J. Macgregor Wise
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) was a contemporary philosopher who taught at the University of Paris, Vincennes-St. Denis. He produced a wide range of work, from commentaries on philosophers (Kant, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Hume, Liebniz, and Foucault) to analyses of film, literature, and painting. Two of his key contributions to philosophy are The Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition. With his collaborator, the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, he wrote four influential books, including Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze did not develop a coherent and set framework of concepts, but rather an approach to philosophy that was based on immanence rather than transcendence, becoming rather than being, and multiplicity rather than singularity. Deleuze’s work is an affirmation of life and creativity, a vitalism. “Everything I’ve written is vitalistic, at least I hope it is, and amounts to a theory of signs and events” (p. 143). Each book of Deleuze’s seems to generate a new collection of concepts to grapple with the problem at hand. Three key concepts for Deleuze are rhizome, multiplicity, and assemblage.
For Deleuze and Guattari, the guiding image of thought was that of the rhizome. The idea of the rhizome is contrasted with that of the tree or the root. In the latter, there is the singular origin, the center. A rhizome is a structure without a center; it grows by sending off shoots (like crabgrass or potatoes). You are always in the middle with a rhizome, never at the start or end. The point is to connect. Like rhizomes, multiplicities must be made, and they are made by subtracting the unique. Multiplicities and rhizomes have sections that get structured, stratified, and pinned down, but then also always have lines of flight by which to escape.
An assemblage “establishes connections between certain multiplicities” (p. 23) and “stake[s] out a territory” (p. 503). An assemblage is always territorializing (bringing together various elements in a particular arrangement) and de-territorializing (opening up onto other territories, de-organizing). In addition to this dimension of an assemblage, it is also the stratification of systems of language and systems of technology in a relation of expression and content. The former they call collective assemblages of enunciation and the latter, machinic assemblages (of bodies, “actions and passions”). An assemblage is always articulating arrangements of bodies, discourses, affects, and other elements. Crucially, assemblages are always in process and are not stable structures; they are becomings.
How then to think of communication within this conceptual context? Deleuze and Guattari reject the idea of communication as intersubjective. There is not an individual subject speaking, there is only the collective assemblage of enunciation. They speak instead of language, but a language of order words. Communication is not about representation or signification. Deleuze tends to treat communication as a form of control. Some of Deleuze’s final essays and interviews were spent explicating this new social power of control. Contrasting with Michel Foucault’s influential ideas on the rise of disciplinary society, Deleuze maps the emergence of societies of control “that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication” (p. 174).
For those studying communication, Deleuze’s legacy is featured in three areas: the material turn in communication studies and critical theory; the rise in theories of affect; and notions of control with regard to theories of contemporary surveillance.
Matthew Bost and Matthew S. May
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are among the most powerful theorists of communication and social change under present-day global capitalism. In their Empire trilogy and other individual and collaborative works, Hardt and Negri argue for the fundamentally communicative nature of contemporary power. Their analyses demonstrate the ways that media technology, global flows of finance capital, and the contemporary shift to economies based on information and affective or emotional labor create new, more complex networks of oppression and new possibilities for more democratic social change. Hardt and Negri’s work, therefore, shifts the focus of critical communication and cultural theory from attaining or challenging political power within the nation-state and invites scholars to rethink sovereignty as empire: an interconnected global phenomenon appertaining to capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They furthermore reimagine dissent as a constitutive process of resistance and mutual aid through which the multitude simultaneously withdraws from empire and composes itself through the social communication of struggles across time and space. Hardt and Negri’s work has been taken up in communication studies to theorize the materiality of communication; the labor performed in cognitive, communication, and service industries; contemporary media audiences and reception; and historical and contemporary social movements, from the Industrial Workers of the World to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
Henry A. Giroux
Education in society occurs across both formal and informal spheres of communication exchange. It extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures, the Internet, and other spaces actively involved in the construction of knowledge, values, modes of identification, and agency itself. The modern era is shaped by a public pedagogy rooted in neoliberal capitalism that embraces consumer culture as the primary mechanism through which to express personal agency and identity. Produced and circulated through a depoliticizing machinery of fear and consumption, the cultural focus on the pursuit of individual desires rather than public responsibilities has led to a loss of public memory, democratic dissent, and political identity. As the public sphere collapses into the realm of the private, the bonds of mutual dependence have been shredded along with the public spheres that make such bonds possible. Freedom is reduced to a private matter divorced from the obligations of social life and politics only lives in the immediate. The personal has become the only sphere of politics that remains.
The rise of the selfie as a mode of public discourse and self-display demands critical scrutiny in terms of how it is symptomatic of the widespread shift toward market-driven values and a surveillance culture, increasingly facilitated by ubiquitous, commercial forms of digital technology and social media. Far from harmless, the unexamined “selfie” can be viewed as an example of how predatory technology-based capitalism socializes people in a way that encourages not only narcissism and anti-social indifference, but active participation in a larger authoritarian culture defined by a rejection of social bonds and cruelty toward others. As with other forms of cultural and self-expression, the selfie—when placed in alternative, collective frameworks—can also become a tool for engaging in struggles over meaning. Possibilities for social change that effectively challenges growing inequality, atomization, and injustice under neoliberalism can only emerge from the creation of new, broad-ranging sites of pedagogy capable of building new political communities and drawing attention to anti-democratic structures throughout the broader society.