In ‘A New Philosophy of Society’, De Landa explores Deleuze’s investigations into assemblage theory, and postulates that it could be utilised to model the connections and complex, multi-layered interactivity between social entities, from basic inter-personal networks, to government organisations, cities and nations. This, ultimately, could give rise to a more socially-informed urban design methodology, which could have massive benefits for the functioning of the world’s cities. It is in essence, a further branch into philosophical and scientific studies into non-linearity and complex systems.
> Assemblage Theory: In a Nutshell
The book sees De Landa piecing together the scattered work of Deleuze and his theory of assemblages. Basically, De Landa sets out the form of all physical and virtual entities, that being non-linear assemblages of components, which are the outcome of specific historical evolutionary processes. [These components are often themselves assemblages, existing at a smaller spatio-temporal scale]. De Landa explains the central concept of ‘territorialisation’ as that which relates to the extent of homogeneity or heterogeneity of a given assemblage’s internal components, which result in a more or less stable assemblage. The non-linear aspect is in relation to the fact that all assemblages contain built-in feedback loops once they cross a critical complexity threshold – a cybernetic function which enables assemblages to react back upon its constituent components. The notion of non-linear causality, that of “same cause, same effect, always”, is being increasingly discarded in the face of the increasing complexity within contemporary science and society, due to its inability to adequately model systems accurately. De Landa’s hope is that with this insight into how complex systems operate and interact with one another, perhaps the highly complex, yet often misunderstood entity, modern society, could be more effectively understood, modelled, and where necessary, redesigned.
Throughout the course of the book De Landa highlights the benefits of, and potential application, of assemblage theory in studying and illuminating the connections between various levels of social networks and entities in urban studies. An understanding of the complex interactions and processes that combine to generate an entity called ‘society’ has obvious benefits for the would-be urban designer seeking to understand the collective he is designing for. The internal functioning of society ultimately impacts upon its external environment, namely the city, hence its relevance to the overall study into the future of the city. De Landa elucidates the non-linear, cybernetic functioning of assemblages upon their component parts, and this is indicative of the nature of assemblages’ part-to-whole relations and interactions. These result in non-linear, emergent properties and/or assemblages, whereas whole-to-part interactions react back to affect future successive emergence. This dual-direction cyberneticism is mirrored in the relationship between society and the city, each reacting back upon each other to produce emergent results, due to the interactivity of their respective assemblages.
|+ A New Philosophy of Society - network society diagram [from 'Digital META_CITY' CTW 2010]|
> The City Assembled
De Landa eventually applies assemblage theory to the city. In his view, the city is composed of countless internal components, each of varying heterogeneity and material manifestation, physicality and expressivity, and including social actors and agents, buildings, infrastructures, organisations and institutions. De Landa postulates that the city’s spatial form is the result of recurrent social rhythms over time, the connections and interactivity processes of these internal components and assemblages. De Landa also shows the processes of territorialisation and de-territorialisation to be a critical factor in the spatial form of the city, in terms of social, cultural and economic distribution of people, resources and infrastructures. Congregation and segregation are thus two methods of increasing the internal homogeneity of a given physical locale, whereas two examples of increasing the internal heterogeneity [de-territorialisation] of an urban region would be increased geographical mobility and land rent impact upon land usage. Perhaps, given the exponential increase in urban complexity over the past few decades, assemblage theory has role to play in the design of the future society and city. Due to its ability to operate in a non-linear manner without having to make the traditional sacrifice when modelling complex systems, that of multi-layered complex interactivity, assemblage theory has the potential to infiltrate urban design theory and practice, just as it has done with other fields of design - the future of the city is unmistakably complex and ultimately cybernetic.