Felix Guattari on Wed, 8 Oct 1997 05:00:01 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Remaking Social Practices

Remaking Social Practices (1)

by Felix Guattari

The routines of daily life, and the banality of the world represented to
us by the media, surround us with a reassuring atmosphere in which nothing
is any longer of real consequence. We cover our eyes; we forbid ourselves
to think about the turbulent passage of our times, which swiftly thrusts
far behind us our familiar past, which effaces ways of being and living
that are still fresh in our minds, and which slaps our future onto an
opaque horizon, heavy with thick clouds and miasmas. We depend all the
more on the reassurance that nothing is assured. The two "superpowers" of
yesterday, for so long buttressed against each other, have been
destabilized by the disintegration of one among them. The countries of the
former USSR and Eastern Europe have been drawn into a drama with no
apparent outcome. The Unitited States, for its part, has not been spared
the violent upheavals of civilization, as we saw in Los Angeles. Third
World countries have not been able to shake off paralysis; Africa, in
particular, finds itself at an atrocious impasse. Ecological disasters,
famine, unemployment, the escalation of racism and xenophobia, hunt, like
so many threats, the end of this millennium. At the same time, science and
technology have evolved with extreme rapidity, supplying man with
virtually all the necessary means to solve his material problems. But
humanity has not seized upon these; it remains stupefied, powerless before
the challenges that confront it. It passively contributes to the pollution
of water and the air, to the destruction of forests, to the disturbance of
climates, to the disappearance of a multitude of living species, to the
impoverishment of the genetic capital of the biosphere, to the destruction
of natural landscapes, to the suffocation of its cities, and to the
progressive abandonment of cultural values and moral references in the
areas of human solidarity and fraternity ... Humanity seems to have lost
its head, or more precisely, its head is no longer functioning with its
body. How can it find a compass by which to reorient itself within a
modernity whose complexity overwhelms it? 
        To think through this complexity, to renounce, in particular, the
reductive approach of scientism when a questioning of its prejudices and
short-term interests is required: such is the necessary perspective for
entry into an era that I have qualified as "post-media", as all great
contemporary upheavals, positive or negative, are currently judged on the
basis of information filtered trough the massmedia industry, which retains
only a description of events [le petit cote evenementiel] and never
problematizes what is at stake, in its full amplitude.
        It is true that it is difficult to bring individuals out of
themselves, to disengage themselves from their immediate preoccupations,
in order to reflect on the present and the future of the world. They lack
collective incitements to do so. Most older methods of communication,
reflection and dialogue have dissolved in favor of an individualism and a
solitude that are often synonymous with anxiety and neurosis. It is for
this reason, that I advocate - under the aegis of a new conjunction of
environmental ecology, social ecology and mental ecology - the invention
of new collective assemblages of enunciation concerning the couple, the
family, the school, the neighborhood, etc.
        The functioning of current *mass media*, and television in
particular, runs counter to such a perspective. The tele-spectator remains
passive in front of a screen, prisoner of quasi-hypnotic relation, cut off
from the other, stripped of any awareness of responsibility.
        Nevertheless, this situation is not made to last indefinetly. 
Technological evolution will introduce new possibilities for interaction
between the medium and its user, and between users themselves. The
junction of the audiovisual screen, the telematic screen and the computer
screen could lead to a real reactivation of a collective sensibility and
intelligence. The current equation (media=passivity) will perhaps
disappear more quickly than one would think. Obviously, we cannot expect a
miracle from these technologies: it will all depend, ultimately, on the
capacity of groups of people to take hold of them, and apply them to
appropriate ends. 
        The constitution of large economic markets and homogeneous
political spaces, as Europe and the West are tending to become, will
likewise have an impact on our vision of the world. But these factors tend
in opposite directions, such that their outcome will depend on the
evolution of the power relations between social groups, which, we must
recognize, remain undefined. As industrial and economic antagonism between
the United States, Japan, and Europe is accentuated, the decrease in
production costs, the development of productivity and the conquering of
"market shares" will become increasingly high stakes, increasing
structural unemployment and leading to an always more pronounced social
"dualization" within capitalist citadels. This is not to mention their
break with the Third World, which will take a more and more conflictual
and dramatic turn, as a result of population growth.
        On the other hand, the reinforcement of these large axes of power
will undoubtedly contribute to the institution of a regulation - if not of
a "planetary order" - then of a geopolitical and ecological nature. By
favoring large concentrations of resources on research objectives or on
ecological and humanitarian programs, the presence of these axes could
play a determing role in the future of humanity. But it would be, at the
same time, immoral and unrealistic to accept that the current,
quasi-Manichaen duality between rich and poor, weak and strong, would
increase indefinitely. It was unfortunately from this perspective that,
undoubtedly in spite of themselves, the signatories to the so-called
Heidelberg Appeal presented at the Rio conference were committed to the
suggestion that the fundamental choices of humanity in the area of ecology
be left to the initiatives of scientific elites (see, in *Le Monde
Diplomatique*, the editorial by Ignacio Ramonet, July of 1992, and the
article by Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond, August 1992). This proceeds from an
unbelievable scientistic myopia. How, in effect, can one not see that an
essential part of the ecological stakes of the planet arises from this
break in collective subjectivity between the rich and poor? The scientists
are to find their place within a new international democracy that they
themselves must promote. And this is not to foster the myth of their
omnipotence that advances them along this path! 
        How could we reconnect the head to the body, how could we join
science and technology with human values? How could we agree upon common
projects while respecting the singularity of individual positions? By what
means, in the current climate of passivity, could we unleash a mass
awakening, a new renaissance? Will fear of catastrophe be sufficient
provocation?  Ecological accidents, such as Chernobyl, have certainly led
to a rousing of opinion. But it is not just a matter of brandishing
threats; it is necessary to move toward practical achievements. It is also
necessary to recall that danger can itself exert a power of fascination.
The presentiment of catastrophe can release an unconscious desire for
catastrophe a longing for nothingness, a drive to abolish. It was thus
that the German masses in the Nazi epoch lived in the grip of a fantasy of
the end of the world associated with a mythic redemption of humanity.
Emphasis must be placed, above all, on the reconstruction of a collective
dialogue capable of producing innovative practices. Without a change in
mentalities, without entry into a post-media era, there can be no enduring
hold over the environment. Yet, without modifications to the social and
material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are
in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of
founding an "ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to social
ecology and to mental ecology.
        From this ecosophic perspective, there would be no question of
reconstituting a hegemonic ideology, as were the major religions or
Marxism. It is absurd, for example, for the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and the World Bank to advocate the generalization of a unique model
of growth in the Third World. Africa, Latin America, and Asia must be able
to embark on specific social and cultural paths of development.
        The world market does not have to lead the production of each
group of people in the name of a notion of universal growth. Capitalist
growth remains purely quantitative, while a complex development would
essentially concern the qualitative. It is neither the preeminence of the
State (in the manner of bureaucratic socialism), nor that of the world
market (under the aegis of neo- liberal ideologies), that must dictate the
future of human activities and their essential objectives. It is thus
necessary to establish a planetary dialogue and to promote a new ethic of
difference that substitutes for current capitalist powers a politics based
on the desires of peoples. But wouldn't such an approach lead to a chaos,
as the current crisis demonstrates. On the whole, democratic chaos
is better than the Chao is that results from authoritarianism! 
        The individual and the group cannot avoid a certain existential
plunge into chaos. This is already what we do each night when we abandon
ourselves to the world of dreams. The main question is to know what we
gain from this plunge:  a sense of disaster, or the revelation of new
outlines of the possible?  Who is controlling the capitalist chaos today?
The stock market, multinationals, and, to a lesser extent, the powers of
the state! For the most part, decerebrated organizations! The existence of
a world market is certainly indispensable for the structuring of
international economic relations. But we cannot expect this market to
miraculously regulate human exchange on this planet. The real estate
market contributes to the disorder of our cities. The art market perverts
aesthetic creation. It is thus of primordial importance that, alongside
the capitalist market, there appear territorialized markets that rely on
the support of substantial formations, that affirm their modes of
valorization. Out of the capitalist chaos must come what I call
"attractors" of values: values that are diverse, heterogeneous, dissensual
        Marxists based historical movement on a necessary dialectical
progression of the class struggle. Liberal economists blindly placed their
trust in the free play of the market to resolve tensions and disparities,
and to bring about the best of worlds. And yet events confirm, if that
were necessary, that progress is neither mechanically nor dialectically
related to the class struggle, to the development of science and
technology, to economic growth, or to the free play of the market .....
Growth is not synonymous with progress, as the barbaric resurgence of
social and urban confrontations, inter-ethnic conflicts and world- wide
economic tensions cruelly reveals. 
        Social and moral progress is inseparable from the collective and
individual practices that advance it. Nazism and fascism were not
transitory maladies, the accidents of history, thereafter overcome. They
constitute potentialities that are always present; they continue to
inhabit our universe of virtuality; the Stalinism of the Gulag, Maoist
despotism, can reappear tomorrow in new contexts. In various forms, a
microfascism proliferates in our societies, manifested in racism,
xenophobia, the rise of religious fundamentalisms, militarism, and the
oppression of women. History does not guarantee the irreversible crossing
of "progressive thresholds". Only human practices, a collective
voluntarism, can guard us against falling into worse barbarities. In this
respect, it would be altogether illusory to leave it up to formal
imperatives for the defense of the "rights of man" or "rights of peoples".
Rights are not guaranteed by a divine authority; they depend on the
vitality of the institutions and power formations that sustain their
        An essential condition for succeeding in the promotion of a new
planetary consciousness would thus reside i n our collective capacity for
the recreation of value systems that would escape the moral, psychological
and social lamination of capitalist valorization, which is only centered
on economic profit. The joy of living, solidarity, and compassion with
regard to others, are sentiments that are about to disappear and that must
be protected, enlivened, and propelled in new directions. Ethical and
aesthetic values do not arise from imperatives and transcendent codes.
They call for an existential participation based on an immanence that must
be endlessly reconquered. How do we create or expand upon such a universe
of values? Certainly by not dispensing with moral lessons.
        The suggestive power of the theory of information has contributed
to masking the importance of the enunciative dimensions of communication.
It leads us to forget that a message must be received, and not just
transmitted, in order to have meaning. Information cannot be reduced to
its objective manifestations; it is, essentially, the production of
subjectivity, the becoming- consistent [prise de consistence] of
incorporeal universes. These last aspects cannot be reduced to an analysis
in terms of improbalibility and calculated on the basis of binary choices.
The truth of information refers to an existential event occurring in those
who receive it. Its register is not that of the exactitude of facts, but
that of the significance of a problem, of the consistency of a universe of
values. The current crisis of the media and the opening up of a post- media
era are the symptoms of a much more profound crisis. 
        What I want to emphasize is the fundamentally pluralist,
multi-centered.  and heterogeneous character of contemporary subjectivity,
in spite of the homogenization it is subjected to by the mass media. In
this respect, an individual is already a "collective" of heterogeneous
components. A subjective phenomenon refers to personal territories - the
body, the self - but also, at the same time, to collective territories -
the family, the community, the ethnic group. And to what must be added all
the procedures for subjectivation embodied in speech, writing, computing,
and technological machines.
        In pre-capitalist societies, initiation into the things of life
and the mysteries of the world were transmitted through relations of
family, peer-group, of clan, guild, ritual, etc. This type of direct
exchange between individuals has tended to become rare. Subjectivity is
forged through multiple mediations, whereas individuals has tended to
become rare. Subjectivity is forged through multiple mediations, whereas
individual relations between generations, sexes, and proximal groups have
weakened. For example, the role of grandparents as an intergenerational
memory support for children has very often disappeared. The child develops
in a context shadowed by television, computer games, telecommunications,
comic strips. ... A new machinic solitude is being born, which is
certainly not without merit, but which deserves to be continually reworked
such that it can accord with renewed forms of sociality. Rather that
relations of opposition, it is a matter of forging polyphonic interlacings
between the individual and the social. Thus, a subjective music remains to
be thereby composed.
        The new planetary consciousness will have to rethink machinism. We
frequently continue to oppose the machine to the human spirit. Certain
philosophies hold that modern technology has blocked access to our
ontological foundations, to primordial being. And what if, on the
contrary, a revival of spirit and human values could be attendant upon a
new alliance with machines? 
        Biologists now associate life with new approach to machinism
concerning the cell, and the organs of the living body; linguists,
mathematicians, and sociologists explore other modalities of machinism. In
thus enlarging the concept of the machine, we are led to emphasize certain
of its aspects that have been insufficiently explored to date. Machines
are not totalities enclosed upon themselves. They maintain determined
relations with a spatio-temporal exteriority, as well as with universes of
signs and field of virtuality.  The relation between the inside and the
outside of a machinic system is not only the result of a consummation of
energy, of the production of an object: it is equally manifested through
genetic phylums. (2) A machine rises to the surface of the present like
the completion of a past lineage, and it is the point of restartingミ2C or of
rupture, from which an evolutionary lineage will spread to the future.  The
emergence of these genealogies and fields of alterity is complex. It is
continually worked over by all the creative forces of the sciences, the
arts, social innovations, which become entangled and constitute a
mecanosphere surrounding our biosphere - not as a constraining yoke of an
exterior armor, but as an abstract, machinic efflorescence, exploring the
future of humanity. 
        Human life is taken up, for example, in a race with the AIDS
retrovirus.  Biological sciences and medical technology will win the
battle with this illness or, in the end, the human species will be
eliminated. Similarly, intelligence and sensibility have undergone a total
mutation as a result of new computer technology, which has increasingly
insinuated itself into the motivating forces of sensibility, acts, and
intelligence. We are currently witnessing a mutation of subjectivity that
perhaps surpasses the invention of writing, or the printing press, in
        Humanity must undertake a marriage of reason and sentiment with
the multiple off-shoots of machinism, or else it risks sinking into chaos.
A renewal of democracy could have, as an objective, a pluralist management
of its machinic components. In this way, the judiciary and the legislature
will be brought to forge new ties with the world of technology and of
research (this is already the case with commissions on ethics
investigating problems in biology and contemporary medicine; but we must
also rapidly create commissions for the ethics of the media, of urbanism,
of education). It is necessary, in sum, to delineate again the real
existential entities of our epoch, which no longer correspond to those of
still only a few decades ago. The individual, the social, and the machinic
all overlap - as do the juridical, the ethical, the aesthetic, and the
political. A major shift in objectives is in progress: values such as the
resingularization of existence, ecological responsibility, and machinic
creativity are called upon to install themselves as the center of a new
progressive polarity in place of the old left-right dichotomy. 
        The production machines at the basis of the world economy are
aligned uniquely with so called leading industries. They do not take
account of other sectors which fall by the wayside because they do not
generate capitalist profits. Machinic democracy will have to undertake a
re-balancing of current systems of valorization. To produce a city that is
clean, livable, lively, rich in social interactions; to develop a humane
and effective medicineミ2C and an enriching education, are objectives that
are equally worthwhile as a production-line of automobiles, or
high-performance electronic equipment. 
        Current machines - technological, scientific, social - are
potentially capable of feeding, clothing, transporting and educating all
humans: the means are there, within reach, to support life for ten billion
inhabitants on this planet. It is the motivating systems for producing the
goods and distributing them fairly that are inadequate. To be engaged in
developing material and moral well- being, in social and mental ecology,
should be every bit as valued as working in leading sectors or in
financial speculation. 
        It is the nature of work that has changed, as a result of the eve
increasing prevalence of immaterial aspects in its composition: knowledge,
desire, aesthetic taste, ecological preoccupations. The physical and
mental activity of man finds itself in increasing adjacence to technical,
computer and communication devices. In this, the old Fordist or Taylorist
conceptions of the organization of industrial sites and of ergonomics have
been superseded.  In the future, it will be more and more necessary to
appeal to individual and collective initiative, at all stages of
production and distribution (and even of consumption). The constitution of
a new landscape of collective assemblages of work - particularly robotics
- will call into question old hierarchical structures and, as a
consequence, call for a revision of current salarial norms. 
        Consider the agricultural crisis in developed countries. It is
legitimate that agricultural markets open themselves up to the Third
World, where climatic conditions and productivity are often much more
favorable for production than countries situated more to the north. But
does this mean that American, European and Japanese farmers must abandon
the countryside and migrate to the cities? On the contrary, it is
necessary to redefine agriculture and animal farming in these countries,
in order to adequately valorize their ecological aspects and to preserve
the environment. Forests, mountains, rivers, coast-lines - all constitute
a non-capitalist capital, a qualitative investment, that should be made to
yield a return, and must be continually re-valorized, which implies, in
particular, a radical rethinking of the position of the farmer and the
        The same goes for domestic labor: it will be necessary for the
women and men who are responsible for the raising of children - a task
which continues to become more complex - to be appropriately remunerated.
In a general way, a number of "private" activities would thereby be called
upon to take their place in a new system of economic valorization that
would take into account the diversity and heterogeneity of human activities
that are socially, aesthetically, or ethically useful. 
        To permit an enlargement of the wage-earning class to include the
multitude of social activities that deserve to be valorized, economists
will perhaps have to imagine a renewal of current monetary systems and
wage systems. The coexistence, for example, of strong currencies, open to
the high seas of global economic competition, with protected currencies
that are unconvertible and territorialized over a given social space,
would allow for the alleviation of extreme misery, by distributing the
goods that arise exclusively from an internal market and allowing a wide
range of social activities to proliferate - activities which would thereby
lose their apparently marginal character. 
        Such a revision of the division and valorization of labor does not
necessarily imply an indefinite diminution of the work-week, or an
advancing of the retirement age. Certainly, machinism tends to liberate
more and more "freetime". But free for what? To devote oneself to
prefabricate leisure activities? To stay glued to the television? How many
retirees would sink, after some months of their new situation, into
despair and depression, from their inactivity? Paradoxically, an ecosophic
redefinition of labor could go together with an increase in the duration
of wage-earning. This would imply a skillful separation of working time
allotted for the economic market and such time relating to an economy of
social and mental values. One could imagine, for example, modulated
retirements that would allow the workers, employees and managers who
desire it to not be cut off from the activities of their companies,
especially those with social and cultural implications. Is it not absurd
that they are abruptly rejected at precisely the moment when they have the
best knowledge of their field, and when they could be of most service in
the areas of training and research? The perspective of such a social and
cultural recomposition of labor would lead naturally to the promotion of a
new transversality between productive assemblages and the rest of the
        Certain union experiments are already moving in this direction. In
Chile, for example, there exist new union practices that are joined
organically with their social environment. The militants of "territorial
unionization" are not only preoccupied with the defense of unionized
workers, but also with the difficulties encountered by the unemployed, by
women, and by the children of the neighborhood where the company is
located. They participate in the organization of educational and cultural
programs, and involve themselves in the problems of health, hygiene,
ecology, and urbanism. (Such an enlargement of the field of worker
competence and action is far from favorably regarded by the hierarchical
forces of the union apparatus.) In this country, groups for the "ecology
of retirement" devote themselves to the cultural and relational
organization of the elderly. 
        It is difficult, and yet essential, to turn the page on old
reference systems based on an oppositional split of left-right,
socialist-capitalist, market economy- state planned economy. ... It is not
a question of creating a "centrist"  pole of reference, equidistant from
the other two, but of disengaging from this type of system that is founded
on a total adhesion, on a supposedly scientific foundation, or on
transcendent juridical and ethical givens. Public opinion, before the
political classes, has become allergic to programmatic speeches, to dogmas
that are intolerant of diverse points of view. But while the public debate
and the means of discussion have not acquired renewed forms of expression,
there is a great risk that they will turn more and more away from the
exercise of democracy, and toward either the passivity of abstention, or
to the activism of reactionary factions. This means that in a political
campaign, it is less a case of conquering massive public support for an
idea, than of seeing public opinion structure itself into multiple and
vital social segments. The reality is no longer one and indivisible. It is
multiple, and marked by lines of possibility that human praxis can catch in
flight. Alongside energy, information and new materials, the will to
choose and to assume risk place themselves at the heart of new machinic
undertakings, whether they be technological, social, theoretical or
        The "ecosophic cartographies" that must be instituted will have,
as their own particularity, that they will not only assume the dimensions
of the present, but also those of the future. They will be as preoccupied
by what human life on Earth will be in thirty years, as by what public
transit will be in three years. They imply an assumption of responsibility
for future generations, what philosopher Hans Jonas calls "an ethic of
responsibility". (3) It is inevitable that choices for the long term will
conflict with the choices of short-term interests.  The social groups
affected by such problems must be brought to reflect on them, to modifyミ0Atheir habits and mental coordinates, to adopt new values and to postulate
a human meaning for future technological transformations. In a word, to
negotiate the present in the name of the future. 
        It is not, for all that, a question of falling back into
totalitarian and authoritarian visions of history, messianisms which, in
the name of "paradise" or of ecological equilibrium, would claim to rule
over the life of each and everyone. Each "cartography" represents a
particular vision of the world which, even when adopted by a large number
of individuals, would always harbor an element of uncertainty at its
heart. That is, in truth, its most precious capital; on its basis, an
authentic hearing of the other could be established. A hearing of
disparity, singularity, marginality, even of madness, does not arise only
from the imperatives of tolerance and fraternity. It constitutes anミ0D
essential preparation, a permanent appeal to this order of uncertainty, a
stripping of forces of chaos that always haunt structures that are
dominant, self-sufficient, and that believe in their own superiority. Such
a hearing could overturn or restore direction to these structures, by
recharging them with potentiality, by deploying, through them, new lines
of creative flow. 
        In the midst of this state of affairs, a shaft of meaning must be
discovered, that cuts through my impatience for the other to adopt my
point of view, and through the lack of good will in the attempt to bend
the other to my desired. Not only must I accept this adversity, I must
love it for its own sake: I must seek it out, communicate with it, delve
into it, increase it. It will get me out of my narcissism, my bureaucratic
blindness, and will restore for me a sense of finitude that all the
infantilizing subjectivity of the mass media attempts to conceal.
Ecosophic democracy would not give itself up to the facility for
consensual agreement: it will invest itself in a dissensual
metamodelization. With it, responsibility emerges from the self in order
to pass to the other.
        Without the promotion of such a subjectivity of difference, of the
atypical, of utopia, our epoch could topple into atrocious conflicts of
identity, like those the people of the former Yugoslavia are suffering. It
would be vain to appeal to morality and respect for rights. Subjectivity
disappears into the empty stakes of profit and power. Refusing the status
of the current media, combined with a search for new social
inter activities, for an institutional creativity and an enrichment of
values, would already constitute an important step on the way to a
remaking of social practices. 


This article appeared under the title "Pour une refondation des pratiques 
sociales" in Le Monde Diplomatique (Oct. 1992): 26-7

(1) A few weeks before his sudden death on August 29, 1992, Felix 
    Guattari sent us [*Le Monde Diplomatique*] the following text. Witch the
    additional weight conferred upon it by its author's tragic disappearance,
    this ambitious and all-encompassing series of reflection takes on, in 
    some sense, the character of a philosophical will or testament.
(2) The editors of *Le Monde Dip.* insert a note here on the definition of
    a phylum: it is the primitive stock from which a genealogical series
(3) Hans Jonas, *Le Principe responsabilite. Une ethique pour la
    civilization technologique, trad. de l'allemand par Jean Greisch
    (Paris: Edition du Cerf, 1990). The Imperative of Responsibility: In
    Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, trans. by H. Jonas and 
    D. Herr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)

Translated by Sophie Thomas


Guattari, Felix [Selections. English. 1996]
A Guattari reader / Pierre-Felix Guattari; edited by Gary Genesko.

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