deterritorialisation + politics
  ---- by Paul Patton
  The concept of deterritorialisation lies at the heart of Deleuze and Guattari's mature political philosophy. Processes of deterritorialisation are the movements which define a given assemblage since they determine the presence and the quality of 'lines of flight' (D&G 1987: 508). lines of flight in turn define the form of creativity specific to that assemblage, the particular ways in which it can effect transformation in other assemblages or in itself (D&G 1987: 531). From the point of view of social or political change, everything hinges on the kinds of deterritorialisation present. Deleuze and Guattari define deterritorialisation as the movement by which something escapes or departs from a given territory (D&G 1987: 508). The processes of territory formation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation are inextricably entangled in any given social field: 'The merchant buys in a territory, deterritorialises products into commodities, and is reterritorialised on commercial circuits' (D&G 1994: 68). Deterritorialisation is always a complex process involving at least a deterritorialising element and a territory, which is being left behind or reconstituted. Karl Marx's account of primitive accumulation in Capital illustrates the operation of 'vectors of deterritorialisation' in a social and economic territory: the development of commodity markets deterritorialises the socio-economic territory of feudal agriculture and leads to the emergence of large-scale commercial production. Deterritorialisation is always bound up with correlative processes of reterritorialisation, which does not mean returning to the original territory but rather the ways in which deterritorialised elements recombine and enter into new relations. Reterritorialisation is itself a complex process that takes different forms depending upon the character of the processes of deterritorialisation within which it occurs. Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between the 'connection' of deterritorialised flows, which refers to the ways in which distinct deterritorialisations can interact to accelerate one another, and the 'conjugation' of distinct flows which refers to the ways in which one may incorporate or 'overcode' another thereby effecting a relative blockage of its movement (D&G 1987: 220). Marx's account of primitive accumulation shows how the conjugation of the stream of displaced labour with the flow of deterritorialised money capital provided the conditions under which capitalist industry could develop. In this case, the reterritorialisation of the flows of capital and labour leads to the emergence of a new kind of assemblage, namely the axiomatic of capitalism.
  When Deleuze and Guattari suggest that societies are defined by their lines of flight or by their deterritorialisation, they mean that fundamental social change happens all the time, even as the society reproduces itself on other levels. Sometimes change occurs by degrees, as with the steady erosion of myths about sexual difference and its role in social and political institutions. Sometimes, change occurs through the eruption of events which break with the past and inaugurate a new field of social, political or legal possibilities. The rioting of May 1968 was an event of this kind, 'a becoming breaking through into history' (D 1995: 153). Other examples include the sudden collapse of Eastern European communism or the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. These are all turning points in history after which some things will never be the same as before. The key question is not whether change is slow or sudden; but, whether it is animated by a force of absolute deterritorialisation.
  Deleuze and Guattari distinguish four types of deterritorialisation along the twin axes of absolute and relative, positive and negative (D&G 1987: 508-10). Deterritorialisation is relative in so far as it concerns only movements within the actual order of things. Relative deterritorialisation is negative when the deterritorialised element is immediately subjected to forms of reterritorialisation which enclose or obstruct its line of flight. It is positive when the line of flight prevails over secondary reterritorialisations, even though it may still fail to connect with other deterritorialised elements or enter into a new assemblage. Deterritorialisation is absolute in so far as it concerns the virtual order of things, the state of 'unformed matter on the plane of consistency' (D&G 1987: 55-6). Absolute deterritorialisation is not a further stage that comes after relative deterritorialisation but rather its internal dynamic, since there is 'a perpetual immanence of absolute deterritorialisation within relative deterritorialisation' (D&G 1987: 56). The difference between positive and negative forms of absolute deterritorialisation corresponds to the difference between the connection and the conjugation of deterritorialised flows. Absolute deterritorialisation is positive when it leads to the creation of a new earth and new people: 'when it connects lines of flight, raises them to the power of an abstract vital line or draws a plane of consistency' (D&G 1987: 510). Since real transformation requires the recombination of deterritorialised elements in mutually supportive ways, social or political processes are truly revolutionary only when they involve assemblages of connection rather than conjugation.

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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