Sunday 5 September 2010

re: DeLanda Introduction

I would certainly agree with mark about the introduction. I don’t really like the way DeLanda begins there, to be honest. The first few pages could have been lifted from any positivist sociologist in the twentieth century (and there have been more than a few). ‘Mind independence’ is in no way a new idea, it is the mainstream view for social scientists of all stripes. DeLanda’s innovation, it seems to me, is nowhere to be seen in the first few pages (though it abounds immediately after).

My criticism of his opening would be that the language with which he outlines his philosophy of science is far too similar to that of most mainstream (i.e. positivist) social theorists. Any given individual mind is not a necessary condition for the existence of society, although minds altogether are – that’s Durkheim’s shtick. It’s all valid enough but it’s not new. In short, DeLanda believes in social facts (a social fact: a social phenomenon that has “an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations.”)… Which is fair enough, any realist must believe so (at least in some form), but that is not where his innovation lies.

As soon as he gets into his assemblage theory we realise how different his approach is from any Durkheimians. We begin to see that, yes, minds in the plural are necessary conditions for the existence of society but that doesn’t mean so much. Water is a necessary condition for the existence of oceans, as are worms for the existence of rainforests. Human minds are just parts of vast ecosystems and, as important as they are, the mind independence of society is hardly reducible to social (or human) factors alone! Once we get into the assemblage theory we can think as widely as this, whereas the conventional social theory he flirts with would take collective human minds as (a) on a different (i.e. objective) ontological level to individual (i.e. subjective) minds and (b) as the only significant object of analysis.

But, that aside, this is an excellent introduction to DeLanda’s introduction and I’m looking forward to the rest of the reading!