||A growing number of anthropologists are engaging the work of Gilles Deleuze, retooling and deploying certain of his concepts—assemblage, rhizome, the virtual, minor literature, becoming—to interpret changing social realities. This panel explores the potentials and perils of bringing Deleuze into the work(s) of anthropology, and asks what difference some of Deleuze’s ideas might make for our research, concept-work, and writing.
Deleuze’s key emphases—on the unfinished and the incomplete, on the “leaking” of social fields and the plasticity of human lives, and on the transformative possibilities of desire—all seem to lend themselves to enriching anthropological efforts to stay true to the complexities and ambiguities of the everyday. Drawn to this potential, the panelists search for creative ways to enfold Deleuze’s thought into their work—taking care to foreground the critical question of how ethnographic evidence and analysis can be made to circulate as more than a footnote to philosophy. Where Deleuze draws on literary giants to generate new figures of thought, anthropological journeys into the everyday and our attention to the struggles, aspirations, and creativity of the people we engage in the field can generate equally powerful figures—and punch holes in dominant theories and policies.
Drawing from ethnographic research in contexts including Brazil, India, South Africa, and the Balkans, the panelists explore a range of questions and approaches to thinking with Deleuze in anthropology. If philosophy is the “creation of concepts,” as Deleuze argued, what modes of creation emerge from anthropological research? Can Deleuze help us to better grasp the relationship between the empirical and the conceptual in anthropology, as distinct from or in relation to the place of empirical life in philosophy? Can anthropologists make concepts more targeted and precise by accounting for the social and biographical contexts underlying the production of theories? In what ways might Deleuze’s notions of “a life,” of the non-conscious “virtual,” and of “immanence” allow us to re-inhabit the conceptual history of anthropology—reframing, for example, our understandings of the social, of temporality and duration, of circulation and exchange, and of historical change?
The panel explores whether and how Deleuze’s exhortation to “nomad thought”—in opposition to the “territorializing” functions of deterministic analytics—can help us to better articulate and advocate the unique force of anthropological knowledge. We attempt to clarify the stakes in approaching people through the lens of “becoming” rather than, for example, subjectification or “bare life.” Panelists examine the implications for cultural comparison and critique of adapting Deleuze’s orientation toward indeterminate futures, lines of flight, and incipient possibilities. We ask what Deleuze’s understanding of health, neurosis, and the symptom might do to the work of medical and public anthropology and, more broadly, to our approach—as writers, teachers, and professionals—to social justice, inequality, and care. Finally, we consider innovations in expression and creativity (genres of writing and research, interdisciplinarity, and art) that Deleuze might open up for anthropology.