These components are defined by relations of exteriority , that is, their "role" within a larger assemblage is not what defines them this would be a relation of interiority. This means that a component is self-subsistent and may be "unplugged" from one assemblage and "plugged" into another without losing its identity. The relationship between an assemblage and its components is complex and non-linear : assemblages are formed and affected by heterogeneous populations of lower-level assemblages, but may also act back upon these components, imposing restraints or adaptations in them. He does however maintain the idea of assemblages as non-essentialist they are historically contingent actual entities, not instances of ideal forms and non-totalizing assemblages are not seamless totalities but collections of heterogeneous components that should be analysed as such.
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An assemblage, according to DeLanda, is in short a way of comprehending the complexity of social forms without analyzing these forms as reducible to either micro-level explanations such as individual rational choice or macro-level explanations such as world-historical totalities.
Assemblages, in other words, provide a means for inquiring into social and political realities which do not derive these realities from something more fundamental at either a micro or macro scale. I should emphasize that DeLanda takes the crucial point of his assemblage theory to be that it offers a version of realism without essentialism cf. DeLanda , 3, 10 and DeLanda , 28, The real value of assemblage theory lies not in its supposed contribution to really antique debates between realists and antirealists, but in its provision of a conceptual tool that enables us to grasp the pluralism constitutive of social and political reality.
The pluralistic nature of assemblages occurs on at least two levels. The first concerns the plurality of scales at which assemblages can be analyzed. DeLanda , 18, There is, in other words, no fundamental level to which the constituencies of assemblages can be traced. In existing social theory, complex forms are often taken as analytically reducible to individuals and their rational choices whether these are posited as merely methodological or as fully substantial unities.
While we can of course treat more complex assemblages as functions of individual rational choice, there is nothing inevitable about this. There are a plurality of scales on which assemblages might be analyzed and there is no reason to give any of these scales any sort of ultimate methodological preference.
A second level on which assemblages are pluralistic concerns the fact that they always emerge as populations of assemblages. For any given assemblage, that is, there exists a whole population of assemblages at that level. The emergence of a person implies the emergence of persons.
The emergence of a nation-state implies the emergence of the very form of nation-states and as such the emergence of a population of nation-states. Assemblages, as such, emerge as pluralities. There is no singular highest form of assemblage such that all other assemblages can be described as subsidiary of it. For example, a Hegelian assemblage of world history can only take form in such a way that a plural population of world histories can emerge—and so while a given world history may thus be able to explain assemblages at a lower level, there is no a sense in which world history can be a complete and ultimate explanation of everything.
The intrinsic plurality of assemblage theory thus comes in the form of the plurality of scales of social reality which it enables us to deploy. There is nothing, in other words, that stops us from analyzing or synthesizing social realities into something simpler or more complex.
Assemblages, as such, are themselves products of pluralities on a vertical level and at the same time constitutive elements of pluralities at a horizontal level.