assemblage…a matter of scale

October 10, 2012

Assemblages are ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within. (Bennett, 2010, p.23)

Everything is an assemblage, and all assemblages are part of larger ones.

Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell assemblages and the way in which we describe, define and contain them are a matter of scale. Ultimately, all things are “modes” of a common substance – an assemblage, which can be then divided almost infinitely into smaller and smaller assemblages, or enlarged to create almost infinitely larger ones.

Where do you draw the line in the sand, what do you include on your side of the line and how long is that line of yours?

Assemblages are not governed by any central head: no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently the trajectory of the group. (Bennett, 2010, p.24)

If there is no centralised control over an agency, the interesting part is understanding the actors within, and how these materials of multiple origins interact with each other within and outwards.

In “the agency of assemblages” Jane Bennett offers an analysis of the electrical grid as an agentic assemblage through an account of the North American blackout.

To be honest, I have not given much thought to blackouts. Lights go off…then they come back on. However the electrical grid and the undesirable event of the blackout provide an arena for further investigation and consideration of all materials (both human and nonhuman) that are actants; the roles they play, the effects they cause, and how their interplay finally effects the assemblage.

– Jordan Lane

Jane Bennett, ‘The Agency of Assemblages’, in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010.


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