difference + politics
  ---- by Paul Patton
  Deleuze's ontological conception of a world of free differences suggests a defence of the particular against all forms of universalisation or representation. Every time there is representation, he argues, there is an 'unrepresented singularity' which does not recognise itself in the representant (D 1994: 52). However, neither this critique of representation nor the ontological priority of difference establishes a politics of difference. Identities presuppose differences and are inhabited by them, just as differences inevitably presuppose and are inhabited by identities. A politics of difference requires the specification of politically relevant kinds of difference.
  Deleuze and Guattari's concept of minority and their support for minoritarian politics provides a novel understanding of the kind of difference which is relevant for democratic political change. They define minority in opposition to majority, but insist that the difference between them is not quantitative since social minorities can be more numerous than the so-called majority. Both minority and majority involve the relationship of a group to the larger collectivity of which it is a part. Suppose there are only two groups and suppose that there is a standard or ideal type of member of the larger collectivity: the majority is defined as the group which most closely approximates the standard, while the minority is defined by the gap which separates its members from that standard. In a social collectivity, majority can take many simultaneous forms:
  Let us suppose that the constant or standard is the average adultwhite-heterosexual- European-male speaking a standard language . . . It is obvious that 'man' holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. That is because he appears twice, once in the constant and again in the variable from which the constant is extracted. Majority assumes a state of power and domination, not the other way around. (D&G 1987: 105, cf. 291)
  A liberal politics of difference would simply defend the right of the minorities to be included in the majority. In other words, it would seek to broaden the standard so that it becomes male or female - European or non- European - hetero or homosexual and so on. Social minorities are here conceived as outcasts but potentially able to be included among the majority. Deleuze and Guattari insist upon the importance of such piecemeal changes to the form and content of a given majority. After redescribing the non-coincidence of minority and majority in the language of axiomatic set theory, they assert, 'this is not to say that the struggle on the level of the axioms is without importance; on the contrary, it is determining (at the most diverse levels: women's struggle for the vote, for abortion, for jobs; the struggle of the regions for autonomy; the struggle of the Third World . . .' (D&G 1987: 470-1). At the same time, however, in order to draw attention to the sense in which the reconfiguration of the majority is dependent upon a prior process of differentiation, they introduce a third term in addition to the pair majority-minority, namely 'becoming-minor' or 'minoritarian', by which they mean the creative process of becoming different or diverging from the majority.
  This process of becoming-minor, which subjects the standard to a process of continuous variation or deterritorialisation (D&G 1987: 106), is the real focus of Deleuze and Guattari's approach to the politics of difference. They do not deny the importance of the installation of new constants or the attainment of majority status, but they stress the importance of the minoritarian-becoming of everyone, including the recognised bearers of minority status within a given majority. They insist that the power of minorities 'is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system, nor even to reverse the necessarily tautological criterion of the majority, but to bring to bear the force of the non-denumerable sets, however small they may be, against the denumerable sets . . .' (D&G 1987: 471). By this they mean that the limits of the potential for transformation are not determined by the normalising power of the majority but by the transformative potential of becoming-minor, or becoming-revolutionary. They do not mean to suggest that minorities do not enter into and produce effects upon the majority.
  Their insistence on the transformative potential of minoritarian becomings does not imply a refusal of democratic politics. Those excluded from the majority as defined by a given set of axioms, no less than those included within it, are the potential bearers of the power to transform that set, whether in the direction of a new set of axioms or an altogether new axiomatic (D&G 1987: 471). Everyone may attain the creative power of minority-becoming that carries with it the potential for new earths and new peoples.

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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