Dissertation Intro/Methods Draft

I was talking to Branden Born the other day about how we use blogs, and he was noting how I seem to share everything on here EXCEPT for my actual research. My typical response to this is “I never do any research,” that I spend all my time teaching, hauling kids around, teaching myself French, etc. The truth is, I actually have what I believe are some solid chapter drafts that I am going to start posting on here. Why? I don’t know. I have long admired how Andrew Culp posted his reading notes and dissertation chapter drafts during his journey, but haven’t really thought to do so myself. So I am posting the second half of my Introduction and Methods chapter here (I can’t write the first half, the introduction, until I’m finished, which will hopefully be by the end of the summer). I will also post the first three chapters that I have afterward, and will get the fourth one up shortly thereafter (I’m “this close” to finishing it).

I don’t expect anyone to read through any of this, but I would, of course, appreciate any observations/critiques that someone might have. More than anything, I think I’m trying to make myself accountable for getting a good draft done by the end of the summer, and posting it on here seems like one way to do so. Enjoy.


The primary thrust of this dissertation is philosophical in the sense that it strives to show that Deleuzoguattarian thought can serve as a robust ontological foundation for contemporary critical urban studies. Yet, at the same time, it is also historical in the sense that it relies on various archival documents to construct a case for this claim. For their part, Deleuze and Guattari are no strangers to the coupling of history and philosophy: Deleuze’s early writings from the 1950s and 1960s firmly fall within the history of philosophy, while their third coauthored book, A Thousand Plateaus (1987) draws heavily on an exceptionally wide range of historical and empirical studies.[1] Consequently, I will draw not only on the concepts they construct, but also on the ways in which this work is undertaken.

This attempt to “think like Deleuze and Guattari” is not, however, without its own unique set of challenges, namely the fact that although I am convinced by their mode of building philosophical concepts out of historical scholarship (Bell 2009), I am in a different position altogether, for no history of South Lake Union (SLU)’s redevelopment has been written. Therefore, I am presented with the opportunity and challenge of writing a history under their influence, out of which I can also construct concepts for thinking about this and other forms of early 21st century, morally-inflected urban redevelopment.

Moreover, it should also be noted that despite the unprecedented breadth of Deleuze and Guattari’s source material, it does not draw very heavily upon urban theory as such. Although in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, they cite V. Gordon Childe, Jane Jacobs, Henri Lefebvre, and Lewis Mumford, they are largely referring to works by these authors that relate to the emergence of the city and the State, rather than to their scholarship on contemporary cities.[2] Therefore, a rigorous engagement with relevant urban theory takes the form of critical literature reviews, while my argument for a Deleuzoguattarian ontology for urban studies is constructed in a way that strives to do that tradition’s processes and products justice. Chapter 1 focuses on the tenuous relationship between Neo-Deleuzian Assemblage Urbanism and Frankfurt School-inspired Critical Urban Theory, while Chapter 4 engages much of the critical scholarship on Neoliberal urban governance. This is, however, only half of the story, for the real question is how to systematically approach the wealth of archived empirical material relating to the redevelopment of SLU.

A reasonable place to begin answering this question is Deleuze’s first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity (1991).[3] Herein, Deleuze gives the name transcendental empiricism to the attempt to respond to two related problems in Hume’s philosophy. First, there is the problem of how a given “collection of ideas,” “a flux of perceptions,” becomes a system (Deleuze 1991, 22-3). The second problem, which follows from the first, is to interrogate how the mind transcends this given perceptual flux; or, put another way, how does the mind become a subject? (ibid., 23). The transcendental aspect of Deleuze’s reading of Hume is concerned with how something can be given or extracted from the flowing mass of perceptions, while the empirical aspect addresses how a subject who may receive perceptions is constituted within these flows (ibid., 87). Hume’s answer to the question of how the flux of perceptions becomes identity is through the notion time: duration introduces fictional difference into any unchanging object, and consequently, the lack of change during in time constitutes identity. For Deleuze, this amounts to the human’s double capacity to create and believe: “[t]his subject who invents and believes is constituted inside the given in such a way that it makes the given itself a synthesis and a system” (ibid., 132).

Bell (2009, 60) refers to this foundational aspect of Deleuzian thought as indicative of what he calls a “historical ontology,” meaning that all identities have a history by definition. Of particular interest for the present investigation is the way that Deleuze follows Hume’s claim that humans are not naturally concerned for the well-being of mankind, but are only constituted as moral subjects political and social institutions that develop over time (Hume 1960, 543-4) This position resonates with Deleuze’s deep commitment to positivity and productivity over negativity and lack. He asserts that the main idea of Hume’s “critique of the social contract” is this: “the essence of society is not the law but the institution” (1991, 45, my emphasis), for law restrains while institutions produce. Deleuze is absolutely clear on this point: “The institution, unlike the law, is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, and invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means” (ibid., 45-46).

That this orientation is incredibly helpful for thinking through the redevelopment of SLU is obvious, and will be addressed in much greater detail across this work, but the practical question is: does this sensitivity to history and commitment to the empirical provide a systematic methodological approach to conducting archival research? As any of reader of A Thousand Plateaus will attest, such a question probably seems like a joke: their volume uses mythology, ethnology, philosophy, metallurgy, birdsongs, linguistics, fiction, psychoanalysis, and much more as empirical fodder for the authors’ theoretical gymnastics. In his introduction to Anti-Oedipus, Mark Seem (1983, xix) addresses Deleuze and Guattari’s approach directly:

“While Deleuze and Guattari use many authors and concepts, this is never done in an academic fashion aimed at persuading the reader. Rather, they use these names and ideas as effects that traverse their analyses, generating ever new effects, as points of reference indeed, but also as points of intensity and signs pointing a way out: points-signs that offer a multiplicity of solutions and a variety of directions for a new style of politics. Such an approach carries much along with it, in the course of its flow, but it also leaves much behind.”

One crucial difference between their project and this dissertation is that my argument is precisely meant to persuade the reader of something specific: that Deleuzoguattarian thought is perfectly capable of serving as ontology for critical urban studies. The wealth of empirical information documenting the emergence of SLU – legislation at the state and county levels, city council decisions, independent studies by consultants, design guidelines, press releases, advertisements, blog posts, etc. – is central to understanding how this redevelopment works. Therefore a bridge between these details and broader concepts, as “fragmentary wholes that are not aligned with one another so that they fit together” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 35) is necessary.

A Foucauldian methodology is one powerful approach for dealing with the empirical details of South Lake Union’s emergence and persuasively arguing that Deleuzoguattarian thought can address the complexities of the production of urban space, due to both its commitment to archival research and its ontological compatibility with Deleuze and Guattari. To his credit, John Protevi (2010, 1), makes this connection explicit when he argues that “we will be able to expose the Deleuzian nature of Foucault’s differential historical methodology.” At first glance the question becomes, does one follow Foucault’s earlier archeological method, which Deleuze and Guattari implicitly endorse,[4] or his latter genealogical method, which Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 11) obliquely condemn: “The rhizome is an anti-genealogy. It is a short-term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots” (ibid., 21).[5] Or is the best approach to find ways to pick up aspects of Foucault’s methods that are reflected his own refinements, while heeding Deleuze and Guattari’s critiques? How, then, to proceed with an investigation of a concrete set of processes, within a bounded area and throughout a specific duration, while expressing this spirit of variation and expansion which corresponds extremely well to the very real movements of capital and urban policy?

Building an Archive

Before looking specifically and the methods involved, I want to address some practical questions, namely: how does one build an archive? Given that the object of this study is a neighborhood – an obviously spatial phenomenon – a reasonable inclination is start looking for documents in that space or referring to it directly. Early on, I found a timeline (Fig.1) that Vulcan (2011) had produced in an outreach document regarding the neighborhood’s rezoning which occurred in 2013. The first two entries are from 1990 and refer to Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) and the Vision 2020 regional plan that was produced by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). Clearly, I was going to need to think on a broader spatial scale, but even more that than, I was going to need temporal dimensions. Could I reasonably start at 1990 with the GMA, or did I need to go back farther? And if so, how far back?

Fig. 1. South Lake Union Zoning Process (Vulcan 2011)

I then decided that my first task would be to understand Vulcan’s timeline and fill in any gaps between 1990 and today. Unsurprisingly, as I began to dig into the particular elements, references to municipal legislation and studies began to proliferate, and I realized that I needed my own timeline, which of course included the dynamics in SLU, but also related movements across the region. As the documents began to pile up, I made the decision to start writing out much of what happened chronologically. I did not know if what I was writing would ever find its way into the dissertation directly, but I needed to learn what had happened. As I began approaching the present, it became clear that the relevant time frame began, somewhat unsurprisingly, with attempts in the 1950s to deal with the negative consequences of rampant post-Word War II suburbanization, which in Seattle is marked by the birth of what is now called King County Metro to address water pollution in Lake Washington. By relaying this discovery I am in no way asserting that this was the origin of the activities in SLU. Instead, I am saying that this is the beginning of the period in which statements and practices that have also created SLU began to intermingle. With a temporal duration thus delineated, and a broad range of content collected, I was in the position to begin analyzing it.


What is Foucauldian archaeology and what is it good for? First, as its name suggests, it involves digging around carefully to collect and describe what Foucault “takes to be a previously unnoticed type of linguistic function – the statement (énoncé)” (Dreyfus and Rabinow, 45). The statement is distinguished from two other types of linguistic functions: propositions and utterances. In contradistinction to a proposition, which has a fixed relationship to truth independently of how it is used, a statement’s relationship to truth is relative to the way it is used. To take Foucault’s example (2010, 104), the affirmation “species evolve” means something different in Darwin’s own use, in late 19th century neo-Darwinism, and in a mid-20th century neo-Darwinian synthesis, all of which place a different emphasis on the genetic transfer of characteristics based on a less or more developed understanding of genetics. Furthermore, a statement can be expressed in modes other than sentences – a map, a plan, a graph, a rendering, a photograph, or a video, for example. Therefore, a statement is both contextual, in the sense that it relates to other statements and autonomous in the sense that it can be expressed in different ways.

Moreover, although the requirement that statements are taken at face value rather than excavating a deep meaning aligns archaeology with speech act theory as developed by Austin (1962) and Searle (1969), Foucault’s method has an altogether different focus: he is not at all concerned with the everyday context and efficacy of an utterance, but is instead interested in a statement’s claim to truth and its effect in particular historical epochs. What matters, for him, is that there is a social infrastructure – institutions, validation procedures, expert knowledge – that makes statement’s claim to knowledge (truth), and thus its capacity to affect, worthy of investigation. As Dreyfus and Rabinow (1982, 49) clearly put it: “Foucault is exclusively interested in types of [statements], the regularities exhibited by their relations with other [statements] of the same and other types – which he calls discursive formations – and in the gradual and sometimes sudden but always regular transformations such discursive formations undergo.”

Central to the archaeological method is the double bracketing of the truth claims and the meaning claims of the statements constituting the discursive formation. This is to assume a radical neutrality as a researcher in an effort to “maintain [discourse] in its consistency, to make it emerge in its own complexity” (Foucault 2010, 47). Yet this does not mean that all utterances are fair game, for instead, statements are rare. They are, in fact:

“things that are transmitted and preserved, that have value, and which one tries to appropriate; that are repeated, reproduced, and transformed; to which pre-established networks are adapted, and to which a status is given in the institution; things that are duplicated not only by copy or translation, but by exegesis, commentary, and the internal proliferation of meaning” (Foucault 2010, 120).

This double bracketing allows one to identify claims that are considered important by some (the commentators, for example), but which the researcher may not necessarily consider to be serious. The discursive formation thus essentially produces its own dimensions, content, and critiques, and the archaeologist “can then simply study the carefully preserved raw serious statements and the plethora of commentary upon them” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982, 52).

So much for identifying statements – what is one looking for when they study the discursive formations they constitute? The answer is straightforward – the rules governing how the statements are distributed and related to one another in the discursive formation – but the strategy Foucault suggests is more complicated. He suggests “four directions” in which a discursive formation can be analyzed: the “formation of objects, formation of the subjective positions, formation of concepts, [and] formation of strategic choices” (Foucault 2010, 116).[6] The formation of objects refers to an organization of statements with respect to the object that they address, although an intuitive understanding is troubled by the fact that “discursive formations produce the object about which they speak” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982, 61). The formation of the subjective positions – also called “enunciative modalities” in an effort to distinguish from the subject in psychological terms – shifts emphasis to the speakers who have the right to be taken seriously: whence do these statements emanate and what are the criteria, institutions, legal conditions, etc. that qualify the speaker to share knowledge. The formation of concepts performs a similar operation and seeks to account for the dispersion of statements constituting the broad categories of inquiry, such as “grammar, or economics, or the study of living beings” (Foucault 2010, 56). Lastly, by the formation of strategic choices, Foucault is referring to the historical ways in which concepts are used. The project of archaeology is, then, to uncover the rules “behind,” “within,” or “beneath” discursive formations that account for the dispersion of these objects, subjects, concepts, and strategies. As far as Foucault is concerned, this set of rules is the only unity that can be found, if indeed one exists at all (ibid., 72). In any case, this method is very nuanced, and its subtleties will be explained in greater detail across Chapters 3 and 4 as it used.

In closing, it is well known that Foucault concluded that strategies were the most important aspect, since they ultimately shape how particular discourses are drawn together into practice. Consequently, for him, archaeology became one of “two halves of a complementary approach” (Elden 2001, 104) – with second half being, of course, genealogy. It is at this point, however, where we must part ways with Foucault, but not without owing him a tremendous debt: his method provides a systematic and comprehensive way to cut through an incredibly variegated archive of statements, which we will, following Deleuze and Guattari, understand as belonging to “models of realization” that are channeling flows of capital into a particular urban formation. As we will see, Deleuze and Guattari (1987) are clear that under the capitalist axiomatic, the State has been converted into one such model, but they do not take the time to outline any other such models. Regarding SLU, statements regarding growth management policy, urban planning, city council decisions can be affiliated with a state model of realization without much consideration, but as we will see the statements themselves – or what Deleuze and Guattari call the substance of expression – also constitute other models, such as design theories or ethical systems. These statements are rewritten, translated, and adapted in particular models of realization, and it is this multiplicity – which includes design documents and reviews thereof, journalistic coverage, advertisements, speeches, advocacy, criticism, etc. – that constitutes the SLU model of realization.

Double Articulation

To stop after an analysis of discourse would only be telling part of the story, as Foucault himself clearly understood. Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 39-74) understand all systems – social, biological, geological, technical – to operate through what they call a double articulation of planes of expression and planes of content, wherein correspondences between these articulations are involve what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages and abstract machines. Moreover, each of these planes also contains particular substances and forms. It is necessary to address each of these terms in turn, but it will perhaps be clearer if we follow their reading of Foucault’s analysis of the prison, rather than attempt to follow their tracing of double articulation through geological and linguistic registers (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 40-5). The prison itself is a form of content that is composed of a wide range of substances – concrete, steel, glass, tile, etc. – and stands in a particular relationship to other forms of content: the school, barracks, hospital, and factory that also interest Foucault (1977). Lest we fall into the materialist trap, it should be emphasized that Deleuze and Guattari are not so much interested in these buildings themselves, but rather the fact that they are “complex state of things as a formation of power” (op. cit., 66). Moreover, in contradistinction to a structural linguistic paradigm that would render the actual prison as a referent, to which the idea of a prison was a signified and referenced by the signifier “prison,” Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 66) link the prison-form to an entire series of discursive and nondiscursive practices – “classifying, stating, translating, and even committing criminal acts” – that make up the form of expression known as “delinquency.” The substance of expression, then, is defined by the set of statements which are drawn together in the particular configurations constituting the form of expression – in short, precisely the same statements that the archaeological method excavates (or what Deleuze and Guattari (ibid.) call a “regime of signs”). In this sense, again, the archaeology will form the first half of my empirical work.

Before discussing the second half, we should note that this scheme still seems too much like a clean break between particular sets of things and words; the entire system is however much more textured. Returning to Foucault’s analysis, Deleuze and Guattari note that the prison form of content has its own set of relative expressions that do not necessarily correspond to statements of delinquency. Simultaneously, the delinquency form of expression also relates to other forms of content that are not specifically related to the prison (skipping school, stealing bubble gum, etc.). Both the form of content and the form of expression have their own dynamics; specific connections imply, at most, “a shared state of the abstract machine” (ibid., 67). With this in mind, any scheme that would neatly sort relationships between the planes quickly becomes untenable, and we are instead left trying to sketch out fluctuating correspondences – assemblages – between particular elements populating each plane. Assemblages, however, are never autonomous nor static; instead, one of their defining characteristics is that they put the abstract machine into operation.[7] These concepts will be explained in greater depth in the following chapters but for now, it will suffice to make two points: first, we can think of assemblages as relationships of exteriority and abstract machines as an internal driving force (or a “quasi-causal operator”); second, as such, abstract machines are engines of transformation or producers of singularity: “they constitute becomings” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 510). Herein I am, of course, pursuing the abstract machine engaged in producing SLU through particular assemblages, and the second half of empirical inquiry must therefore involve understanding the state of things in the neighborhood as a particular formation of power.

Again, Foucault’s archaeology provides a tool to do this, and it is situated in the final stage of his discussion of strategies. A pertinent question that then arises is, why are Deleuze and Guattari even necessary, if I am drawing on Foucault for both halves of my research methodology? The reason is straightforward: their philosophy provides an alternative mode of escaping from the overpowering focus on discourse of the archaeological method without submitting to the single line of power that Foucault masterfully draws through his later genealogies. In other words, although I find Foucault to be untouchable in terms of providing a method for sorting through documents, Deleuze and Guattari’s broader philosophical orientation permits me to use this method while retaining the dynamism and multiplicity contributing to redevelopment of SLU. By focusing on practical activities that have guided the development of the neighborhood – that is, the ways that the various models of realization (the State, designers, experts, developers, commentators, advocates) have directed flows of investment, as well as the ways in which the space functions – we will better understand the assemblage at hand as well as its motive force.

[1] Their second, and sometimes forgotten, coauthored book is Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986 [1975]).

[2] Childe is invoked to challenge the agricultural surplus thesis with a State that has always existed, and Jacobs (1969) is mobilized as evidence for this assertion. They do not cite the source of “a remark of Henri Lefebvre’s [on the] privatization of the public” (1983, 251), but he addresses this issue in detail in the first two volumes of The Critique of Everyday Life (2008 [1947] and 2002 [1961], respectively). Similarly, Mumford (1966, 1970) is primarily referenced for his understanding of prehistoric States as megamachines (that is, the confluence of science, technics, and political power). Jacobs’s (1961) sociology of life in mid-twentieth century cities, Lefebvre’s (2003 [1970], 1991 [1974]) writings on cities and space, and Mumford’s (1937) understanding of cities as primarily constituted as social relationships are absent.

[3] Jeffrey Bell’s (2009) analysis of this book has been crucial for both my understanding and the following explanation.

[4] In their discussion of the state apparatus, Deleuze and Guattar (1987, 431) write, “It is necessary from this standpoint to conceptualize the contemporaneousness or coexistence of the two inverse movements, of the two directions of time—of the primitive peoples “before” the State, and of the State “after” the primitive peoples—as if the two waves that seem to us to exclude or succeed each other unfolded simultaneously in an ‘archaeological,’ micropolitical, micrological, molecular field.”

[5] I am calling it an oblique condemnation because they are not referencing Foucault’s work directly but that it is implicated in this statement is certain.

[6] Herein the first three “directions” constitute Chapter 3, while the fourth is undertaken in Chapter 4. This is done both for the sake of keeping chapters to relatively accessible lengths, and because the analysis of strategies ultimately moves from the realm of discourse to nondiscursive practices that influence how discourses are assembled.

[7] Or, as Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 71) put it: “The most important problem of all: given a certain machinic assemblage, what is its relation of effectuation with the abstract machine.”

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2 Responses to Dissertation Intro/Methods Draft

  1. Paul Hanson says:

    I appreciate the fact that you are posting these writings. I am working with assemblage theory and the two riots that occurred in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966 and 1968. The assemblage framework is fantastic for what I am concerned to do. I look forward to reading your work.

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