Another aspect of DeLanda’s assemblage theory I deeply appreciate – as set out in chapter one – is the twin notions of territorialization and deterritorialization.
Here is how DeLanda describes territorialization:
"The concept of territorialization must be first of all understood literally. Face-to-face conversations always occur in a particular place (a street corner, a pub, a church), and once the participants have ratified one another a conversation acquires well-defined spatial boundaries. Similarly, many interpersonal networks define communities inhabiting spatial territories, whether ethnic neighbourhoods or small towns, with well-defined borders. Organizations, in turn, usually operate in particular buildings, and the jurisdiction of their legitimate authority usually coincides with the physical boundaries of those buildings"(p.13)And here is how Levi Bryant descibes deterritorialization:
"Deterritorialization, by contrast, refers to the intervention or appearance of components that destabilize an assemblage, either causing it to change or perhaps even causing an entirely new assemblage to emerge." [source]With these Deleuzian concepts DeLanda injects a process-relational dimension into the life of assemblages. What is at stake is how entities and assemblages come into being and are maintained. DeLanda is clear on this issue: all things come into being through “historical” (read cosmological) and material morphogenetic processes. These processes, just as the “mechanisms” and “relations” discussed previously, must also be tracked and understood empirically in the particular contexts in which they operate. But DeLanda is content, at this point in his narrative, to only mention the necessity of acknowledging these operations in our mapping of social realities because all assemblages and entities exist in the context of these dual processes. For DeLanda, then, being and becoming are simultaneous - with objects and assemblages emerging out of the flux and force of ecological events.
Although DeLanda’s ontology posits a world in process, with eddies of organization generating the temporal entities we call ‘parts’ and ‘wholes’, he wants to take the reader further still to suggest the some of the deeper more intricate details of the components gathered together in assemblages. What interests me in this regard is how DeLanda conceives of manifesting entities as moving equilibriums with definitive properties and capacities unleashed in relation. Here is how DeLanda frames it:
“We can distinguish, for example, the properties defining a given entity from its capacity to interact with other entities. While its properties are given and may be denumerable as a closed list, its capacities are not given – they may go unexercised if no entity suitable for interaction is around – and form a potentially open list, since there is no way to tell in advance in what way a given entity may affect or be affected by innumerable other entities” (p.10).As I read it, DeLanda suggests that properties are given in the entity's actualization but its capacities are afforded in situ and only ever unleashed in relation. That is to say, the most powerful or potent expressions of assemblages and objects are brought forth or actualized in relationships with other assemblages and environments. For me this deeply implicates all entities in a relational mesh of affect and affordance – where assemblages and objects depend on each other and background situational occurrences for their efficacy or power in the world. This way of thinking assemblages will have significant consequences for how DeLanda thinks about persons in network in chapter 3.
Incidentally, I find it strange, in light of DeLanda’s suggestion that an assemblage’s capacities (‘what an assemblage can do’) is only ever unleashed, extended or augmented in relation, that Levi Bryant suggests DeLanda’s theory is congruent with object-oriented thinking and specifically Bryant’s own conceptual framework.
Here is Bryant’s suggestion:
“DeLanda’s point is thus that we must not confuse the properties of an entity with the capacities of an entity. Properties of an entity are local results of interactions between entities. For example, the water boils because it is heated up. Capacities of an entity are powers that an entity possesses, regardless of whether these powers are exercised or not. The confusion of entities with their powers is what Roy Bhaskar called “actualism”. Actualism reduces the being of an entity to the properties that happen to be actual or occurrent in that entity at a particular point in time.” [source]As I read it, DeLanda (as quoted above) thinks just the opposite. Although DeLanda does (rightly) distinguish between an entity’s properties and capacities, he argues that “properties are given” and “capacities are not given”. DeLanda suggests that the properties of an entity or assemblage can be understood as a potentially closed list of the actually occurring qualities possessed by an entity, whereas an entity’s powers or capacities are affected by “innumerable other entities” and in “no way” can we understand what an assemblage is capable of doing in advance, or in isolation from, what it is afforded in its interactions with other entities. All of this can be found on page 10 of chapter one.
This, I believe, demonstrates DeLanda’s commitment to a materialist conception of 'occurring entities' which exist in intimate and constant relation, while always coming into being (becoming) through concrete and dynamic historical processes. And despite DeLanda’s insistence that relations are always ‘relations of exteriority’, I believe, when pushed, DeLanda would concede that it’s relations and material processes “all the way down” and not objects per se.
The genius of the concept of assemblage is, I believe, its ability to mediate between object-oriented understandings of the world and the recognition of the deep contextual and relational aspects of being. Because an assemblage is never truly its own master (never truly “withdrawn” from other entities), always beholden in some way to its own actually existing parts, and because parts necessarily relate with each other in order to generate wholes, they can be understood as dependent-relational beings and relatively independent-agentic systems simultaneously. With a robust assemblage theory, then, we can appreciate both temporal objectivity (the temporary existence of actual entities) and relational efficacy (the always connected affordances of capacities) in our investigations of real world situations.