dialogues at greenwich

dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

16 February 2008

Deleuzian Becoming in Organisational Research: opportunities and implications

Alexandra Steinberg
Assistant Professor in Management
Department of Management & Human Resources


Forthcoming in EM Lyon Cahiers de Recherche, Edition 2008 (1),

This paper will be the subject of a forthcoming Volcanic Lines Colloquium given by the author at Greenwich University. It has been posted here so that people can familiarise themselves with it in advance of the event. We look forward to a very productive discussion on the issues it raises. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the post - this will provide an opportunity to contribute to the discussion for those who are unable to join us at Greenwich for the colloquium. The date of the event will be confirmed shortly at deleuzeatgreenwich.

Deleuzian Becoming in Organisational Research: opportunities and implications

This paper discusses opportunities and implications for making the Deleuzian philosophy of becoming more accessible in organisational research based on ideas that informed a study on entrepreneurial networks. The argument is that the value of the Deleuzian perspective does not lie exclusively in its new metaphorical terminology for processes of emergence, but also in its character as a philosophy of creation. As a philosphy of creating concepts it provides a dynamic logic of conducting explorative research that fosters discovery and creativity in organisational research practice. Specifically, Deleuzian repetition offers new inroads toward the design of creative investigation. The example presented illustrates how the Deleuzian logic helps to better understand and account for the dynamics that drive the emergence of new forms of organisation and collaboration, beyond explanations centred exclusively on relations of cause-effect, tension, conflict and re-conciliation amongst conceptual categories.

Keywords: Deleuzian becoming, knowledge emergence, innovation, explorative research, methodological design

Cet article se propose de discuter des opportunités et des implications de la notion Deulezienne de « becoming » afin de la rendre plus accessible à la recherche en science de l' Organisation. Les idées et les concepts développés dans cette analyse trouvent leurs racines dans une étude réalisée sur la thématique des réseaux d’entrepreneurs. L’idée forte est que l’intérêt de l’approche Deleuzienne ne réside pas uniquement dans la terminologie qu’elle utilise pour décrire les processus d’émergence mais aussi dans sa qualité de philosophie de création. La logique dynamique de Deleuze permet de conduire des recherches exploratoires en facilitant la créativité et la découverte dans la recherche appliquée. En particulier, la répétition Deleuzienne ouvre de nouvelles voies dans la mise en oeuvre d’une méthodologie créative. L'exemple présenté ici illustre tout à fait comment cette logique Deleuzienne peut nous aider à comprendre et à appréhender les dynamiques à l'oeuvre dans l'émergence de nouvelles formes d'organisation et de collaboration.

Keywords: Deleuze, becoming, emergence des connaissances, innovation, recherche exploratoire, methodes de recherche


This paper argues for a more practical approach to investigate organisational knowledge dynamics using the Deleuzian philosophy of becoming. I develop this argument based on ideas that informed a study on emergent new ways of organising in e-business entrepreneurship networks (Steinberg, 2005; Steinberg, 2006). Researching knowledge dynamics in entrepreneurial networks might be approached within dialectic frameworks of knowledge creation in interaction, such as theories of organisational learning and sensemaking (Senge, 1990; Lave ; Wenger, 1991; Weick, 2002) or theories of knowledge emergence in organisation (Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka ; Nishiguchi, 2001; Duguid, 2005). However, drawing inspiration from ‘Difference and repetition’ (Deleuze, 1968) and ‘A thousand plateaus’ (Deleuze ; Guattari, 1987), I opted for the Deleuzian perspective of becoming as a philosophy that is fundamentally concerned with innovation and emergence from a perspective of the socio-ontological dynamics of change (Delanda, 2006). As the study showed, the realist and future-directed logic of this philosophy was much better suited to highlight patterns of attraction, combination and disruption when accounting for emergent new ways of collaborating and organising. It allows us to focus our analytical lens on those phenomena that emerge or begin to make sense, even though these might be, from a dialectic and socially historic standpoint, contradictory or counter-intuitive. Here I step back from the inquiry into entrepreneurial networks and reflect on the lessons learnt for research on becoming, a phenomenon of central concern to organisation studies.

Using Deleuzian becoming as an interpretative framework, the contemporary researcher finds relatively little guidance on the implications of Deleuzian philosophy for social-scientific investigation, let alone the design of empirical research. Brown and Lunt (2002) note that Deleuzian ideas offer the possibility of a novel re-interpretation of classic procedures of research. They invite us to re-think the variety of methods that researchers have at their disposal in the context of a new understanding of a theory. Yet, despite the general consensus that the perspective of Deleuze holds an enormous potential for research on organisation and knowledge dynamics (Chia, 1999; Thanem, 2004; Clegg ; Kornberger ; Rhodes, 2005; Linstead ; Linstead, 2005; Chia, 2007, Thanem, 2004 #1786; Linstead ; Thanem, 2007), the task of consistently using it into empirical research, however, has largely been unadressed. Apart from notable exceptions (e.g. Bougen ; Young, 2000; Lippens ; Van Calster, 2000; Wise, 2000; e.g. Brown ; Lunt, 2002) convincing empirical investigations are rare.

By and large, the perspective of becoming tends to be used on a metaphorical level, in the sense of a terminology that allows to better illustrate discontinuity in emergent organisational processes (Clegg ; Kornberger ; Rhodes, 2005; Linstead ; Thanem, 2007). In this way, Deleuzian notions have been employed in critical argumentation to illuminate the fluid, non-linear and dynamic characteristics of organisation (e.g. Chia, 1999). While this insightfully highlights the need to go beyond the traditional focus on ‘beings’, essences, totality and order towards seeing change and movement across social and natural phenomena, it may however constrain the development of the perspective of becoming by limiting it empirically to conventional dialectic patterns of analysing and interpreting data.

If research into organisational processes of knowledge emergence is to benefit from the promise of the Deleuzian perspective, what is required is an elaboration of key implications for research design. This paper attempts a first step in this direction by highlighting some design considerations from a study. In particular, it is argued for the need (i) to develop ways of designing enquiry that allow us to surface patterns of nondialectic encounters and (ii) to systematically use Deleuzian repetition as a technique for creative data collection, analysis and interpretation.

The paper starts with a brief interpretation of the Deleuzian perspective of becoming drawing from ‘Difference and Repetition’ (Deleuze, 1968), followed by a discussion of how specifically repetition leads to a different framing of investigation. I then show how the problem of ‘paradigm mentality’ can be overcome using repetition, followed by propositions of design considerations relevant to any study using the Deleuzian logic of becoming. Examples are provided from a study on entrepreneurial business networks.


Deleuze’s early book Difference and Repetition (1968) forwards a philosophy of becoming, in which, amongst others, the question of the emergence of novelty, of new ‘being’, unrelated to pre-existent concepts is tackled in a unique way. By contrast to traditional metaphysics, Deleuze does not ground emergence in conceptions of the past, that is, in pre-existent conceptual identities in the sense of non-empirical essences or socially constructed concepts. In fact, Deleuze does not assume becoming to consist of essences at all; rather, all what ever ‘is’, is the continuous becoming, the movement and transformation of biological and material entities in natural events.
Deleuze argues that when trying to understand emergence of novel phenomena, we cannot limit investigation to the social realm of sensemaking, perception and social construction; rather we need to acknowledge the forces of the dynamics of creation immanent to social, biological and material events as deeply intertwined spheres (Delanda ; Protevi ; Thanem, 2004). In other words, rather than assuming to find the constitutive dynamics of the emergence of novelty as exclusively stemming from social dynamics of sensemaking and as a function of pre-existent social concepts (Bryant, 2000), Deleuze locates becoming in the immanent forces of the discontinuous flow of reactions and processes of non-social, natural, mind-independent entities (e.g. atoms, molecules, cells, species) (Delanda ; Protevi ; Thanem, 2004).

The realist turn to ‘the material world itself’ in order to better understand dynamics of change across the nature-culture divide is not unique to Deleuze. In many social disciplines, authors have stressed the importance of the forces of the embodied and material world (for a sketch of the contemporary debate see Weissman, 2000; Delanda, 2002; Nightingale ; Cromby, 2002; for a sketch of the contemporary debate see Fleetwood, 2005). Authors have sought inspiration from a broad range of models in the natural sciences, such as biology (e.g. Gould, 1980), chemistry (e.g. Prigogine, 1980) and chaos theory from mathematics (e.g. Gleick, 1987) to explain discontinuous, nonlinear change. In sociology, a famous theory in this respect is actor-network theory (Callon, 1986; Latour, 2005), which has argued for the need to understand the progressive constitution of phenomena as an effect of both human and non-human actors.

However, rarely have scholars challenged the assumption that human sensemaking and experience controls these dynamic processes. Pre-dominantly, phenomena from the natural sciences have been used as metaphors for dynamic change (Ford ; Ford, 1994): natural phenomena are drawn on to explain change and creation in analogies, in comparisons between processes in the natural and the social world. Nonetheless, such natural phenomena are usually sub-sumed to social dynamics of sensemaking in that it is assumed that we engage with them as just another factor that influences the cause-effect equations of human information processing or alternatively that they are simply additional actors playing a role in the dialectic interaction amongst diverse actors.

By contrast, Deleuze asserts that social processes of interaction, sensemaking and thinking play an important but not an exclusively constitutive role (Delanda, 2006). Deleuze challenges the classic meta-physical assumption that thought and understanding rule over human perception. Deleuze assumes a 'disjunctive functioning of the human faculties' (Bogue, 1989; Bryant, 2000), arguing that different human faculties, such as thought (faculty of understanding) or sensibility (faculty of sense experience) function creatively by continually disrupting each other rather than by serving the purpose of sensemaking and understanding 'in harmony'. Deleuze thus cuts across the nature-culture divide, but, crucially, without subsuming its ontology to human epistemology (Delanda, 2006). He fowards a future-directed and realist logic of becoming that acknowledges biological and material events, independent of human perception and unmediated by social experience, in their own right (with their own dynamic patterns and unrelated to previous human concepts) as immanent forces of social creation.


The literature on organisational knowledge creation emphasises the need for organisations to develop not only existent competences and knowledge (existent ‘beings’ and concepts), but also to explore new innovative paths of novel knowledge creation (becoming), across traditional conceptual boundaries (e.g.O'reilly ; Tushman, 2007, Winter, 2003). It is argued that successful organisations of the future are those that master the combination of the use of existent knowledges and practices with the creation of novel ways of knowing and organising.

In a study on e-business entrepreneurship, the aim was to explore the latter: the capacity of entrepreneurial firms to engender innovative knowledge dynamics, in order to better understand, specifically, what drives the emergence of new knowledge in e-business entrepreneurship (Steinberg, 2005; Steinberg, 2006).

Two issues were at stake in this study that gave rise to a consideration of the role of meta-theory in our thinking about emergent knowledge dynamics. First, wanting to explore for the dynamics that bring forth innovation in knowledge we need to be able to think about the emergent character of knowledge, that is, we need to be able to capture not merely how existent knowledge transforms but how new and unprecedented aspects arise that are not related to existent concept and that might (at a later point in time) even replace existent knowledge. Typically, with innovation what emerges is a ‘something’ (Wagner, 1998) that does not relate to any pre-existent socially mediated concept we might have in mind. Rather, this ‘something’ forms a potentiality of a new concept being forged.

Second, if we are to better understand the dynamics in the creation of such new and unprecedented aspects, we need to be able to think about the creative patterns that foster such a process of emergence. By creative I mean patterns other than cause-effect, resemblance or contradiction; patterns that might be different each time and that are non-symbolic and non-linguistic. Innovation can 'happen' in various 'different' ways; they do not follow a proven, routine pattern of dynamics. Both aspects point to the unpredictable and surprising character of innovation.

The study used three explorative design-elements to address these two aspects empirically: first, an explorative design was chosen to avoid creating research results as a function of the researcher’s expectations (Bauer ; Aarts, 2000): a snowball process was used to design the 'pathway' of exploration as flexible and open as possible (Bauer ; Aarts, 2000, p. 29). Furthermore, the design comprised twenty-five semi-structured interviews, a focus group with e-business entrepreneurs and participant observation which were targeted at providing insights into the emergence of new knowledge.

Several new ways of organising across firms were found that had forged in social networks. These were, on the one hand, forging in new meanings, in shared new themes and symbols, but on the other hand, there was a much larger part of expressivity in their dynamics that was non-linguistic and non-symbolic. By this I mean that some of the new ways of collaborating emerged as new combinations of previously unrelated technological, spatial and symbolic elements. For instance, a central finding was that new ways of networking in this business milieu had forged in new combinations of online introducer systems with face-to-face networking. Another example was a novel value and mechanism to create one’s reputation and credibility via new ways of visualising contacts online.

The initial intention was to analyse such observations for their content of respondents’ sensemaking by drawing on the dynamics of social psychological processes of sensemaking and representation in social communities. In this way one can explore the evolution of shared knowledges from a perspective of dynamic social interaction (Moscovici, 2000; Vergès ; Bastounis, 2001). However, an analytical and interpretational impasse was encountered: the novel ways of collaboration were not constituted exclusively by the dynamics of respondents’ ways of interacting or sensemaking. If analysed in terms of respondents’ sensemaking, some of these novel phenomena emerged in contradiction to some of the traditional values of entrepreneurship, yet, at the same time, were represented positively as they were beginning to make sense of in terms of novel categorisations.

For example, the new way to gain reputation was made sense of by some respondents as contradictory practice in relation to the strong and long-standing value of face-to-face contacts as a condition for credibility, while at the same time, when it came to explaining why it worked well, respondents gave accounts of their experience, of examples where this way of acting had worked and hence of new ways in which it began to make sense for them. Hence much of respondents’ sensemaking was not in terms of historic categories or values. While an interpretation in terms of contradictions was useful to underline how radical the change was, however, this view reduced the analysis to a historical view. What remained to be explained were those dynamics other than contradiction that brought forward novel combinations of technology, values and new ways of interacting and that emerged as spontaneous and unreflected combinations of elements that were attracted to each other and worked well with each other.


In organisation and management theory, there is an increasingly interdisciplinary awareness on the ways in which our meta-theoretical assumptions on knowledge creation direct our analytical focus (e.g. Shrivastava ; Mitroff, 1984). How we formulate our research questions, how we design our studies and how we interprete our data hinges on our assumptions about the nature of the dynamics that forge creation. Over the past decade specifically, authors on organisational knowledge and learning have strongly advocated a dialectic logic as a way to think dynamically of knowledge creation in interaction and knowledge co-construction (Ford ; Ford, 1994).

The dialectic stance of thinking about dynamics is emblematic for a growing post-Cartesian literature that counters the classic individual-centred and static view on knowledge stemming from Cartesian epistemology. Authors have argued for the need to go beyond a logic of thinking about knowledge as units 'possessed' by individuals (Cook ; Brown, 1999), as it artificially seperates knowledge from its embodiment and from its social context and creating a view of knowledge as existing statically in entities (Hosking ; Dachler ; Gergen, 1995).

Rejecting static conceptualisations of knowledge, the argument is that knowledge is continually created in social processes of sensemaking and co-creation of knowledge (Stacey, 2000). Authors emphasise social interaction as a central unit of analysis for explaining the emergence of new knowledge and base recommendations for innovation management on it. For instance, theories on organisational learning and sensemaking have adopted the dialectic dynamics of human interaction as the central ‘unit of analysis’ (e.g. Senge, 1990; Lave ; Wenger, 1991; Nonaka, 1994; Stacey, 2000; e.g. Brown ; Duguid, 2001; Nonaka ; Nishiguchi, 2001; Weick, 2002).

Dialectic dynamics, in this context, is understood in a Hegelian way, meaning a progressive evolution of ideas in the interplay of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (Hegel, 1977 (original: 1807); Rosen, 1992). At the centre stands the assumption that knowledge dynamics are patterned linearly in an evolutionary process of our shared ideas: in tension, conflict and re-conciliation (Chell, 2000). These might be both in mediation in the minds of humans individually or socially cultural conventions that are expressed linguistically (Delanda, 2006).

While the dialectic perspective is useful to highlight how people collectively re-construct existent meanings and identities (Steinberg, 2005; Steinberg, 2006), it has however most recently been critiqued for its failure to address the emergent, unpredictable and unprecedented patterns in knowledge emergence (Delanda, 1998; Chia, 1999; Chia, 2007). As DeLanda (2006) notes, a dialectic perspective reduces emergent dynamics to symbolic, representational and cultural-historic patterns in human sensemaking, which usually assume new concepts to evolve through relations to already existent concepts.

During the past decade or so, the Deleuzian perspective of becoming has become increasingly noticed by critical organisation researchers for its alternative and creative ways to conceive of change and of the emergence of novel phenomena (e.g. Chia, 1999; Bougen ; Young, 2000; Thanem, 2004; Clegg ; Kornberger ; Rhodes, 2005), a trend underpinned by a growing debate on Deleuzian philosophy as well as on his joint work with Guattari across the social sciences (e.g. Bogue, 1989; Massumi, 1992; Delanda, 1998; Bryant, 2000; Brown ; Lunt, 2002; Colebrook, 2002; Wood ; Ferlie, 2003; Delanda, 2006; Hallward, 2006; Sørensen ; Fuglsang, 2006).

While this extended debate has highlighted diverse elements in Deleuzian thought, I limit myself here to clarifying my usage of the term becoming. I concur with the recent position outlined by Chia (1999) that the Deleuzian perspective on becoming provides a metaphysics of change in which primacy is accorded movement, change and transformation rather than to human representation, abstraction and organisation. This is achieved by the fundamental assumption that reality, i.e. boundaries of individual entities, are not exclusively constituted in their final shape and form by human experience and sensemaking, but emerge also in real processes of individuation such as in processes of embryogenesis, splitting of cells, chemical processes of tissues and organs (Delanda, 1998).

In this sense, the Deleuzian perspective on becoming offers a logic of thinking about emergence as a series of combinations of different dynamics. This is what Deleuze describes as the emergence of new assemblages (Deleuze, 1968; Deleuze ; Parnet, 1987) through the crossing of different lines of becoming. Dynamics of assemblage refer to nondialectic forces that Linstead & Thanem (Linstead ; Thanem, 2007) have described as forces without an oppositional logic: forces of combination, disruption and attraction of heterogenous parts, such as atoms, molecules, biological organsims and so on. Following Deleuze (1987), all life consists of processes of assemblages, of new, unforeseen connections. Consistently, any new phenomenon, object or concept is the result of a process of multiple connections (Colebrook, 2002). In this sense, rather than assuming traditional patterns of cause-effect, unity, resemblance and contradiction as the exclusive forces determining novelty, Deleuze foregrounds patterns of assemblage, such as combination, attraction and disruption.


For the present example study (Steinberg, 2005; Steinberg, 2006), the ambition was to focus on such dynamics of assemblage in addition to social psychological dynamics of knowledge creation, as the phenomena observed required thinking of dynamics in a wider sense than merely in a dialectic one. The aim was to generate an account that would enable thinking to 'get out of dialogue' (Deleuze ; Parnet, 1987, p. 2), and through that to highlight the various and startling phenomena I had come across in the observation – the 'somethings' that did not translate into any pre-existent concepts about networking and that would seem counter-intuitive to be working together, yet, nonetheless, worked extremely well together.

The challenge was hence to find a way to interprete and to think dynamics in such a way that would not automatically revert to an interpretation in terms of the dialectic realignment of a pre-existent, familiar concept or pattern with the novel. This also necessitated an appropriate research design in terms of methods of data collection, analysis and interpretation.

While the study used traditional methods to explore knowledge creation such as interviews and focus groups, it sought to look at new ways of posing research questions, at new ways to combine research methods in exploration and and above all, at new ways to interprete data. In this way, the research would fully benefit from the Deleuzian perspective taking into account natural movement and creation in relation to organisation and order.

In order to operationalise becoming, originally the aim was to obtain 'data' directly from respondents' 'real-time' affects and percepts (Deleuze, 1995) by gathering instances of respondents expressing in emotions or sensemaking that something they could not explain had affected them. This approach was discarded, however, as this would falsely assume that difference-in-itself is expressed in visible, behavioural instances of affect that can be understood by an observer. In the Deleuzian view, human faculties of reception are functioning in a multiple and disruptive way: the emergence of novel phenomena might be perceived by human sense experience such as through sensibility and feeling, but crucially, this perception is not subsumed to understanding - it does not report itself to understanding when it happens. Hence this strategy was discarded as 'gathering' respondents' emotions would be paradoxical in a Deleuzian sense. Instead, I switched perspective to patterns of combination, attraction and disruption by drawing on the Deleuzian notions of difference in-itself and repetition.


At the centre of the Deleuzian logic of creation stands 'difference in-itself'. Difference-in-itself, for Deleuze, is a ‘pure form of difference’ that points to how difference may be internal and immanent to every natual event (Deleuze, 1968). Events can be geological, meterological, biological, economical or sociological phenomena: Deleuze sees difference-in itself as the continously and spontaneously emergent flow from the interplay of intensity differences in matter, such as, for example, the flow of air caused by intensity differences in hot and cold air when exposed to each other (Delanda, 1998).

Deleuze distinguishes difference-in-itself from conceptual difference: unlike a concept that exists with a single identity 'trapped' in a static being (that does itself not move), difference-in-itself exists in the movement of becoming only – it is not an object outside us to be judged, but rather a dynamic movement of ‘becoming-forces’ (Deleuze, 1994). Difference-in-itself is ‘not negation, … it is non-being which is difference’ (Deleuze, 1968, p. 89, my own translation).

With difference-in-itself, Deleuze challenges the dialectic notion of difference that emerges through negation. In dialectic logic, difference is exclusively determined by negation of same-ness of conceptual entities (Deleuze, 1968). Dialectic logic operates in patterns of unity, resemblance or contradiction, which imposes human interpretation of subject-object relations as the dynamic that determines conceptual difference. Deleuzian logic, on the other hand, frees us from the dominant role of existent meaningful ways of categorising and ordering the world. Meaning on its own, Deleuze notes, 'mediates everything but mobilises and moves nothing' (Deleuze, 1994, p. 55). For 'real' movement to occur, in the sense that entirely new concepts emerge, meaning depends upon an ontological work of dividing the world which ensures that it can visibly bear the marks that ongoing communicative interaction cuts into.

This way of thinking about difference as defined by movement and becoming rather than by being (Chia, 1999) is what provides a central merit of Deleuzian logic for thinking about emergent knowledge dynamics: it frees us from thinking in relation to the past. It allows us to exit the cycle of referentiality in dialectic relation to existent concepts and categories. This opens up interpretation to future-directed and different patterns of dynamics: rather than being confined in a logic of confirming or contradicting the existent, we can account for patterns of difference-in itself in a future-directed sense of potentialities.


The second central merit is repetition. The principle of repetition is what constitutes the masterstroke of the Deleuzian notion of becoming. It is the coupling of difference in-itself with a principle of creation that is repeated unceasingly, each time unique and different in-itself. Crucially, repetition is not understood here in the traditional sense of the term - as a reproduction of the same, which, for Deleuze, would be mimesis (Deleuze, 1994). Rather, repetition is the act of working from within the construct of what is repeated, by at the same time, overturning it from within (Hayden, 1998).

This principle of repetition extends the meta-theory of the immanent dynamics of becoming into a philosophy of creation. It is a principle of creation by overturning from within that is also used by Deleuze as a technique of crafting philosophy: Deleuze uses repetition as a way of creatively developing new philosophical concepts.

As Deleuze illustrates in his own reasoning, by merely refuting another author, we revert logically to the dialectic principle of opposition and thus 'move nothing' (Deleuze, 1994). Instead, Deleuze famously repeats other authors such as Nietzsche and Plato by working within their frame of logic, re-creating their theories which results in a different (in-itself) reading of their works which, by overturning their logic (Bogue, 1989) in a productive way, develops their theories further (Zizek, 2004). Thus, the second central merit of the Deleuzian perspective, I argue, is that it focuses us on creating new concepts in creative repetition, i.e. in turning existing paradigms inside out by working from within them rather than against them. This is what Linstead and Thanem (2007) have described as the connective and non-prescriptive character.

Repetition provides a distinct approach to scientific creation – to crafting new concepts without opposing. Concepts, for Deleuze, do not serve the mere purpose to reflect upon something, but rather to facilitate intellectual movement by exiting the what he would call the endless cycle of representational movement of theses and antitheses (Deleuze, 1987).

However, wishing to translate this philosophy into organisational research, we are presented with a productive paradox: if becoming forces are creative and connective, how can we then deal with the fact that Deleuzian philosophy relies, nonetheless, on a very fundamental rejection of all representational and dialogical interpretation of dynamics (Deleuze ; Guattari, 2004)? Does this not shift us to a different logic of change which polarises positions and create ‘yet another’ exclusive interpretative research paradigm, a phenomenon that Lewis (1999) has warned about as ‘paradigm mentality’?


While at first sight, the strong anti-Hegelian stance of Deleuzian philosophy invites to conveniently refute concepts based on Hegelian dialectics, I argue that Deleuzian philosophy has more to offer to dialectics than merely to challenge it.

My argument is for research on nondialectic encounters, on the basis of the recogition of the importance of both, dialectic social sensemaking and immanent forces of nondialectic patterns of emergence. In this way we use repetition to advocate Deleuzian becoming, yet in connection to dialectic becoming, but without rejecting it. This is, in a sense, a proposition for a repetition of dialectics, in a Deleuzian sense.

In this sense, I agree with Zizek (2004) in that 'there is another Deleuze, much closer to … Hegel' (p. xi). What Zizek draws attention to is an implication of the Deleuzian ontology of becoming for the logic of social scientific reasoning itself: this is the fact that a dissociation of different realms of scientific analysis, such as the individual and the social or the empirical and the conceptual, does not necessarily imply that the aim of science should be to 'cover the gaps' in order to eventually reach a totalising view of the world, but rather 'on the contrary, to open up a radical [new] gap …, the "ontological difference"' (Zizek, 2004, p. xi) which also shows mutual interdependency, but, crucially, not in a dialectic sense of synthesis and linear progress – rather, a form of mutual interdependency that Zizek (2004) calls encounters.

What I propose is an onto-epistemological logic of the social dynamics of knowledge emergence hinging on a double-logic, operating at the levels of conceptual difference and difference in-itself alike. In the mode of ontological becoming, difference in-itself in the material and biological world disrupt the linear flow of dialectics, creates new potentialities of ordering and of de-connecting traditional themes and ways of sensemaking. In the mode of conceptual mediation, on the other hand, dialectics function to defend and re-negotiate pre-existent conceptual and meaningful differences in response to rupture, adapting unfamiliarities encountered in sense experience into the realm of symbolic categorisation.


As pioneer studies by Wise (2000) and Bougen (2000) have demonstrated, translating becoming into research means innovating. In this study (Steinberg, 2005, 2006), thinking in terms of difference-in-itself and repetition meant considering to turn inside out the principles of traditional dialectic interpretation. While the full research design and interpretation is outlined in detail elsewhere (Steinberg, 2005, 2006), I focus in what follows on the translation of specifically the notion of repetition into the analysis of data from interviews, focus groups and participant observation.

Employing Deleuzian repetition, I re-thought the notion of dialectic analysis: I conducted a thematic analysis that, instead of concentrating on dialectic continuity, it focused on dialectic discontinuity. In other words, I repeated the traditional steps of thematic interview analysis in a Deleuzian sense. Repetition, if we recall, means in a Deleuzian sense to work from within the construct of what is repeated, overturning it from within (Hayden, 1998).

Analysis for dialectic dynamics would classically employ some notion of what constitutes traces for dialectic dynamics, such as, in this case, themata. Themata are the meaning currency that gives communication and interaction their typical dialectic form (Marková, 2003). They themselves take the form of dyadic oppositions or contrasts, such as illustrated by the themata of 'atomicity/continuum' or 'simplicity/complexity' in Holton's (Holton, 1978) thematic studies of the genesis of scientific theories.

In this study, instead of looking for what ties themata together in a functioning system of meanings (familiarisation) (Moscovici ; Marková, 2000), I concentrated on what dissociated themata. Traditionally dialectic analysis of knowledge emergence would look at how people would socially negotiate and re-negotiate meanings into a coherent system of social references that would subsequently be used as a meaning system on the basis of which people could judge and interprete their social reality. Rather than focusing on these processes of meaning familiarisation; I looked at instances of rupture with existent meanings; more precisely, I was interested in what de-familiarised or even discontinued historically important and shared meanings.

This was a strategy of surfacing those instances where the ‘system came to stutter’ (Olkowski, 1999), meaning where different dynamics seemed to have been disrupted or re-connected. Concretely, the analysis looked at both the cuttings of becomings in form of novel individuations of concepts in experience and at disruptions of dialectics as those instances in sense-making where new dyads are drawn upon that do not relate (dialectically) to previous central historic concepts.

In this way, the analysis looked at the dialectics in human sense-making as a creative force: the social negotiation of new concepts not only serves the familiarisation and re-negotiation of old concepts in the light of new ones, but it also, crucially, serves the de-familiarisation of old concepts in the light of new connections and becomings. It serves our sense-making to cut oneself loose from dominant representation by articulating intense (in a Deleuzian sense) experiences; this allows us to shape new concepts that halt the flow of increasing and limitless complexity by forging new significance and meaning. This manifests what I indicated earlier as the creative force of overcoming existing concepts (by de-familiarising them) and giving way to entirely new concepts.

The notion of becoming was hence translated in such a way that I worked from within the frame of thematic analysis on interviews, yet, with the difference that, instead of interpreting recurring dialectic patterns for their function of familiarising and adapting meanings, I interpreted the themata found for the ways in which they did or did not continue the themata found in the interview analysis – in short, I interpreted for de-familiarisation in response to rupture. This also meant going beyond traditional quality criteria: while in the thematic analysis the main tools of establishing a relevant and confident analysis were the topic guide, the coding frame and systematic analysis of data (Bauer & Aarts, 2000), in the Deleuzian analysis the main tool of analysis and interpretation was not a dialogue between question and answer, between topic guide, coding frame and concepts, but rather to craft a piece of writing - a creation - through Deleuzian writing.

In order to 'write becoming' my style of writing had to change from writing causally with a socio-historic orientation to a future-oriented, open style focused on potentialities. I had to liberate what I had experienced from previous formulations and to avoid ready-made propositions and theories. I widened my field of scope in terms of both thoughts and words. My perspective changed. I allowed my writing to proliferate, itself moving off in different directions. I paid particular attention to deviations, discontinuities and disruptions of themata.

I was not focused on patterns of dialectic continuation of the familiarisation of e-business entrepreneurship (e.g. new tensions, similarities and potential syntheses), but I looked for points of rupture in the ways in which themata were drawn on in the discussion. I looked for instances where a phenomenon would be underpinned by notions which disrupt conventional and socially accepted themata by rendering them useless, in that they were ambivalent to the dominant themata. This means I looked for what was not similar, not contradicting and not challenging – in short, I explored the data for themes that were not relating to dominant dialectic patterns but rather flowing in-between them, being indifferent to them. Disruptions are described by Deleuze (1987) as instances of intensity of movement which avoid any orientation toward a point of determination.

Deleuzian notions of lines, connections and individuations helped in this regard, in a non-metaphorical sense. They helped to avoid writing in a logic of comparisons, highlighting resemblances, contradictions or tensions only, but instead being able to focus on new connections and phenomena that were not in relation to anything pre-existent.

In this way I was able to create a Deleuzian account of the dynamics that I had encountered. I was able to describe what emerged as a movement of oscillation between on the one hand, emergent non-linguistic, non-symbolic processes of attraction, rupture and combination and on the other hand, of dialectic attempts to explain these and integrate them into the existent social apparatus of sensemaking and categorisation. This was a wavering between the experience of radical difference and the constraints of existent meanings. Together, we achieve a discontinuous rhythm of opening up and closing down, which produces a spiralling dynamic of disruption and adaptation, an alternation between increasing complexity and the constitution of concepts. This movement, in its new combinations and crossings, allows difference-in-itself to be unleashed and while overall, it moves a meaning system forward, at the same time, it hinders it from becoming a chaos.


Rosen (2000) argues that one can differentiate a simple system from a complex one by how its ontology relates to its epistemology. In a simple system, its epistemology subsumes (swallows) its ontology. In complex systems, the two aspects are acknowledged in their own right. In this article, we have seen how the meta-theory of Deleuzian becoming acknowledges nondialectic forces of creation in their own right: the possible complexity of the dynamics of creation are not reduced a priori to epistemic patterns of conceptual resemblance, contradiction or tension.

In order to make empirical research benefit from this acknowledgement of nondialectic dynamics as constitutive forces, I proposed Deleuzian repetition as a technique for creation when conducting research. I also suggested to base intrepretation on a logic of nondialectic encounters between ontological becoming and dialectic creation. Acknowledging patterns of attraction, disruption in their constitutive role of knowledge creation is an essential condition for explorative research on knowledge dynamics in organisational settings. Taking this perspective bears a huge potential for organisation studies in order to account for unpredictable, creative and innovative aspects of knowledge dynamics in organisation. At the same time, and by contrast to Deleuze, the notion of nondialectic encounters is not as radical as Deleuze as far as his rejection of the essential is concerned. Essence is important in terms of potentially limitless expansion of becoming. Unless we can construct what is essential when confronted with creation and disruption, it is impossible to make sense of and to explain what we experienced. In order for new knowledge to emerge, therefore, both becoming and processes of the shaping of new essences are necessary, but rather than assuming that the dynamics of human sensemaking dominate both, I propose to acknowledge them in there different dynamics - dialectic and nondialectic ones – as encountering each other when constituting reality.


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At 4/25/2009 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And for an almost deleuzian work-in-progress using the idea of tracing networks in order to rebuild a political project, see also http://yannickrumpala.wordpress.com/category/networks-and-rhizomes/


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