University of Edinburgh
Initially published 11 Jan 2018

This entry takes on two subjects. First, it addresses the influence that anthropology had on the work of the mid-twentieth century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, and second, the influence that Gilles Deleuze’s work has subsequently exerted on anthropology. In Deleuze’s encounter with anthropology, he ended up seeing anthropological structuralism as a limit to thought. However, he saw Anglo-American anthropology, and some later French anthropology, as powerful tools for conceiving different arrangements of the world, and he ended up relying heavily on these materials when he constructed his own Nietzschian longue durée speculative anthropology. As a discipline, anthropology has had little interest in Deleuze’s speculative anthropology; however, it has seen both Deleuze’s overall aesthetics and many of his concepts as theoretical engines that could be used piecemeal at will, with little concern for the role they played in Deleuze’s overall thought, or for how having these ideas reterritorialized in anthropology might affect them. In the end, this entry suggests that despite the outsized reception of Deleuze in anthropology, a real encounter with Deleuze’s thoughts have yet to occur; despite this lack of a true, sustained engagement, anthropological use of Deleuzian concepts has still been incredibly productive in the discipline. 


Gilles Deleuze’s (1925-1995) reception in anthropology has had multiple, and often incommensurable, dimensions. That may not be a problem, however. It certainly wouldn’t have been a slur for this thinker who has been treated in so many different and disjunctive ways, because if there ever were a figure that would be happy being a multiplicity, it would be Gilles Deleuze. This entry will present what anthropology was for Deleuze, and also what Deleuze would be for the subsequent anthropologists that would read him. In the end, it will argue that despite a high degree of mutual interest between the thinker and the discipline, there has not been a real encounter between anthropological thought and the thought of Deleuze; this entry will also suggest that this may be just as Deleuze would have wanted it.

Deleuze was a twentieth century philosopher, known both for his own works as well as for a series of collaborations with the psychiatrist and political activist Félix Guattari.[1] To reduce this thought to a few rough intellectual axioms, it could be said that the center of Deleuze’s project was prizing difference over identity, privileging immanence over transcendence, the pre-subjective over the subjective; an attention to intensity as the other side of seemingly extensive objects and processes; an interest in the promise of novelty that could be found both in combinatory logic of different objects, processes, and thought; and in underdetermined potentiality that these objects, processes, and thought contained. Deleuze is often presented, especially in an American academic context, as being ‘postmodern’ or ‘poststructural’ or as a part of ‘French Theory’, even though these categories are an artifact of Anglophone reception instead of an expression of any common value or signification in the so-designated works (see, for example, Cusset 2008). Even if these categories were intelligible, however, there would be good reason for setting Deleuze and his oeuvre apart from the rest of the mid-twentieth century thinkers that he is often lumped in with. The reason that Deleuze should be set apart is that his work is singular when held up not just against post-war French thinking, but arguably when held up against the history of modern philosophy as a whole. The British analytic philosopher W.B. Moore has stated that Deleuze was a ‘remarkable … polymath’ who achieved a break with previous philosophical tradition that is on the order of the ‘Copernican turn’ effectuated by Immanuel Kant (2013: 542). That Deleuze, of all people, could be credited with such a break could be considered surprising, especially since it would be easy to see him as an intellectually (as opposed to politically) conservative thinker. He spent a large part of his career working in the history of philosophy, and even after he became established as a philosopher in his own right, he continued to write what were essentially pedagogical précis on the works of canonical philosophers such as Hume, Leibnitz, Kant, and Nietzsche. Furthermore, his own original work is self-presented not as a break with western metaphysics, but as a continuation of it, even if he understands himself as expressing a particular ‘minor’ philosophical tradition, one that runs (in his telling) from Spinoza to Heidegger, that he considers to be at odds with the more established modes of philosophy. Deleuze likened his work to that of picking up the arrows of ‘great thinkers’ so that he could ‘try to send them in other directions, even if the distance covered is not astronomical, but quite small’ (1993: xv).[2]

However, there is no consensus on what direction he was shooting these metaphorical arrows, or how true his aim. He has been seen as both a continuation of traditional philosophy and a break with it, a subjectivist and a realist, a champion of postmodernity and a critic of postmodernity, an ontologist and an enemy of ontological thinking, a thinker of pure difference and a monotonous thinker of ‘the one,’ a Leninist enemy of capitalism and a proponent of an unfettered hypercapitalism.[3]

If we want to operate in the very ‘un-Deleuzian’ register of blame (Deleuze felt that blame was supersaturated in the toxic Nietzschian affect called ressentiment), then it should be acknowledged that some of the responsibility for this wide variation in the reception of Deleuze’s work lies with Deleuze himself. Deleuze’s writing style and technical vocabulary does not invite any easy understanding. Part of it was his interest in variation, change, and in ‘multiplicities,’ which meant that he was more interested in exploring all the various forks in a line of thought rather than in didactically tracing a thought’s borders.[4] Further, he has produced a dizzying array of neologisms, and he often purposefully uses already-extant technical terms in idiosyncratic and sometimes perverse ways. His work is full of odd terms such as ‘rhizomes’, ‘arborescent’, ‘smooth and stratiated space’, ‘desiring machines’, ‘the body without organs’. But perhaps the chief reason for Deleuze to receive such a varied and vertiginous reception lies in his critique of what he called the ‘dogmatic imagine of thought’, which he understood to be the grounding assumptions behind almost the entirety of western philosophy. This ‘dogmatic image’ includes a suspicion of the primacy of representation, skepticism that ‘good will’ is all that is needed to reach the truth, and even doubt about the primacy of truth. It was not that he did not believe in truth; he did not deny truth as a mode of thought or measure of validation across the board. Rather, Deleuze observed that most true statements are banal statements, and that relevance, importance, or novelty were often more vital measures of evaluation.

While Deleuze claimed that he was an empiricist in the style of Hume, his work seems distant from the sort of empiricism that constitutes most of ethnographic writing and thought (but, see Rutherford 2012). Therefore, his concern with both nose-bleed level metaphysics and with radical critiques of the history of western philosophy would seem to suggest that any anthropological hybridization with Deleuze would be stillborn. But this is not the case. Not only has there been substantial anthropological interest in Deleuze, but Deleuze himself was also a close reader of anthropology. Deleuze even produced what might be called an ‘anthropology’ of his own, not in the sense of a philosophical theory of man, but more along the line of Kant’s anthropology, a large-scale rubric to think through the forms and histories of various human collectivities. The rest of this entry will consist of rehearsing this anthropology, and of discussing how anthropologists have repurposed Deleuze for their own intellectual project. The reader should be prepared for multiple infelicities in these discussions. Despite Deleuze’s familiarity with the then-current state of the discipline, his anthropology has features that make it indigestible to most contemporary anthropological sensibilities. And while there are some important exceptions, the contemporary anthropological engagement with Deleuze suggests a lack of command of his system of thought. This feature does not invalidate these anthropological works, of course; Deleuze would most likely applaud having his work deployed in different intellectual environments; having it mutated so that it works to new ends; having it vivisected and sutured to other theoretical systems. But this does mean that these theoretical hopeful monsters may in the end not be very Deleuzian, despite their apparent intellectual paternity. In the opening passage of A thousand plateaus, which Deleuze co-wrote with Guattari, the authors invoke the imagine of a wasp and an orchid to illustrate the way two heterogeneous systems could engage in a ‘double capture’, each repurposing the other to their own ends without at the same time assimilating the other or erasing the fundamental differences between them.  The wasp treats the orchid as a sexual partner or rival, and the orchid treats the wasp as a pollen vector.  The attentive reader, however, will note that there is some ambivalence in French between when one should use the term ‘guêpe’ (or wasp) and when one should use the term ‘abeille’ (or bee), and that while both bees and wasps pollinate orchids, there are few orchids that are pollinated by both species. There is always, therefore, the possibility of confusion and misuse; and we should also remember that for one of the two parties, such a mating is always sterile. What is true for bees and orchids may be true in some cases for Deleuze and anthropology as well; but whether either is necessarily the wasp or the orchid will remain an open question.

What anthropology was for Gilles Deleuze

Engagement with Structuralism

Any discussion of Deleuze and anthropology has to begin by addressing the former’s relation to structuralism. Structuralism is a topic too complex to completely rehearse here; it can perhaps be best summarized as the claim that sense is not inherent in any one sign, but is produced by systems of reciprocal differences between two signs, or sets of signs (Stasch 2006). While structuralism as a theoretical framework has its roots in the linguistic work of authors such as Jacobson and de Saussure (Percival 2011), and there were also ‘structuralisms’ in fields as diverse as literary criticism (Barthes 1974), political philosophy (Althusser 1971), and psychoanalysis (Lacan 2007), it seems fair to say that the most influential formulation of structuralism at the period that Deleuze was intellectually active was the anthropological one promulgated by Lévi-Strauss. Like many other Francophone intellectuals of that time, Deleuze had an ambivalent relation with structuralism.  As can be seen in his 1967 essay[5], ‘How do we recognize structuralism’, there seems to be moments where Deleuze takes this approach up without hesitation or qualification (Deleuze 2004). Deleuze’s essay is expressly written as a dispatch from a particular moment. It is careful to situate where it sits in intellectual history: this essay starts out with the statement ‘This is 1967’. It goes to great care to mark itself as being written in an early moment, and several times marks important elements of structuralism as having still open, though possibly determinable, questions (for example, when discussing the symbolic order, it states that ‘We do not yet know what this symbolic element consists of’) (Deleuze 2004: 173). While not endorsing structuralism outright, he presents a meticulous re-articulation of it using language almost identical to that found in his first two ‘non-history-of-philosophy’ books, Difference and repetition (1993) and Logic of sense (1990a). But this also means that Deleuze’s structuralism, even as it acknowledged its debt to Lévi-Strauss, was very much his own. What interests Deleuze is seeing structure as a net of potentiality, nodes of which are only transitorily inhabited by particular actualized figures. What is more, Deleuze’s structuralism is one that is very concerned with the tempo and rhythm of the time and events that are the expressions of structure: while the architectonic aspects of structuralism are not absent, they are secondary to the variation that occurs in different iterations of a set of structural relations (see Alliez 2005: 92-93). Because of this, is it possible to read Deleuze and Guattari’s later rejection of structuralism in A thousand plateaus not as a retrenchment or reposition, but rather as emphasizing that any reading of structuralism must take temporal unfolding into being. For instance, Deleuze and Guattari complain that Lévi-Strauss presents myths where humans transform into animals (and where animals engage in their own strange transformations) as ‘a correspondence between two relations’. Such a framing, Deleuze and Guattari note, ‘impoverishes the phenomenon’, and that myth as Lévi-Strauss presents it is ‘a framework of classification [that] is quite incapable of registering these becomings, which are more like fragments than tales’: Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism has no role for either ‘graduating resembles’, or ‘resemblances in a series’, instead inevitably producing an ‘order of differences’.  Worst of all, structuralism ‘denounced the prestige accorded to the imagination’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1999: 236-7). It is not the poles in structural oppositions that interests Deleuze, but rather the extended continuum between them.

This later stance should not be taken as an across-the-board rejection of Lévi-Strauss, or as indicating an actual fundamental incapability between these thinkers. Understanding Deleuze and Guattari as presenting a total critique of Lévi-Strauss might be going too far.  Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2015), a close reader of both Deleuze and Lévi-Strauss, has stated that the latter’s four volume Mythologique series is more Deleuzian than perhaps Deleuze himself appreciated. The endless variations expressed in Lévi-Strauss’s kaleidoscopic recounting of the imagination of the indigenous Americas suggests not just a controlling logic of difference and differentiation, of translation and transformation. Further, the refusal of any transcending code or horizon that apparently characterizes Mythologique by the project’s end is read by Viveiros de Castro as an instance of pure immanence of thought, a mode of thinking that Deleuze prized over transcendence. Of course, one could be skeptical of this reading: others have seen Lévi-Strauss as too caught up in the concrete to throw themselves into a Deleuzian play of pure difference; under this reading, the senior anthropologists unable to make the leap into iterative abstraction (Kaufman 2007) (though again, to some anthropological sensibilities, such a limitation is not necessarily a fault). However, even if one is skeptical of Viveiros de Castro’s reading, it is obvious that, regardless of his attitude towards structuralism as a totality, certain anthropological claims made by Lévi-Strauss were accepted by Deleuze. While some of Lévi-Strauss’ claims were rejected as being too centralized, too interested in locking down transformations in the service of a rationalizing logic, others, such as the social organization outlined in ‘Do dual organizations exist’ are ratified (Deleuze & Guattari 1999: 209-10). Likewise, Lévi-Strauss’s groundbreaking work on kinship is acknowledged, albeit as one that only addresses ‘extension’, which is only one face of a common Deleuzian extensive/intensive diptych (Deleuze & Guattari 1983: 157).  

Deleuze as a reader of anthropology

Of course, even granting his importance during the time that Deleuze was active, Lévi-Strauss did not exhaust all of anthropology; Deleuze both read widely and borrowed freely from other contemporary anthropologists. ‘Flux’ and the ‘war machine’, important categories in Deleuze and Guattari’s jointly authored works, are both credited to French anthropologist Pierre Clastres (Deleuze & Guattari 1983; Guattari 2008; Biehlo 2013: 584). Likewise, Gregory Bateson’s (2010) concept of plateaus as ‘a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end’ were important enough for Deleuze and Guattari that they used it as the framing conceit in their second major work (Deleuze & Guattari 1983: 22).  But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is in in Capitalism and schizophrenia (1983), Deleuze’s first collaboration with Guattari, where we see Deleuze engaging in depth with anthropology as a body of literature and as a discipline.  In this work, we have substantive references to what almost amounts to a mid-century ‘who’s who’ of the field. In presenting his argument, Deleuze and Guattari invoke: Paul and Laura Bohannan’s work with the Tiv on spheres of exchange and the way that they react to the introduction of cash (176, 248); Victor Turner’s work on healing and symbolism among the Ndembu (167, 350); George Deveroux’s conjecture on social structure and sexuality (33, 165); Jeanne Favret on segmentary organization (152); Myer Fortes on filiation, including an off the cuff reference to the classic Oedipus and Job in West African religion (142, 146); Malinowski’s work on Kula exchange, but also his consideration of the (lack of a) Trobriands’ Oedipal concept (53, 159, 171-2); Edmund Leach on possible (again) filiation, on critiques of Lévi-Strauss’s understanding of presentation and counter-presentation, as well as on the relevance of possible psychological origins of social symbols (146, 150, 164, 172, 179); Marcel Mauss on the Gift (150, 185); and so on. This pattern is repeated in A thousand plateaus, where, in addition to many of the aforementioned authors, the list is expanded to include figures such as Marshall Sahlins and Robert Lowie.

This engagement with anthropology and ethnography was something that Deleuze deeply desired to get right. When writing on this subject, he broke form and did something he rarely did: he consulted with actual experts in a different discipline (Dosse 2010: 201). But this engagement should not be taken to mean that the joint project he and Guattari were engaged in was itself an instance of conventional anthropological thought, or in harmony with the mainline form of the discipline. For all its breadth, their reading of the literature has been strongly criticized for being superficial, for having numerous factual errors, for being blind to some of the complicity with colonialism that characterized some of the anthropology of the period, and for being quick to catapult from particular ethnographic depictions, such as leopard cults in the Belgian Congo or Kachin witchcraft, to ungrounded generalities (‘the sorcerer’ or ‘becoming animal’ in ‘Black Africa’), making concrete populations into philosophical metaphors (Miller 1993; see Holland 2003 in defense of Deleuze and Guattari on many of these points). It should also be noted that anthropologists who went to the field familiar with Deleuzian conceptions abstracted from specific collectivities have found it hard to use those concepts to describe the very social practices that Deleuze and Guattari relied upon, and have often had to modify them substantially in order to make them fit (see, e.g., Pedersen 2007).

Deleuze’s Speculative Anthropology

Deleuze and Guattari’s interest in anthropology should not be taken to mean that they were interested in repeating the form of the anthropological essay or the ethnographic monograph. This is indicated by what they present as the ultimate template for their anthropological project: ‘[t]he great book of modern ethnology is not so much Mauss’s The gift as Nietzsche’s Genealogy of morals’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1983: 190).[6] This engagement with anthropology was in service of a longue durée historical anthropology, the sort of stratigraphic, teleological projects as such nineteenth century authors as Lewis Morgan (1907) or E.B. Tylor (1871a, 1871b). The specific history that they want to trace out is that of production, both in the specific Marxist sense, but also as a general rubric which would encompass the creation of other material, with the most central material being libido.

This interest in seeing both capitalist production and the production of desire could make their project seem to be just another example of the sort of Freudo-Marxism that characterized so much of critical thought during the immediate post-war years of the twentieth century (see, e.g., Marcuse 1974). But it is in the details that Deleuze and Guattari’s project separates itself from others of its kind. Rather than seeing Marx’s process as, in essence, an epiphenomenon of Freudian forces, or as reversing the process and privileging Marx as base and seeing Freud as superstructure, Deleuze and Guattari see both Marxist production and Freudian libido as different instances of the same abstract ‘universal primary process’. This is corrosive not only of these two separate theoretical framings, but also of the actors that Freud and Marx saw as central to their respective projects; it also undoes the ‘modern constitution’ of the Nature-Culture split (Latour 2012) in as much as socio-cultural production and psycho-biological drives are subsumed under the same mechanism. In Anti-Oedipus, there is no subject, whether that subject be conscious, unconscious, or a labor-producing class acting in accordance with its species-being. Rather, everything is just an endless concatenation of semi-autonomous units that Deleuze and Guattari refer to as ‘machines’. These machines (rechristened in later works of theirs as ‘assemblages’) include the various biological bodily features that would be considered ‘part objects’ under more mainline psychoanalytic thinking (examples include an ‘anal machine, a talking-machine, [and] a breaking machine’) (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 2) But also actual biological processes, human or otherwise, are machines as well. The category of machines is more capacious than the category of physiology or biology.  Machinery in the more traditional sense in included as ‘machines’ in the Deleuzian sense of the word, as are various institutions, social arrangements, and psychological and biological systems. In the understanding of Deleuze and Guattari, the function of all these machines can be grasped as either connective, disjunctive, or conjunctive, and the synthesis of these operations allows for broader operations such as production in the common sense, recording, and enjoying.

The reason that the mechanic nature of things is invisible to us is that these operations are situated on what Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘socius’. The socius organizes production by being the site where all these disparate machines are woven together, but the socius is also misrecognized as the source of all this production as well.[7] The socius is an abstract or cognitive space, and as such the kinds of regions where it is ‘located’ can and have changed over time (or at least can and have changed in their account). This brings us to the crux of Deleuze and Guattari’s anthropology. It is shifts in the location of socius, and in the way that the flows on it are organized, which give structure to Deleuze and Guattari’s anthropologic ‘big history’, and demarcates objects of ‘traditional’ anthropological inquiry from the sort of large-scale societies that anthropology only turned to as it matured.  

What are these shifts in the socius, and what effects fall from them? In a way that is again not dissimilar to Lewis Morgan’s (1907) Savagery/Barbarism/Civilization triad, Deleuze and Guattari divide humanity’s periods into tribal, empire, and capitalist dispensations. In the tribal period, the socius is understood as being the body of the earth, and flows are situated or ‘territorialized’ on it. In periods of ‘tribal’ organization, both territorialization and the (re)organization and situating of flows on the socius are done through what they call ‘inscription’, which might best be understood as including all forms of ‘leaving one’s mark’ on social life. Inscription is done directly, whether as a mark or as a social action, and because of its unmediated nature it therefore cannot be held to be signification; this means that ‘tribal’ societies are ecologies of effects and not systems of meaning. For Deleuze and Guattari, the business of making kin is the premier form of inscription. It is the creation of kin which organizes bodies in relation to one another and to the ground that is worked upon, ‘coding’ the earth. In their eyes, this is the most important mode through which the flows of intensive filiation are made into the code of alliance and affiliation.  

In the following period of ‘empire’, the socius shifts from the surface of the earth to the body of the despot, with the body of the despot discussed in a sense not dissimilar to that found in Kantorowicz (1985). Various agents and subjects of the despot take up the role of his ‘eyes’ or ‘hands’ (or whatever other body part that mapped onto the function that was at issue), thus constituting a sort of leviathan where the focus is more on the outline of the total body than of the composite bodies that constitute the subsumed parts. This means not just a reorganization of the socius, and a concomitant ‘deterritorialization’ of the various already-situated machines, but also an ‘overcoding’ of the already-extant mechanic systems from the previous dispensation as they are utilized by and thought of in relation to the primitive tyrant. The stage is eventually supplanted by capitalism. In this stage, capital itself is the socius, and codes are replaced by axioms. Axoims are half imperative, half algorithm, at once demanding, instructing, and measuring the maximization of flows, accelerating them as surplus value is ‘skimmed off’ of these streams. The speed causes ‘everything solid to melt into air,’ (Marx & Engels 1970: 35) and create a torrent of deterritorialization as flows are decoded, mathematized, and mapped onto the individual bodies of workers and consumers that have been assimilated into the socius. This last mapping is to create the minimum territoriality needed to keep capitalism from running off the wheels, and is also the point of entry to the Oedipal complex, a mode of control that is treated as much as an institutional dispositif as a psychoanalytic reality.

It would be a mistake to see this system as being foundational to either Deleuze and Guattari’s collaboration, or to Deleuze’s own conception of the order of things. In later works by these authors, machines are replaced by assemblages, and the tribal transforms into the nomadic, a dispensation constituted by disciplined itinerants whose rootlessness operates as a Clastres-like (2007) self-inoculation against the formation of the State. Nor should this be seen as exhausting Deleuze’s concerns. Very little of this material or terminology is referenced in Deleuze’s own work. However, it was in articulating this systemitization of the world that Deleuze had his greatest and most prolonged encounter with ethnography and anthropology.

What Deleuze is for Anthropology

Reception of Deleuze’s Speculative Anthropology

That deep engagement does not mean that this system caters to anthropological tastes. Even the anthropologists that Deleuze was in conversation with as he crafted his system expressed to him anxieties about his epoch-spanning periodization (Dosse 2010: 201). And as has been pointed out by Ian Lowrie, while Deleuze and Guattari’s picture of ‘tribal’ societies does seem to resonate with some classical cybernetically-informed ethnographies of small-scale societies (such as Roy Rappaport’s Pigs for the ancestors [2000]), Deleuze’s vision of capitalism as a space and time where mathematics has replaced semiotics seems unlikely to agree with the anthropological palate, and Deleuze and Guattari’s teleological periodization would not be that welcome, either (Lowrie 2017). The social-evolutionary element of the argument is also a bone that many anthropologists would choke on, even though Deleuze and Guattari deny that their schema could be described as social evolution. Finally, their reading of flows and circulation in tribal economies seems more informed by Nietzsche’s concept of debt (which has not received much ethnographic confirmation) than by Mauss’s vision of the Gift (which has) (Graeber 2011: 402).

Depth and breadth of Deleuze’s influence in Anthropology

It is not surprising that Deleuze and Guattari’s account has been given very little time by anthropologists. But that should not be taken to mean that anthropologists have accorded the same low level of respect to Deleuze himself. And while Deleuze does not have as deep a gravity well in the discipline as ‘Planet Foucault’ (Boyer 2002), many anthropologists have turned to Deleuze to hash out their ethnography, or to provide the ligaments for their theoretical constructs.

However, any attempt to pinpoint the influence of Deleuze immediately runs up against one difficulty: the fact that Deleuze’s thinking not only has been dispersed to the degree of being almost atmospheric in the present age, but also the fact that his thinking seems, in many ways, to have presaged the present age as well. Foucault infamously once stated that perhaps the present period would be remembered by historians as ‘Deleuzean’ (Foucault 1998: 343). And while Deleuze brushed this off as ‘a joke meant to make people like us laugh, and make everyone else livid’ (Deleuze 1995: 4), it seems that his work in some ways anticipated much of our zeitgeist. The difficulty is that anticipating the zeitgeist, and being an intellectual influence on thinkers who express it, are two different things (and this is putting to the side the possibility – and to be honest, the high likelihood – that the current era is informing our reading of Deleuze in such a way that other readings of Deleuze, including readings that Deleuze himself might have endorsed, are either foreclosed to us or unrecognizable.)  There is also the question of what counts as influence, and what simply counts as being a part of an intellectual genealogy. To take one example, the sociologist of science and self-proclaimed philosopher Bruno Latour has not been shy about the influence that Deleuze’s works have had on him; but does this mean that those who have in turn been influenced by Latour should ‘count’ as being influenced by Deleuze at one remove?

We will put to the side a discussion of ‘accidental’ Deleuzians,[8] and focus on those who have explicitly acknowledged Deleuze as being an important plank in their thoughts. Most anthropologists have declined to take on Deleuze’s thought whole hog (Jensen & Rödje 2010, Markus & Saka 2006), and generally tend to take a single concept and conjoin it to concepts or framings that originate elsewhere. A loose map of anthropologically-repurposed Deleuzian part-concepts would have to include Deleuze’s vision of modern society as he presented it in his essay ‘Postscript on the society of control’, the ‘rhizome’ and ‘the assemblage’ (two ideas of which are given the greatest elaboration in Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari), Deleuze’s understanding of affect, Deleuze’s concept of temporality, and finally his use of virtuality.

The Anthropological Assemblage

Some of these terms have also been adopted with greater degrees of fidelity than others: the assemblage is likely the instance where use differs most from the original sense (see Marcus & Saka 2006). Assemblage is a term taken from A thousand plateaus. The various translators represented the word agencement as ‘assemblage’, but the more common English translation of this term in other contexts would be ‘layout’ instead (on this point, see also Phillips 2006). This was a bit of a “traduttore traditore” moment. For Deleuze and Guattari, agencement was their term to describe cognitive/linguistic or physical arrangements where each element in the set was in a determinate relation to the others, and which acted in concert. In their minds, assemblages did very specific things, and operated in a particular manner. Assemblages both territorialized some space or material, but also deterritorialized others as it undid whatever organizing or emergent logic preexisted it. Further, not only did all assemblages have content (the material organized in a determinate pattern) but all assemblages also had expressions, which could be either physical or communicative. And most of all, each assemblage was specific to a particular ‘strata’, which might be thought of as a particular domain, space, or classification (see Deleuze & Guattari 1999: 503-5). Finally, assemblages can be thought of as particular instantiations of purely abstract relations (or ‘diagrams’: see Bialecki 2016, 2017b; Zdenbik 2012) that can also be found in other assemblages located in different strata. Given all this structuration, one can see why ‘layout’ may have been more on point than ‘assemblage’. Anthropology, by comparison, has taken the assemblage as something different. For anthropology, assemblages are not determinate relations, but conglomerations of contingent, heterogeneous material that by chance or design (mostly the former) have congealed together to form the ephemeral assemblage (Collier & Ong 2004; Marcus & Saka 2006; Rabinow 2003; Rudnyckyj 2010; Zigon 2010, 2011, 2015). Rather than serving as expressions of an iterable, abstract relationship, each anthropological assemblage is an underdetermined, random, and possibly unique, collage.[9] As Marcus and Saka phrased it, ‘none of the derivations of assemblage theory…is based on a technical and formal analysis of how this concept functions in [Deleuze and Guattari’s] writing’ (2006: 103).

This does not render the anthropological repurposing (reterritorialization?) of the original Deleuzian concept of agencement ethnographically deficient, or their anthropological conclusions manqué. But it is probably a symptom of what divides Deleuze from contemporary Anglo-American anthropology (apart from, of course, discipline, language, subject matter, and history). While both Deleuze and contemporary anthropology share an interest in novelty, they have differing senses for the frequency and ease with which novelty is brought about. Anthropology often sees its objects as ‘haecceities’: as unique and therefore valuable expressions of human imagination, capacity, and resistance. Even when they are treated as tokens of a more general type, they are presented as if they are not just representative, but exemplary: this retains their novelty while still making them of particular interest for those investigating a more general phenomenon. Deleuze was interested in haecceities as well, but he also held that novelty, and particularly novelty in the form of thought, is relatively rare. For him, it was not subjects agentively producing novelty, but rather passive subjects who were forced to produce novelty by the press of events, when all other existing conceptual or material tools were exhausted.


Anthropological discussions of ‘becoming’, another Deleuzian trope, can be juxtaposed productively with the anthropological assemblage. In Deleuzian parlance, becoming is about a process of continual transformation without a complete transition into some other form or mode; it is used to characterize an asymptotic movement towards a particular local telos. Unlike assemblages, which seem to litter the landscape, in anthropology many ‘becomings’ are hard won. In an article by Biehl and Locke that is probably the most cited discussion of Deleuzian ‘becoming’ in anthropology, there is no claim to be taking up Deleuze’s thought as ‘a theoretical system of or set of practices to be applied normatively to anthropology’ (2010: 317). Rather, they merely wish to take up aspects of Deleuze’s conception of desire and of a socially-informed but still-specific capacity for transformation as a corrective to Foucauldian conceptions of biopower and governmentality. But the two ethnographic circumstances presented (destitution and psychic disintegration in Brazil, and the collective continuing aftermath of conflict in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina) underline the claim that the sort of transformations that Deleuze is interested in are often the result of a press of circumstances beyond the ordinary. It is of course possible to see these two case studies as a further post-culture-concept anthropological interest in what Joel Robbins (2013) has called ‘the suffering subject’. But it would also be possible to see this not as a focus on abjection and trauma as a human universal, but rather as an impetus to experimentation.[10] Biehl and Locke do not exhaust the anthropological use of Deleuzian becoming; like the Biehl and Locke essay, becoming is invoked thematically rather than technically, to communicate an interest in variation in and through the repetition of acts and forms, as opposed to some other more totalizing approach that would be blind to internal gradations and mutations (see, e.g., Khan 2012, Ahmad 2017). Often these works do not share Deleuze’s arid anti-humanism: they often favor explorations of subjectivity over Deleuze’s interest in the pre-individual and the pre-subjective. But because these works foreground a thematic interest in Deleuze, as opposed to an interest in his technical concepts, to judge them for this seems wrong (putting to the side the fact that judging authors in this way, instead of merely contrasting works as intellectual mechanisms, seems a particularly un-Deleuzian exercise).


Differences between the anthropological assemblage and the Deleuze-Guattarian agencement can also be better understood by contrasting it with anthropological discussions of the ‘rhizome’. For Deleuze and Guattari, rhizomes are decentralized networks. In rhizomes, individual nodes in the network can have quite different expressions from one another; the network itself is capable of qualitative variation; its internal multiplicity and variety means that it cannot be reduced to any dualisms or structural oppositions; and, because of its decentralized nature, the rhizome is resistant to being broken apart. The term rhizome is taken from botany (again via anthropologist Gregory Bateson), but it is not limited to the vegetative. Examples of the rhizome include: pack animals, hive insects, human-virus relations, and at one point, the music of Glenn Gould.

Anthropologists have used the rhizome in ways not dissimilar to the ways that they have invoked the assemblage: as emergent systems of pure difference that are characterized by lateral, as opposed to hierarchical, relations. The rhizome is frequently invoked in discussions of globalization, particularly as it interacts with other complex systems such as biology, ecology, and demographic representational regimes (see, e.g., Mauer 2000, Muehlmann 2012, Rosengren 2003). In contrast to most anthropological discussions of the assemblage, though, many authors working on rhizomic arrangements have noted that it has a relationship with other organizational modes that exceed mere opposition. Deleuze and Guattari state that the rhizomes at times become arboreal: if sufficient pressures are placed upon a rhizome, or sufficient cuts administered to it, rhizomes will in effect become trees, with an internal hierarchy controlling the way the rhizome can spread, and the internal organizational logic of its constituent nodes. As it appears in anthropology, various bureaucratic or top-down processes are quite deft in this sort of pruning. Political moves to present a dispersed and open population as a discrete political actor, or to identify, and thus demarcate and bind, ‘at risk’ groups, are shown as repeatedly creating arboreal systems out of dispersed rhizomes (Muehlmann 2012, Rosengren 2003).


Other anthropological uptakes of Deleuze differ from Deleuze’s prior concept not because of different interests and priorities in the anthropologists engaging with his thought, but rather because of what might be called an ‘interference pattern’ from other conceptual homonyms. An example of this is the almost cosmic-inflation level of growth in discussions of affects in anthropology. Interest in affect, particularly as a force that has a special relation with late-capitalist and neoliberal forms of social organization, has been increasingly common (see, e.g., Mazarrella 2009, Muehlebach 2012, Navaro-Yashin 2012, O’Neil 2013, Richards & Rudnyckyj 2009, Rudnyckyj 2011, Stewart 2007). Influenced either by Deleuze’s account of affects, or more commonly, influenced at one remove by Brian Massumi’s (2002) account of Deleuze’s accounts of affects, they understand affects as a pre-linguistic, embodied intensity.

There is some confusion in discussions of affects: for instance, there is the representational problem in using language to narrate a pre-linguistic, pre-subjective phenomenon (see Bialecki forthcoming). But even more confusing is the simultaneous influence in anthropology of the concept of ‘affect’ as understood by the psychologist Silvan Tompkins, who understood affect as a limited number series of cognitive modules that, in various combinatory constellations, could co-produce the entire run of human emotion (see Tompkins et al 1995). This second understanding, in which affect is heavily psychologized, as opposed to the Spinoza-influenced Deleuzian reading of affect as a force that either dilates or contracts human capacities at any single moment, has muddied the conceptual waters, as these are actually quite different phenomena (see Schaefer 2015). Most anthropological authors have not been careful to both specify whether they are dealing with affect as a pre-linguistic mix of a Spinozian illocutionary force (affectus) and perlocutionary capacity to be affected (affectio), or whether they are dealing instead with cognitive/psychological modules. This failure to specify has meant that elements of a very American psychological subjectivity can be found in many discussions of what purports to be a pre-subjective, pre-linguistic affective register.

Societies of Control

Other discussions, though, have tended to hue closer to Deleuze’s self-presentation of the issues. These tended to either address minor works in Deleuze’s oeuvre, or (interestingly enough) some of his most demanding technical exercises. Let’s take an example of the former first. In a short essay entitled ‘Postscript on the societies of control’, Deleuze (1992b) presented the thesis that the advancement of networking and information technologies in the twentieth century has allowed a shift away from the sort of societies organized around disciplinary enclosures described in the middle period of Foucault; rather than creating standard, generic subjects through individually targeted disciplinary means, the society of control allows for decentralized monitoring and shaping of continually-evolving aspects of the person through processes that are not confined to any one space such as the factory, the barracks, or the schoolroom. As Deleuze says, this is a society of ‘passwords’ and ‘surfing’, where persons are grasped as data and not subjects. This 1992 piece, which seems to have grasped presciently much of the first-world present, has been well received, particularly by anthropologists interested in deploying Foucauldian concepts of discipline and biopower to contemporary neoliberal societies (see, e.g., O’Neill 2015: 230-1).

Temporality and the Virtual

As for the more technical concepts that have been taken up with greater degrees of fidelity, we have Deleuze’s presentation of both time and of virtuality. Deleuze’s temporality is marked by its disjunctive logic, where numerous different autonomous modalities of time co-exist, operating at different scales and with different degrees of intensity, and hence creating emergent effects. Deleuze’s Henri-Bergson-informed concept of time as duration, a kind of qualitative flow, has been taken up with success, where the experience of time’s unfolding is seen as a vital part of any process. These discussions, which often also invoke the language of becoming, have been particularly fruitful when addressing creative endeavors (see Pandian 2012). Others have highlighted the clashing constituent elements of Deleuzian temporality, with cyclic temporalities of habit, a temporality of continual fissure with the present already yet continually being sundered into the past and future (or, to put it differently, the present always consisting entirety and only of the past and of the future), and a disruptive temporality of the event which consists of series of breaks with extant states of affairs (see Williams 2012; see also Bialecki 2017: 22-47). Matthew Hodges (2008, 2014) has relied on this polychronic aspect of Deleuze’s account of time to suggest ways in which now-dominant narratives of temporality such as ‘process’ and ‘flux’, which he associates with late capitalism, might actually be challenged, rather than ratified, by Deleuze’s thoughts.

Like temporality, virtuality is another Deleuzian conceptual tool that has received more rigorous amounts of attention. This should not be understood in the sense of ‘virtual worlds’, digital milieus that aim to wholly or partially create creditable simulations of, or rift on, aspects of the larger analogue universe (see, e.g., Boellstorff 2008). For Deleuze, the virtual is a concept that is meant to replace the possible. The problem with the possible is that it seems to be indicating states of affairs that were already complete, but simply lacking reality. This makes the possible, in essence, a static lack. Instead, Deleuze wanted to underscore the virtual as something that is real, albeit in way different from more conventional modes of existence. Rather than lacking existence, the virtual is an extant, open set of potentials that are always ready to be actualized. But the actualization of some virtual form may look quite different in different places and different times. This is not only because the actualizations may happen in different places and different times, and thus be part of different ecologies of sense. It is also because the virtual can be actualized in different manners, through using different material. For that reason, Deleuze stresses that the virtual and the actual do not ‘resemble’ one another; the virtual is not a platonic ideal. Rather, the virtual could be thought of as a series of variables set in a determinate relation to one another, or, as Deleuze put it, a series of multiplicities that are effectively topological, and thus capable of quite different instantiations, in the same way that a donut and a coffee cup are both actualizations of a torus, a purely mathematical entity.[11] This means, in a sense, that every entity or phenomenon is double faced; on one hand, there is a virtual aspect, a set of relations implicit in an object that can be repeated with or without distention, depending on the state of forces, and then on the other hand, there is the actual object, which in turn gives rise to the set of virtual relations that will be the ‘quasi-cause’ of the next instantiation.

Again, there are several ways to understand what Deleuze meant by this discussion of virtuality. It is clear that the virtual included the conceptual, or at least involves it. Deleuze’s conception of philosophy was as a retrospective mapping of the virtual, a way to trace back the virtual from what falls from an event, and thus identify other possible ways in which that virtuality could have been made actual; this practice of working from the actual to the virtual is called “counter-effectuation” in Deleuze’s parlance (Deleuze & Guattari 1994). To some, this makes the virtual in effect ideational, or at least a prelude to the experience of thinking particular thoughts. For others, though, this suggests that virtuality is a way to speak not merely of human ideational processes, but of all phenomenon (Delanda 2002).

The open nature of the concept of the virtual has again catalyzed different anthropological uses of it as a core idea. For some, the idea of the concept as a way of mapping possibilities has become their understanding of what it is that anthropology works towards, with these new concepts either being framed as creations of the anthropologists that are sufficient to think through ethnographic phenomena in a way that is adequate to the description given by those people they speak to, or by granting the thought of the informants themselves with the same kind of stature and formal qualities that are credited to western philosophy (Holbraad & Pedersen 2017, Viveiros de Castro 2014; see similarly Willerslev 2011). Virtuality and the virtual is also being used by anthropologists to account for variation and difference without having to adopt pure nominalism (that is, a mode of thought characterized by the rejection of universalisms and abstractions; see Bialecki 2012 ). This includes using virtuality to think of the sort of variation and potential inherent in either a particular practice or a mode of religiosity (Bialecki 2012), or variation that results when similar abstract forms or operations are expressed in different material (Bialecki 2016). Suzanne Kuchler (1999), for instance, has argued that the various senses of the word ‘Malanggan’, as used in New Ireland, which includes a memorial right, a carved object used in such rites, and for a larger system of ideas and practices that seems to envelope the rite and the object, are not three separate objects or categories, but instead are all expressions of the same virtual topological form. 

Another use of virtuality is to account for the effectiveness of religious and ritual practice. The claim here is that much of ritual and religious activity can be understood as an attempt to work back to the virtual through practice or sensual experience instead of thought, and thus open up ethical, social, or even ontological possibilities that are currently blocked by the arrangement of the current state of affairs (see, e.g., Kapferer 2004, 2007; Viveiros de Castro 2007). It has also been proposed that the engine of religion, if we can speak of such a thing, lies in a virtual pliability found in modes of religiosity that allows for it to take on an infinite number of expressions, all with different material entailments and therefore different effects as they combine with other assemblages (Bialecki 2016b, 2017).


This conversation does not exhaust discussions of Deleuze in anthropology.[12] But despite the partial nature of this discussion, a pattern should be apparent. The first aspect of the pattern concerns Deleuze’s thought. While shot through with a host of self-invented or repurposed terminology, the logic of each of these terms resonates with each other. The diagrammatic logic of the assemblage and particular instances of the assemblage shares aspects with the virtual/actual distinction, aspects of Deleuzian becoming and Deleuzian temporality seem to parallel one another, and Deleuzian discussions of the society of control seems to be a particularized and historically-situated exemplar of the play of rhizomic and arboreal modes of organizing. It would be wrong to consider Deleuze a monolithic thinker, since each of these concepts have their own utility and targets, but one can see how together they seem to be themselves examples of Deleuze’s interest in the intimate relationship between repetition and difference.

The second aspect of the pattern is that anthropology has, for the most part, had a cafeteria approach to Deleuze, taking just an element or two that is to their liking, rather than the whole set of mechanisms. This has created an interesting phenomenon. At what was (at least in terms of the temporality of academic publishing) the same time, two assessments were presented of Deleuze’s reception of anthropology. One assessment was that ‘relatively few anthropologists had made use’ of Deleuze (Jensen & Rödge 2010: 1). The other assessment was the claim that in American anthropology, 2010 was the year of Deleuze (Hamilton & Places 2011). Both assessments may be right. While we are no longer at the point where we can say, as Marcus and Saka once did, that we are lacking ‘technical and formal’ encounters with Deleuze (2006: 103), it is also true that rather than dedicate themselves to the intellectual mechanisms that Deleuze constructed, many anthropologists have decided not to, in João Biehlo’s (2013) words, let theory get in the way of ethnography. This may be for the best: Deleuze, interested in creativity, would honor sly theft over dutiful exegesis. But while such redeployments may be fruitful, they also run the risk of being glib, or of not even understanding how the pilfered tools work at all.  It remains to be seen which anthropological borrowings of Deleuze are the pollinated flower, which uses some alien presence to perpetuate its own being, and which borrowings are the wasp, pointlessly copulating with an alien other due to an act of complete misrecognition.


The author would like to both thank and lay blameless Ian Lowrie and Razvan Amironesei for their contributions on some technical matters. The author, of course, owns all breaks from the image of thought.


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Note on Contributor

Jon Bialecki is an honorary fellow with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. His first monograph, A diagram for fire: miracles and variation in an American charismatic movement, is a study of the miraculous and differentiation in American religion, with a focus on ethics, politics, language, and economic practices. He is currently working on his second manuscript, A machine for making gods: Mormonism, transhumanism, and speculative thought.

Jon Bialecki, The Lihosit Research Institute, 8434 via Sonoma #65, La Jolla, California, United States of America, 92037-2722. 

[1] Following a convention that has arisen in the secondary literature regarding Deleuze (despite the fact that even those who inaugurated it feels that it is a grotesquely unfair distribution of credit), in this essay Deleuze’s co-authored works will be treated as if they were an extension of ‘his’ thought, even as we will try to acknowledge when we are referring to collaborative material.

[2] This modesty should not be mistaken for unwavering respect: he referred to his work in the history of philosophy as a ‘sort of buggery’ where he takes the philosopher he is writing on ‘from behind…giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous’ (Deleuze 1995: 6).

[3] The claim that there are multiple, incommensurable readings of Deleuze may be to understate the argument. For instance, he has been described as continuing Kant’s transcendental project (Voss 2013) even though he has claimed that he treated Kant like ‘an enemy’ (N: 6). At the same time, Deleuze’s work has been described as ‘essentially phenomenological’, and deeply indebted to Husserl (Hughes 2008: ix). But before we see him as rejecting any knowledge of the noumenon, or as centering himself on the subject and on subjectivity, we should also note that he has also been called a ‘realist philosopher’ who broke with idealist ‘postmodernity’ by affirming an anti-idealist, anti-subjectivist ‘mind-independent reality.’[3] (Delanda: 2). His project has been cited as centered on creating an ontology that purposeful erases the human/nature opposition (Ansell-Pearson 2012), and, conversely, he has been described as writing against ontology, and instead presenting an ethics of immanence and the ‘event’ (Zourabichvili 2012). He has been called a philosopher concerned with the production of difference and the new (Smith 2008). However, his detractors argue that he was actually a ‘monotonous’ thinker, obsessed with a philosophy of the one (Badiou 2000), a gnostic who rejects the actual and the political to favor aesthetics and a realm of never-materializable phantasmic possibilities (Hallward 2006, Žižek 2003).  Because of this, many critics claim that Deleuze offers no political project, though at this point the reader will be little surprised to hear that there are differing opinions on this front, too. He has been depicted as someone taking up a democratic, emancipatory Foucauldian micropolitics of short-term tactical action by collectives of disparate parties (Bialecki 2017), as someone whose ascetics and ethics drives him to reject democracy (Mengue 2013, see also Toymentsev 2015), as someone whose politics are essentially Leninist, and as someone who has inoculated himself against any Leninist appropriation (Tampio 2009), as a staunch anti-capitalist, and as a wild-eyed precursor of the accelerationist desire to chase the dragon of late capitalism all the way to its likely ugly, possibly inhuman, end (Mckay and Avanessian 2014).

[4] These ‘multiplicities’ are taken in part from Deleuze’s reading of Bergson, but also from the work of the nineteenth century mathematician Bernard Reinmann; Reinmann’s mathematical concept of space, not as a totalized Euclidian grid, but rather as a series or collectivity of local spaces, each of which may be characterized by different dimensions, and thus escape any global determination; in the standard English translation of Riemann’s work the concept of the constituent elements of a topological space is translated as manifolds, while Anglophone scholars of Deleuze translated the term as multiplicities, following the French translation of Reinmann’s work, multiplicitê. See Plotinksy 2009.

[5] It should be noted that this was a piece that was not published until 1973.

[6] To an extent, this emphasis on Nietzsche could be seen not only as an attempt to address the whole expanse of the history of the species, but also as Deleuze presaging a later anthropological interest in ethics, which has acknowledged the importance of Nietzsche (Laidlaw 2002), though perhaps not fully embracing what a Nietzschian psychology would entail (Bialecki 2016c).

[7] Despite its fictive location, the socius is actually located ‘on’ the body without organs, the term Deleuze and Guattari use for the entirety of production before any ordering or ranking is visited upon it.

[8] Among the anthropologists and anthropological sub-fields that constitute ‘accidental Deleuzians’, one of the most surprising may be mainline American linguistic anthropology; while this does not prove kinship, both Deleuze and linguistic anthropology share an antipathy for structural linguistics and Chomskian linguistic formalism, an enthusiasm for Labov’s sociolinguistics, a high regard for Austin’s speech-act theory, and a facility with the Peircian semiotic triad of icon, index, and sign. This is also almost certainly completely accidental, as suggested by the divergent approaches taken towards other core issues. Take, for example, materiality and language. Linguistic anthropology tends to deal with issues of ‘semiotic ideology’ (Keane 2003), which can be glossed as metapragmatic concerns for the communicative potential and ethical valence of not just speech, but of material culture as well. In contrast, Deleuze handles material aspects of communication through ‘collective assemblages’, a term for ecologies or arrangements which include both material objects and speech acts or writing (Deleuze and Guattari 1999: 7). Even greater distance can be found in the respective treatment for affect. Affect, as will be discussed shortly, is a foundational concept for Deleuze, which he takes in the Spinozan sense of a force measured by its intensity and not by way of any extension (Deleuze 1990b, 1992a), while linguistic anthropology (Silverstein 2004) tends to see any differentiation between speech and affect as an idiosyncratic western understanding (see Bialecki 2015, in press).

Another accidental – or perhaps crypto- – Deleuzian field in anthropology is the line of thought that is referred to as the ‘New Melanesian Ethnography’. Roy Wagner and Marilyn Strathern, the two most exemplary thinkers in this movement, display certain tendencies in their thought that are strongly Deleuzian, though in different ways. Roy Wagner’s concept of culture as invention, with both the achieved elements and the elements that are understood as fixed and conventionalized requiring continual creation though both effort and through being thrust into new contexts, echoes Deleuze’s concerns for fluid and emergent forms, and for the way that thoughts, practices, and material are at times decontextualized and deconstructed to allow for novelty (‘deterritorialized’) or are at other times set in determinate relation with one another (‘territorialization’, which maps onto Wagner’s counter-invention) (Wagner 1975). Marilyn Strathern’s interest in privileging relation over identity also has a Deleuzian cast, as for Deleuze it is the web of connections, rather than the essence of a thing itself, that often controls how some person, process, or object is expressed; this in part could be an expression of Strathern’s and Deleuze’s common interest in the nineteenth century sociologist Gabriel Tarde. The commonality between these three thinkers has been noted by many of the later authors that they have influenced, with the ‘ontological turn’ often articulating their thought, and justifying their project, through explicit references to Deleuze (see, e.g., Holbraad & Pedersen 2017).  But Wagner has never cited Deleuze, and while Strathern has at times acknowledged Deleuze’s work, it has been more along the lines of noting a commonality than acknowledging intellectual descent.

[9] When I make this claim, I am sometimes met with protestations that Paul Rabinow has a more nuanced concept of the assemblage that is closer to that of Deleuze’s own understanding; particularly, Rabinow’s assemblage is presented as a more enduring form. However, as Rabinow himself asserts, his assemblages are ‘comparatively effervescent’, operating on a time scale of ‘years or decades’ which is much shorter than the other conceptual objects Rabinow relates them to (2003: 56). The comparative life spans of social objects can be seen by tracing what appears to be a Rabinowian great chain of social-ontological being, in which ‘problematizations’ (which are thematic, open ended, and sometimes millennia-old running grand challenges, such as ‘discipline’ or ‘sexuality’) trigger the emergence of assemblages, which will in turn either ‘disaggregate’ or mature in an ‘apparatus’. Sandwiched between human conundrums and long running social formations, the assemblage is, like most other anthropological assemblages, again just a short-lived, emergent form.

[10] This should not be read as a critique of Robbins take on Biehl’s 2005 book Vita, nor as an endorsement of it; rather, it is an observation that an anthropology of suffering and an anthropology of the good may have a more intimate connection with one another than appears on the surface (see Bialecki 2014).

[11] See footnote four, infra.

[12] This already overly long entry does not have space to discuss Deleuze’s extensive writings on cinema, which have been used not just to think through the production of film as a creative enterprise (see, e.g., Baxstrom & Meyers 2016; Pandian 2015) but also analogically to think through other social phenomena (see, e.g., Baxstrom 2008; Bialecki & Bielo 2016; Kapferer 2013). We have also not addressed the role of Deleuze in ethnographies of science, multi-species relations, or infectious disease, which have their own engagement with Deleuzian concepts such as assemblage, becoming, or rhizomes (see., e.g., Lowe 2010). Nor have we addressed what a Deleuzian politically engaged and applied anthropology look like.

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