ACSP Abstract

I don’t typically post this kind of stuff here (you know, what I’m actually working on) but I thought maybe I’d try something new. Below you will find my abstract for a panel on Deleuze and Planning at the 2014 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference, which will be in Philadelphia in late October/early November. I’m also presenting a similar paper that focuses on New Urbanism at the AAG conference next month in Tampa, and have submitted another abstract using war-machines/land development to the 2014 Deleuze Studies conference in Istanbul.


“Doing Well By Doing Good”: Comprehensive Planning and Seattle’s Kinder, Gentler War-Machine

Chapin’s (2012) recent recounting of the three historic phases of growth management and his argument for an emerging fourth wave provides an excellent description of the political modulations shaping development. Yet it also leaves unexamined how such policy shifts may come to be adopted, challenged, or put into variation by developers working in relation to them. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the war-machine provides one fruitful way to assess this situation.

In A Thousand Plateaus, the authors outline the four basic components of this multifaceted concept – its aim, object, space, and form of sociality (Holland 2011, 25) – and explain that it tends toward one of two poles: at the first pole, “war” signifies the conditions under which the State either appropriates the machine or becomes subservient to it; at the second pole, “war” is directed against the State or the dominant order, in an effort to create radically new sociospatial configurations (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 422). One of the six variants of the war-machine that tends toward the first pole is global capitalism, which “has escaped the grasp of the State and now envelops it, with the State becoming merely a variable model of realization for capitalist axiomatization” (Holland 2011, 26).

Vulcan Inc. – the real estate development firm of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen – is unquestionably a concrete expression of the global capitalist war machine. Yet both municipal and regional comprehensive planning initiatives installed many of the normative conditions shaping the company’s particular approach to large-scale urban redevelopment (density, sustainability, alternative modes of transportation) before Vulcan ever entered the picture, and have played a crucial role in its continued success, frequently at the behest of the developer.

Drawing on the distinctions between the proactive aspects of the governmental requirements – such as the earnest cultivation of grassroots neighborhood planning in Seattle (Diers 2004) – and the inherently reactive demands of shifts in governance often described somewhat reductively as neoliberalization, as well this particular developer’s will to improve the world while simultaneously earning market-rate returns, I argue that a Deleuzoguattarian approach can uniquely explain how the State and its planning efforts at various scales constitute a development strategy that Vulcan can exploit and reshape according to its own emergent interests. Moreover, I explore how the developer continuously strives to free itself from the State’s restraints in the name of efficiency, while building an ever-expanding assemblage of developers undertaking similar projects.



Chapin, Timothy S. 2012. “From Growth Controls, to Comprehensive Planning, to Smart Growth: Planning’s Emerging Fourth Wave.” Journal of the American Planning Association 78 (1): 5–15.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Diers, Jim. 2004. Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Holland, Eugene W. 2011. Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.


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