globally perhaps?).

I’ve been stumbling around the first chapter of a book by an Australian Professor of Criminology—Deleuze and Environmental Damage.  He outlines in meticulous fashion how forcing various conceptual and discursive sets into a “tree” model (which he calls a “monolith” model) and the dualistic (dialectical?) thinking it engenders can lead to disastrous results:

The problems with modernist conceptions of environmental damage are twofold.  Firstly, there has been a tendency to write the ‘causes’ of environmental problems in monolithic fashion – the irresponsible consumer monolith under liberal ecology, the capitalist monolith under ecomarxism, the patriarchal monolith under ecofeminism, the hierarchical monolith under deep ecology, and the domination monolith under social ecology.

The (unintended) consequence of these monoliths has been the proliferation of precisely the kinds of configurations and dichotomies that have long underpinned the processes of environmental damage and its discursive production.  Configurations such as: ecologically benign policies versus irresponsible citizens; economically powerful owners of the means and forces of production versus environmentally conscious but powerless labourers; ecologically destructive men versus environmentally mindful women; ecologically damaging humans versus ecologically benign nonhumans; humans as creatures of domination versus Nature as symbiotic entity: (35). {Hasley, Mark. Deleuze and Environmental Damage: Violence of the Text. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006

More on this later.  Perhaps after a revisiting of DeLuca’s Image Politics (since it is indeed based of a binary methodology, but a post-structuralist, post-modern Derridean account).

Unity through . . . Rhizome?

15 07 2008

So yesterday we had the first meeting of “Schizophrenic Summer”, a Deleuze and Guattari reading group. We have a wonderfully diverse crew, from undergraduate to PhD, with disciplines ranging from Geography to Film, Rhetoric to Comparative Studies. We began with the introductions to What is Philosophy? and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Having just written about the rhetoric surrounding “activist unity,” reading the rhizome chapter through that lens was fascinating. Why so? Simple: Deleuze and Guattari detest the drive to make everything a unity. To plot a center-point, they suggest, is the first step towards misunderstanding something that functions rhizomatically. And if we read the current range of activist networks and groups as a web that functions and expands rhizomatically, we may not only learn more about how activism functions rhetorically, but we may be taking steps towards redefining success in activism.

So what does it mean when one says, “It’s like a rhizome”?

A few crucial quotes from A Thousand Plateaus, broken up into some categories:

Rhizome VS. Tree:

  • “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order” (7).
  • “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at any given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (9).
  • “Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways” (12).
  • “Thought is not arborescent … Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree” (15).
  • “Arborescent systems are hierarchical systems with centers of signifiance and subjectification, central automata like organized memories. In corresponding models, an element only receives information from a higher unit, and only receives a subjective affection along preestablished paths” (16).
  • “Such is the principle of roots-trees, or their outcome: the radicle solution, the structure of Power” (17)
  • “The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and … and … and …’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be’” (25).

• Unlike a tree …

  • A rhizome’s “traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.”
  • “It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle.”
  • “Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relations between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines.”
  • “The rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure.”
  • “The rhizome is acentered, non-hierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states.”

Methodologically Speaking:

  • “A method of the rhizome type, on the contrary, can analyze language only by decentering it onto other registers” (8).
  • “Transversal communications between different lines scramble the genealogical trees. Always look for the molecular, or even submolecular, particle with which we are allied … The rhizome is the anti-genealogy” (11).
  • “[E]stablish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” (24).


  • “Multiplicities are rhizomatic … There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide the subject … Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers” (8).
  • “Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded” (9).

Collectives / Assemblages:

  • “An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are not points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines” (8).
  • “To these centered systems [are contrasted] finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment—such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency” (17).

Problems with forcing a tree/root metaphor on things that don’t function that way:

  • “[They] do not reach the abstract machine that connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field” (7). {Note to self: explore what “collective assemblages of enunciation” means from a rhetoric of social movements standpoint}
  • “The State’s pretension to be a world order, and to root man” (24). {Insert Bush Sr.’s quote on New World Order here}

First musings ~

10 07 2008

This site got off to a slow start, but work is indeed happening behind the scenes. Right now I’m simply getting a foundation in what the term “historical materialism” refers to and why its had such an impact in scholarship (especially given the relative dearth of primary writings by Marx on the subject).

My goal in the beginning is to simply outline several of the major tenets of historical materialism. But first I’d like to quickly say why I’m chasing after Marx and historical materialism:

Why Marx?

Like Anthony Giddens, I believe that Marx’s analysis of the mechanisms of a capitalist society “remains the necessary core of any attempt to come to terms with the massive transformations that have swept through the world since the eigtheenth century” (A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism). Even though there are many times we must move beyond Marx in our critiques, his theories provide more explanatory power than I’ve been able to find elsewhere.

Also, it would be impossible to profess any knowledge on the rhetoric of social movements without having a solid foundation in Marxist thought. His writings have spurred more collective action than any other secular thinker.

Why historical materialism?

Strangely, in our overwhelmingly materialist society, we’re pretty ignorant of the processes those very materials go through from beginning to end.

By that I simply mean that although we prize material objects first and foremost as the indicators of success in our society, we remain dangeously unaware of the ‘how’ of these objects — and even more importantly, the ‘why’ for these particular means of life. This is no doubt because someone profits off us not knowing, or because we ourselves profit off of pretending not to know.

This claim is easily proved by simply taking a look around your house. Start with your food. Then your clothes. Where was the food you purchased grown? Who grew it? Who profits from it? How did it arrive in your kitchen? Where was your shirt sewn? (I just checked mine: Korea) Did the person who sewed it get paid adequately and fairly for their labor? Again, who profits from that shirt?

I, of course, am interested in the rhetorical practices that help shape and develop these productive forces. What type of communication takes place that keeps such an obviously exploitative system as ours afloat? What type of communication is needed to bring down this exploitative system and what rhetorical strategies are needed in the process of replacing it with something more sustainable, sane, and humane?

Historical materialism seems to me like an extremely viable model for scholarly inquiry because it attaches the specific and particular to the abstract and theoretical. As an empirical theory of history, it offers some guidelines on how to explore and explain the way humans collectively develop their means to live and the various patterns of distribution and exchange.

Another reason (and surely more will be added to this list) for studying historical materialism is its emphasis on praxis–the fusion of theory and practice into everyday life. The stress laid on the practical raises my heartrate; perhaps because I feel so strongly that we need more scholars writing with practical change for their readership in mind. Regardless of my personal beliefs, I’ll end this post with a great section from Nathan Rotenstreich’s Basic Problems of Marx’s Philosophy that explains, in part, the synthesis that took part for Marx to reach the methodology now known as historical materialism:

Marx rejected materialism ‘up to now,’ because it lacked a practical side. He rejected idealism because the active side in it appeared only from the point of view of abstract Spirit. He urged a synthesis that would integrate sensuousness as projected by materialism and activity as projected by idealism. The actual practice of the actual man, therefore, because central to his system. Practice is the practice of a natural creature–as distinguished from and opposed to an abstract creature–who creates actual objects. Marx himself established this synthetic position. His theory was given two names: naturalism, which brought into prominence the natural side, or the domain of the natural-real-sensuous in which his theory was gounded; and humanism, which brought into prominence not nature external to man and the world of things subsuming man but man himself. Naturalism and humanism were, according to Marx, to be distinguished from both materialism and idealism, although they continued to be the unifying factors fo these two contending philosophical streams. The actual expression of this synthesis was the new view, which in its later development was called historical materialism.

the point is to change it . . .

24 06 2008

Welcome to Candid Candidacy, Tim Jensen’s fly-trap for fleeting thoughts on summer reading.  Stay tuned for rousing rants on historical materialism.