I have my own half formed thoughts about the differences between the concepts of assemblage, structuration and praxis.

 

Aside from simply pointing to the theories from which these three terms originate, what can we say about the similarities and differences between these three terms?

 

Are they merely different words for the same term? Or, are there real semantic differences underlying the lexical differentiation?

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I have been holding off, hoping that someone better informed would respond to this question. A quick visit to Wikipedia produces the following

Re structuration

The theory of structuration, proposed by Anthony Giddens(1984) in The Constitution of Society(mentioned also in Central Problems of Social Theory, 1979), is an attempt to reconcile theoretical dichotomiesof social systemssuch as agency/structure, subjective/objective, and micro/macroperspectives. The approach does not focus on the individual actor or societal totality "but social practices ordered across space and time" (p. 2). Its proponents adopt this balanced position, attempting to treat influences of structure (which inherently includes culture) and agency equally. See structure and agency.
Simply put, the theory of structuration holds that all human action is performed within the context of a pre-existing social structure which is governed by a set of norms and/or laws which are distinct from those of other social structures. Therefore, all human action is at least partly predetermined based on the varying contextual rules under which it occurs. However, the structure and rules are not permanent and external, but sustained and modified by human action in a textbook example of reflexive feedback.


Re praxis

In Ancient Greekthe word praxis(πρᾱξις) referred to activity engaged in by free men. Aristotleheld that there were three basic activities of man: theoria, poiesisand praxis. There corresponded to these kinds of activity three types of knowledge: theoretical, to which the end goal was truth; poietical, to which the end goal was production; and practical, to which the end goal was action. Aristotle further divided practical knowledge into ethics, economicsand politics. He also distinguished between eupraxia(good praxis) and dyspraxia(bad praxis, misfortune).

Subsequent development by Marxist philosophers, other political theorists, educators and theologians suggest a broad consensus on conceiving of practice as a recurring pattern of action that implements a theory.

Re assemblage

Assemblageis an artistic process in which a three-dimensional artistic composition is made from putting together found objects.
The origin of the word (in its artistic sense) can be traced back to the early 1950s, when Jean Dubuffetcreated a series of collages of butterfly wings, which he titled assemblages d'empreintes. However, both Marcel Duchampand Pablo Picassohad been working with found objectsfor many years prior to Dubuffet. They were not alone, alongside Duchamp the earliest woman artist to try her hand at assemblage was Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the Dada Baroness, and one of the most prolific, as well as producing some of the most exciting early examples, was Louise Nevelson, who began creating her sculptures from found pieces of wood in the late 1930s.


Also, in our current seminar Alberto Corsin Jimenez writes,

I like the Ambassadors. Funnily enough, Latour has an essay which takes the Ambassadors as its point of departure. His larger point is about the Religion vs. Science wars of the 16-17th centuries. He makes a point not unlike yours: how our perspectives on the world are ultimately social-cum-technological assemblages. It takes one structural assembly of people-and-objects to see the empire of science and colonial diplomacy emerge; it takes a different perspective and a different array of artefacts for the world of religion (represented by the skull) to hold prominence.

The overlap between the concepts in question appears to lie in a shared focus on what, in plainer English, I would call "how things get done." Theoretical abstractions are brought done to Earth through a focus on the choices people make, the social and material constraints under which choices are made, the technologies and materials they employ, and, then—enter the feedback loop—how the results reshape the world in which subsequent choices are made.

That said, the concepts are, as my Japanese colleagues put it, reberu chigau 'on different levels.' Structuration is a theoretical framework which, as indicated above, attempts to reconcile classical binary oppositions between society and individual, subjective and objective, micro and macro. It appears to be working the same ground as Bourdieu's Logic of Practice and David Byrne and Charles Ragin, eds., SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods.

Praxis is more practical. In a broad sense "praxis" could be applied to to the recipes prescribed in all sorts of self-help and management consulting books. Even in a narrower sense, from Marx to Paolo Freire to Bernard Faure writing about Zen, we are reading people who are advocating (or at least describing) specific steps to be taken to achieve particular goals.

Assemblage refers both to an outcome and a precondition for further change. It is, in effect, a snapshot of the state of things at a particular moment, a work of art, the staff and equipment of a research lab, academic department or a securities trading room. It may also refer, on a larger scale, to the historical moment as a whole to which Alberto alludes, i.e., a bricolage of concepts, technologies, established institutions and attitudes that can, in the manner of Foucault (in Les Mots et Les Choses, be unpacked through an archeology of words and things.

With luck, this brief, off-the-cuff analysis of Wikipedia+what comes to my mind will lead those who know more to chime in with corrections.

Anyway, thanks for an interesting question.
I am sorry for engaging in a "half present" way. When I know I do not have time to follow up I do not say much but I thought I can mention some sources that you probably already know but I think to mark the difference one needs to see the way in which these concepts have been employed. As John notes the genealogy of the concepts matter. "What was it that it was developed in opposition to?" is the question which is part of the difference. That is why I focus on the last one...

Deleuze, J. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus, London:
Continuum, first English edition 1987) is the source of inspiration for many anthropologists.I think John Clarke does good job of employing "assemblage" in relation to policy, state and neoliberalism, (2004) Changing Welfare, Changing States: New Directions in Social Policy, London: Sage.

And Aihwa Ong, Stephen J. Collier (Editors), (2004) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, And Ethics As Anthropological Problems , Wiley-Blackwell is also a good source with various articles.
Ong and Collier is where I'm most familiar with the concept of assemblage, though I think I've read a few articles elsewhere that employed the idea. I first encountered the term praxis in an article by Eleanor Ochs (???), and structuration generally out of my studies of political geography (sorry to be so vague).

I agree with you and John, that the concepts really do need to be understood in their proper contexts, including how they form as commentaries, and to what they are commenting on.

Maybe it would be best to break the issue down into constituent parts, such as:

1. If praxis is the application of knowledge (theory), and structuration involves (among other things) collapsing the dualism between structure and practice, what is the relationship between praxis and structuration? Is praxis then a part of the anatomy of structuration?

2. If structuration involves collapsing the dualism between structure and practice, as well as system and dynamics, etc., and assemblages involve an interplay between existing context, choice-within-context and resulting new contexts, can we say that structuration is a constituent element of assemblages?

3. Following from questions 1 and 2, what can we say would then be the relationship between praxis and assemblage?

I'll admit that these questions are forming now, as I'm interacting with John and you, so great thanks to the both of you!

Hülya Demirdirek said:
I am sorry for engaging in a "half present" way. When I know I do not have time to follow up I do not say much but I thought I can mention some sources that you probably already know but I think to mark the difference one needs to see the way in which these concepts have been employed. As John notes the genealogy of the concepts matter. "What was it that it was developed in opposition to?" is the question which is part of the difference. That is why I focus on the last one...

Deleuze, J. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus, London:
Continuum, first English edition 1987) is the source of inspiration for many anthropologists.I think John Clarke does good job of employing "assemblage" in relation to policy, state and neoliberalism, (2004) Changing Welfare, Changing States: New Directions in Social Policy, London: Sage.

And Aihwa Ong, Stephen J. Collier (Editors), (2004) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, And Ethics As Anthropological Problems , Wiley-Blackwell is also a good source with various articles.
I hv used assemblage theory of D&G, in the meaning it has in complexity theory "a bifurcation or emergence" where you can bring parts of some whole and attach to a new whole, where emergence could happen". Manuel DeLanda has done more theoretical analysis in his books.
Hey Samir,

So, what you're saying is that assemblages can be conceived of as constantly reconfiguring dialectical syntheses?

If my reading of what you're saying is correct, that's an exciting idea to me. More thoughts?

My first thought is to marry this approach to the concept of a Barthean myth, in which signification is built off of lower-order levels of meaning, theoretically resting on a bedrock of simple significance-relations. Doing so might provide an approach to marrying the ontic and the epistemic in situ in social arrangements.

Samir said:
I hv used assemblage theory of D&G, in the meaning it has in complexity theory "a bifurcation or emergence" where you can bring parts of some whole and attach to a new whole, where emergence could happen". Manuel DeLanda has done more theoretical analysis in his books.
Joel,
It is. In fact if we follow G.H.Mead's symbolic interactionism then meaning is always 'reconfigured' at every moment of gesture.

I am not sure of the definition or interpretation of 'lower-order of meaning' as it tends to imply that there is a 'schema' or a frozen experience of meaning.

Hv a look at this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut_raI8WmzA&feature=related

I feel that there is something that can be used metaphorically to what u are seeking.
I will have to look at the YouTube link later.

I'm not saying lower-order meanings, as if they can be rank-ordered as such. Rather, I'm referring to lower-order levels of meaning. The concept rests on the idea of association. So, there are first-order and second-order signs. First order signs are constructed from nothing more than ruled associations. To my mind, first-order signs are ultimately about phonemic differentiation. From those elementary phonemic partings, we get first-order levels of meaning. So, the phoneme corresponding to /m/ will be distinct from the phoneme uttered corresponding to /n/, and all others, at least within the English that I know.

Second-order signs are not built as such, from stark differentiation (which is significance). Instead, they are built within a supporting environment of other signs. At this level of meaning (signification), meaning is a matter of a relational field of signs, and not a matter of direct contrasts. Underlying these meanings, we can expect to find another level of association-environment that is presupposed in the level of meanings in question.

This approach strikes me as being a valuable tool for dispelling the myths of naturalized concepts. If you can show how they are built on other, presupposed differentials, which themselves presuppose other concepts...then you open up a new way of regarding ideologies and practices, aside from the unquestioned and normalizing way in which they are usually ignored as fact. An interactionist approach has the potential to do the same thing.

To my mind, signification rests on the association of memories to present experiences. One of the implications would be that meaning does not reside in any one thing, on it own terms. Rather, meaning is an effect of relationship between signs within the environment of signification. So, in some ways, our meaningful grasp of the world around us is not a function of the innate qualities of the phenomena experienced (indeed, with the concept of qualia, can we even speak of such?). Meaning is rather an artifact of our association of present-experience with memories.

So, in speaking the same language, we might recognize certain rules in common. Those rules may be so basic that few will pay much ethnographic attention to them, but they are presupposed in other sign associations, which are themselves presupposed in others...

It seems to me that such an approach should be married to an interactionist perspective. I feel this orientation is very valuable for highlighting the constructedness of meanings, and ultimately, practices.
Joel, you might find it interesting to have a look at the articles collected in Alessandro Duranti & Charles Goodwin 1992) Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon.

Joel M. Wright said:
I will have to look at the YouTube link later.

I'm not saying lower-order meanings, as if they can be rank-ordered as such. Rather, I'm referring to lower-order levels of meaning. The concept rests on the idea of association. So, there are first-order and second-order signs. First order signs are constructed from nothing more than ruled associations. To my mind, first-order signs are ultimately about phonemic differentiation. From those elementary phonemic partings, we get first-order levels of meaning. So, the phoneme corresponding to /m/ will be distinct from the phoneme uttered corresponding to /n/, and all others, at least within the English that I know.

Second-order signs are not built as such, from stark differentiation (which is significance). Instead, they are built within a supporting environment of other signs. At this level of meaning (signification), meaning is a matter of a relational field of signs, and not a matter of direct contrasts. Underlying these meanings, we can expect to find another level of association-environment that is presupposed in the level of meanings in question.

This approach strikes me as being a valuable tool for dispelling the myths of naturalized concepts. If you can show how they are built on other, presupposed differentials, which themselves presuppose other concepts...then you open up a new way of regarding ideologies and practices, aside from the unquestioned and normalizing way in which they are usually ignored as fact. An interactionist approach has the potential to do the same thing.

To my mind, signification rests on the association of memories to present experiences. One of the implications would be that meaning does not reside in any one thing, on it own terms. Rather, meaning is an effect of relationship between signs within the environment of signification. So, in some ways, our meaningful grasp of the world around us is not a function of the innate qualities of the phenomena experienced (indeed, with the concept of qualia, can we even speak of such?). Meaning is rather an artifact of our association of present-experience with memories.

So, in speaking the same language, we might recognize certain rules in common. Those rules may be so basic that few will pay much ethnographic attention to them, but they are presupposed in other sign associations, which are themselves presupposed in others...

It seems to me that such an approach should be married to an interactionist perspective. I feel this orientation is very valuable for highlighting the constructedness of meanings, and ultimately, practices.
To strengthen my recommendation of Duranti & Goodwin's Rethinking Context</>, allow me to add the first paragraph from their introduction.

Context has long been a key concept both in the field of pragmatics and in ethnographically oriented studies of language use as well as quantitative ones. When we look at the work done within the last twenty years on the relation between language and context in these various fields, we can see a trend toward increasingly more interactive and dialogically conceived notions of contextually situated talk.


I would also recommend a look at Goffman's Programme on the Understanding Society blog.
John,

Thank you for the recommendations. They sound familiar in some way. I'll definitely check them out.

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