Ethics, Organisation, and Affect in the Creative Industries and Cultural Sector (III)

Posted: August 25, 2017 in Becoming, Bergson, biopower, Deleuze, Diagramming Affective Ethics, Ecology of Sensation, ethics

Continuing on from

Part I


Part II

The past two posts have considered the problem of ethics and organisation through affect in the context of the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors (CI/CS). Granted, I have yet to really draw out the implications of this more or less well-posed problem of affective ethics for organisation and organising in CI/CS. (As an aside, I am the convener of a new MA in Creative Industries and Arts Organisation, and in that capacity I will be explicitly thematising the overlaps and differences between organisation as static noun and organising as processual verb in the critical discourse of CI/CS in my modules and organisational practices). As I noted in Part I, the formation and critique of the creative industries (Florida, Pratt, Hesmondalgh, McRobbie) and the culture industries (Adorno, Horkheimer, Bennet, Hall, Williams, Spivak) are historically distinct. Acting effectively and politically in the two domains requires we understand these distinct but increasingly entwined histories.

I will develop this line of argument through a consideration of another organisation studies article: Pullen, A., Rhodes, C., & Thanem, T. (2017). Affective politics in gendered organizations: Affirmative notes on becoming-woman. Organization, 24(1), 105-123. Here’s their abstract:

Current approaches to the study of affective relations are over-determined in a way that ignores their radicality, yet abstracted to such an extent that the corporeality and differentially lived experience of power and resistance is neglected. To radicalize the potential of everyday affects, this article calls for an intensification of corporeality in affect research. We do this by exploring the affective trajectory of ‘becoming-woman’ introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Becoming-woman is a process of gendered deterritorialization and a specific variation on becoming-minoritarian. Rather than a reference to empirical women, becoming-woman is a necessary force of critique against the phallogocentric powers that shape and constrain working lives in gendered organizations. While extant research on gendered organizations tends to focus on the overwhelming power of oppressive gender structures, engaging with becoming-woman releases affective flows and possibilities that contest and transgress the increasingly subtle and confusing ways in which gendered organization affects people at work. Through becoming-woman, an affective and affirmative politics capable of resisting the effects of gendered organization becomes possible. This serves to further challenge gendered oppression in organizations and to affirm a life beyond the harsh limits that gender can impose.

This is an important article that situates affect and ethics in relation to questions of gender, power, and resistance. Let us first, though, draw out some key dynamics of becoming according to Deleuze and Guattari, from the well-known and oft-cited Chapter 10 of A Thousand Plateaus, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible.”

D&G begin interestingly with a set of negations, negative determinations: a becoming is not a correspondence between relations, and neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification. This point goes all the way back to Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (and earlier work) in which he takes apart the illusions of representational thought. Thus, to become is not to progress or regress along a series, a progressive falling away from an undifferentiated Origin. More negations: becoming “does not occur in the imagination, even when the imagination reaches the highest cosmic or dynamic level, as in Jung or Bachelard. Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies” (237).

What then is a becoming? They are in fact perfectly real. “But which reality is at issue here?…What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.” Could one say that a becoming is a pure relationality external to its terms? Not quite.

“The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human being becomes is not; and the becoming-other of the animal is real, even if that something other it becomes is not.” For D&G, this is the point to clarify: “that a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself; but also that it has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first. This is the principle according to which there is a reality specific to becoming (the Bergsonian idea of a coexistence of very different “durations,” superior or inferior to “ours,” all of them in communication)” (238). Becomings, then, without analogy or resemblance, form blocs of sensation (as elaborated in the Logic of Sensation and What is Philosophy?) and durations with other becomings, and these becomings are not reducible to fixed, supposedly real terms. Becomings are fully real.

More, becoming is always of a different order than filiation.

It concerns alliance. If evolution includes any veritable becomings, it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms, with no possible filiation. There is a block of becoming that snaps up the wasp and the orchid, but from which no wasp-orchid can ever descend. There is a block of becoming that takes hold of the cat and baboon, the alliance between which is effected by a C virus. There is a block of becoming between young roots and certain microorganisms, the alliance between which is effected by the materials synthesized in the leaves (rhizosphere). If there is originality in neoevolutionism, it is attributable in part to phenomena of this kind in which evolution does not go from something less differentiated to something more differentiated, in which it ceases to be a hereditary filiative evolution, becoming communicative or contagious. Accordingly, the term we would prefer for this form of evolution between heterogeneous terms is “involution,” on the condition that involution is in no way confused with regression. Becoming is involu-tionary, involution is creative. To regress is to move in the direction of something less differentiated. But to involve is to form a block that runs its own line “between” the terms in play and beneath assignable relations. (Deleuze and Guattari, Memories of a Bergsonian, in A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 237-39; my emphasis)

Becomings happen between terms, beneath relations, are communicative and contagious, involving material syntheses and processes of symbiosis (picked up by Massumi, Parisi and Delanda). In sum, becomings are: real, involutionary, material, virtual (I will come back to this term), and composed of blocs of alliances, ecologies of sensation, and interpenetrating durations.

Deleuze elaborates an ontology of the order of essences, the order of relations and the order of chance encounters in Expression in Philosophy (236-38). In these wonderful middle chapters of EiP, Deleuze develops nothing less than a diagrammatic method for an affective ethics of organising.

All relations combine ad infinitum to form this facies [face of the whole universe]. But they combine according to their own laws, laws comprised in the infinite mediate mode. Which is to say that the relations do not just combine in any way at all; any given relation cannot be combined with just any other. Thus we saw how laws of composition were also laws of decomposition; and when Spinoza says that the facies remains the same while changing in infinite ways, he is alluding not only to the composition of relations, but also to their destruction and decomposition. These decompositions do not however (any more than compositions) affect the eternal truth of the relations involved. A relation is composed when it begins to subsume its parts; it decomposes when it ceases to be realized in them. Decomposition, destruction amount then only to this: when two relations do not directly combine, the parts subsumed in one determine the parts of the other to enter (according to some law) into some new relation that can be combined with the first. (236)… When poison decomposes the blood, it does so simply according to a law that determines the parts of the blood to enter into a new relation that can be combined with that of the poison Decomposition is only the other side of composition. But the question of why there should be this other side remains. Why do the laws of composition also amount to laws of destruction? The answer must be that existing bodies do not encounter one another in the order in which their relations combine. There is a combination of relations in any encounter, but the relations that combine are not necessarily those of the bodies that meet. Relations combine according to laws; but existing bodies, being them selves composed of extensive parts, meet bit by bit. So parts of one of the bodies may be determined to take on a new relation imposed by some law while losing that relation through which they belonged to the body…If we consider the order of relations in itself, we see it purely as an order of composition. If it determines destruction as well it does so because bodies meet in an order that is not that of their relations. Whence the complexity of Spinoza’s notion of the “Order of Nature.” We must in any existing mode distinguish three things: its essence as a degree of power; the relation in which it expresses itself; and the extensive parts subsumed in this relation. To each of these orders there corresponds an order of nature. There is in the first place an order of essences, determined by degrees of power. This order is one of total conformity: each essence agrees with all others, all being comprised in the production of each. They are eternal, and none could perish with out all the others perishing also. The order of relations, as an order of composition according to laws, is very different. It determines the eternal conditions for modes to come into existence (237) and to continue to exist while the composition of their relation is maintained. All relations are combined ad infinitum, but a given relation cannot be combined with just any other. We must, in the third place, consider the order of encounters. This is an order of local and temporary partial agreement and disagreement. Existing bodies meet in their extensive parts, bit by bit…Two bodies that meet may have relations that combine directly according to a law (may, that is, agree); but it may be the case, if two relations cannot combine, that one of the bodies is so determined as to destroy the other’s relation (the bodies then disagree). This order of encounters thus effectively determines the moment when a mode comes into existence (when the conditions set by the relevant law are fulfilled), the duration of its existence, and the moment of its death or destruction. Spinoza defines it as at once “the Common Order of Nature,” as the order of “extrinsic determinations” and “chance encounters,” and as the order of passions. (238)


Let’s turn back to the article in question from Organization. Pullen et al level a critique of organisation studies from the view of embodiment and affect. In this vein of organisation studies, they opine, physical, visceral and sensate bodies are “largely absent, and affects are in danger of being akin to the more limited notion of feelings: Kenny’s (2012) emphasis on the linguistic origin of the psyche’s sociality risks ignoring the corporeality of affects by reducing affects to a matter of linguistic expression; the (imagined) bodies in Lohmann and Steyaert (2006) and Vachhani (2013) lack flesh and blood, live expression and visceral experience” (113). I’ve made similar critiques in my first two posts on this topic: there is a tendency to reduce the dynamisms of the body to the grids of social constructionism and the mediation of language and discourse. As Pullen et al go on to forcefully suggest,

As a result, this literature ends up examining the political potential of affect without explicitly considering the bodies who might enact it. In this article, our hope is to extend theories of affect generally and in relation to organizations; to move beyond the realm of conceptual knowledge and to attest to the lived political realities that people inhabit; and to explore the corporeal, social and political intensities of affect in relation to the concrete and everyday conditions in which we live and work. We propose that by introducing affect into the theory of the gendered organization, we can advance a social and political critique of affection and its expressions, which challenges injustice and inequality in current forms of gendered organization. (pp. 113-14)

While there seems to be a nagging sense of a kind of unexamined positivism of the body in this article, the emphasis on affective politics and relations of power within the gendered organisation is salutary. There is also the problem of the relation of affect and politics. Does affect operate on the same order as that of (human) politics? What are these orders? There are three, recall, according to Deleuze, essence as a degree of power, relations, and encounters. “A relation is composed when it begins to subsume its parts; it decomposes when it ceases to be realized in them. Decomposition, destruction amount then only to this: when two relations do not directly combine, the parts subsumed in one determine the parts of the other to enter (according to some law) into some new relation that can be combined with the first.” What is the order of affect, and what is the order of politics, and when, if ever, do they coincide? Is it possibly in processes of becoming that there is a kind of synthesis of the three orders? We cannot yet make that determination.

Pullen et al focus the discussion on becoming-woman: “the affective trajectory of becoming-woman may challenge the oppressive structures of gendered organization. Despite the development of process theory in organization studies and its emphasis on becoming, exponents of this theory have employed it in relatively apolitical and disembodied ways (e.g. Clegg et al., 2005; Linstead and Thanem, 2007). However, becoming-woman urges us to radically reconsider this position by building on the realization that becoming does not merely involve processes of open-ended change but also engages processes that are enacted and experienced through inter-corporeal encounters (Thanem, 2006), which affect our capacity to act upon and be acted upon by others” (115). This still begs the question of which orders are relevant to becoming, and which to ‘inter-corporeal encounters’.

Perhaps we’ve missed a step in Pullen et al’s argumentation? Earlier in the article they present a critique of Massumi and Patricia Clough’s theorization of affect:

We do not feel that these problems are quite resolved in parallel attempts by others to theorize and politicize affect or in later attempts by Massumi (2015) to do so. Clough, for instance, has sought to tune the affective more directly into political economy by interrogating how capital and biopolitical forms of control are entangled with the affective capacities of bodily matter. With reference to affective labour, Clough argues that capital seeks to capture and exploit the human capacity, potential and vitality of the organic body through ‘continuous modulation, variation and intensification of social cooperation’ (Virtanen in Clough, 2005: 23). In the global affective economy, she suggests, the capitalization of affect further works through an augmentation and networking of bodily differences, as when urban children are refined through education while rural migrant workers are exploited as cheap labour. Ultimately, this makes bodies valuable or valueless, hateful and deserving to die. For Clough this is not merely a matter of socialization, subjectification and interpellation, of attributing value and worthlessness according to differences of race, religion and nation, class, gender and ethnicity. Affective forces enable and exceed such sedimented categories, as when urban children as well as rural migrant workers come to fear the ‘threat […] of failing to be a body of value’ (Anagnost in Clough, 2005: 24).

This seems to me a reasonable summary of some of Clough’s work. They go on to critique her [all of her very wide-ranging and extensive] work thus:

However, both here and in later writings, Clough largely adds the affective onto the cultural politics of racism, sexism and nationalism and speaks of the affective in rather abstract terms (see, for example, Clough, 2008; Clough and Willse, 2011). This risks trivializing the ontology and politics of affect as well as the politics of culture and identity. It also becomes less clear what difference an exploration of the extra-linguistic, pre-cognitive and unconscious affective makes to the operation of racism, sexism and nationalism. This prevents us from examining in any concrete sense how affect is entangled in technologies of oppression and exploitation; how the indeterminacy and capture of affect is experienced; and how it may reconstitute and transgress the social, political and economic order of racism, nationalism, capitalism and globalism. At the same time, we do not sense that a resolution of these problems lies in theorizations of affect that go too far in the opposite direction. Ahmed’s (2004) psychoanalytical notion of affective economies is one such account, which has been influential in showing how emotions of hate and fear become attached negatively to the bodies of certain racialized people, as when racist western groups differentiate themselves from non-western groups by conflating asylum seekers and terrorists into a fearful, inferior and dangerous other. (111-12)

In late night correspondence with Patricia (I realise this is a bit unfair, but hey, she’s a friend and a co-conspirator in the realm of postcolonial affect), she points out that “affect is not simply about human bodies, so not just too abstract for actual bodies but it is the concept with which to see the transformation of the body as organism, to recognise the body’s originary technicty…Also, the abstractness of affect is not the fault of my theorizing it as such, but of capital accumulation in the domain of affect–processes of accumulation make [an] abstraction of affect and true there is a specific racial history to that which I don’t know if I have done well enough or ever can be done well enough given how [@£$@%] racist our history has been or is…”

Characteristically, Clough brings questions of gender, affect, and capital into a relational ontology that includes a very great number of other relations, the non-human, technicity, and race being only three that she highlights in these extemporaneous and informal comments sent to me after a night of merriment in the West Village. They are, nonetheless, quite instructive in our critical assessment of Pullen et al, who reduce these multiplicities to almost an identitarian rather than affective consideration of gender. Is this a tendency of all organisation studies involved in affect analyses?

Again, for me its a problem of situating affect and politics in terms of the three orders that Deleuze diagrams above, essence-powers, relation-compositions, and encounter-passions. To an extent we can situate affect in different ways in the first two–the degree of power of all modes, relations of sensing and affecting govern the order of relations of modes, as an order of composition according to laws different from conatus, essence, power. The order of relations determines the “eternal conditions for modes to come into existence (237) and to continue to exist while the composition of their relation is maintained.” All relations are combined ad infinitum, but a given relation cannot be combined with just any other. The answer from Deleuze’s point of view is an ethics that strives to organise better encounters! (EiP, 261)

So in some real sense, in Pullen et al’s analysis–and by extension (ha!) much of organisation studies uptake of affect–situates affect in the realm of human encounters. This moors affect to the human, all too human destiny of the capitalist organisation. Still, there is a lot of good stuff in the Pullen et al article, and I hope y’all give it a good read. They conclude thus:

First, if we accept that the affective components of subjectivity are corporeal effects of power, our actions can only influence organizations by ‘engendering empowering modes of becoming’ (Braidotti, 2010: 45) through bottom-up intrusion. In addressing the possibilities of political action in gendered organizations, we must, therefore, continually explore alternatives without just dreaming of a forever deferred and idealized future. Such alternatives might, for example, involve efforts to transform habits and values in organizations, abandon dualistic thinking and craft sustainable 120 Organization 24(1) futures that refuse male-stream norms of individualistic competitiveness and rationalism. Activating these forces can only occur through corporeal encounters with others, which prompt us to think differently about ourselves and relate differently to others. Second, an affirmative politics requires us to reconsider otherness. Gendered organizations are built on the exclusion of those constructed as other and based on restricted understandings of gender. If we are serious about challenging gendered hierarchies and the structural otherness embedded within them, we have to start looking at how otherness can be a site of affirmation rather than negation. Through becoming, otherness emerges as a positive force that activates marginalized groups in organizations while destabilizing the dominance of gendered power relations and structures. Third, an affirmative politics triggers us to reject simple dichotomies between sadness and joy and transform negative affects into positive affects. Negative affects surround gendered organizations. They drag us down, rob us of energy and sap the joy out of our lives. We have learned to endure the gendered organization and its effects on our bodies and ‘sustain[-] the pain without being annihilated by it’ (Braidotti, 2010: 50). But this endurance is what makes a different future possible; it is our endurance of sad negative affects that moves us to recast the body’s capabilities along an affective trajectory of becoming-woman, which subverts, exceeds and combats institutional discrimination and oppression. Hence, an affirmative politics entails mustering this endurance for the purpose of transformation rather than mere survival. (119-20)


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