What Can Economists Learn from Deleuze?

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Listening, seeing and reading Gilles Deleuze has had an influence on my thinking more than most of the economic writings I have consulted over the past quarter century. This discovery and furtherance of knowledge enriched my reflection and also allowed me to go beyond the philosopher as a philosopher opening the way to new horizons. It makes the researcher aware that the most important thing is not the philosopher man but the man philosopher, i.e. the one who writes something that touches the human being in what he has of deepest and concerns him in his life every day. New generations of economists should meditate on this by going beyond the chapel quarrels coming from the Schumpeterian dichotomy ‘science vs. ideology’. To quote one of Deleuze’s main ideas, no thinking against anything has been important over a long period; what counts are thoughts ‘for’ something new that affect people’s lives, and which are produced with rigor. This opens the way to a thought for life and not against life, which is in line with the progress of research in methodology, where it is a question of giving more importance to social ontology and not focusing solely on epistemology in the narrowest sense.

Posted for comments on 12 Nov 2019, 2:23 pm.

Comments (2)

  • James E. Rowe says:

    The Belabes article is a welcomed addition to the literature. It insightfully draws the numerous connections between classical economics and the works of Deleuze. Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) was one of the most influential philosophers of his time (Badiou, 2000, p. 97). Michel Foucault once remarked that the twenty-first century may become known as Deleuzian (Buchanan, 1999, p. 1). Foucault moreover predicted that Deleuze’s work would steadily grow in significance across a variety of fields, such as economics. His work is especially noted in trans-or interdisciplinary work where theoretical innovation is often regarded as an end itself (Tormey, 2005, p. 415). Deleuze (with Guattari, 1994, p. 28), when discussing his place among the great philosophers, once stated that “is it to repeat what they said or to do what they did, that is, create concepts for problems that necessarily change?” because the field of economics is constantly changing.

    Taking Foucault’s lead, Belabes argues that economists can learn from the Philosopher of Difference.i For Deleuze, “thinking differently, becoming different and the creation of difference” (Jeanes & De Cock, 2005, p. 3) are keys to understanding the world. This is important because a Deleuzian thought provides the tools to address unsymbolicii differences.

    From a Deleuzian viewpoint the commonsense, conventional and orthodox world is ultimately illusory. “Genuine [understanding] … occurs through signs which takes us beyond the illusion of habit and common sense to the truths of what Proust calls essences and Deleuze labels differences” (Bogue, 2004, p. 328). What escapes orthodox thought is difference, or the genuinely new, which can only be engaged through an imageless thought (Bogue, 2004c, p. 333). In order to generate new connections and conceptual transformations that move beyond existing frameworks, one has to “want to do something with respect to new uncommon forces, which we don’t quite yet grasp, who have a certain taste for the unknown” (Rajchman, 2000, p. 6). Thus, the orthodox approach can be conceptualised as the negation of difference. As a result, key to challenge the orthodox understanding (beliefs, opinion or doxa) of the practice of economics.

    The Deleuzian concept of difference embraces chaos and complexity because “difference finds its own concept in the posited contradiction: it is here that it becomes pure, intrinsic, essential, qualitative, synthetic and productive; here it no longer allows indifference to subsist” (Deleuze, 1994, p. 45). Consequently, Deleuze approached problems such as ‘How to understand economics?’ as something that does not have a single simple solution because a problem is something that defines a field of different drives or pressures as problematical because each solution merely transforms the problem and creates new challenges (Williams, 2003, p. 57). For Deleuze, a problem is determined because it cannot be distinguished from a chaotic state. This is important because as Deleuze stated (as quoted by McMahon, 2005, p. 42) “if philosophy is to have a positive and direct relations with things, it is only to the extent that it claims to grasp [an understanding of economics] … , in its difference from all that is not it” and that the problem of difference is both “methodological and ontological.”

    Deleuze (1989, p. 280) offers a way forward by stating that “the theory of [economics] … does not bear on the [discipline] …, but on the concepts of the [discipline] …”. Economics in itself is “a practice of images, [metaphors] and signs” (1989, p. 280) that are not limited to a concrete phenomenology of signs and images. Rather, because economic “concepts are not given in the [discipline], … philosophy must produce [a] theory [of economics] as conceptual practice”. Every concept has components and is defined by them, therefore it is a combination or a multiplicity, but Deleuze (1989) goes on to indicate that every multiplicity is not a concept.

    This line of reasoning leads one to conclude that economics is a Deleuzian multiplicity. It can also be considered an event or a series of events and therefore a potential concept. Belabes argues that economics is a combination of many disciplines; yet to this point, it is unclear if economics can be considered a Deleuzian concept. Deleuze would have responded to the question by viewing the discipline from a neutral point (Archimedean point of reference) and systematically study the factors (symptoms) that influence and impact upon the discipline. A framework for understanding would be developed by approaching the problem as a medical doctor would when studying symptoms in order to develop a treatment for a disease. When a doctor examines a patient with a “group of symptoms, his diagnostic task is to discover the corresponding concept” of the disease (Smith, 2005, p. 182). The process of symptomatology in medicine can similarly be applied to economics. If diagnosing a group of symptoms can be considered concept creation in a Deleuzian sense – than theorising the multiplicity of factors and activities that constitute economics might also be a Deleuzian concept because the “symptomatological method” promotes “lines of flight inherent in every … multiplicity (Smith, 2005, pp. 190-191).

    Belabes has written an excellent article that should become required reading for those interested in how economics interacts and is influenced by philosophy.

    i) Deleuze, the author of Difference and Repetition (1994), was known as the ‘Philosopher of Difference’ because his writings produced encounters of forces that resonated by aligning the reader with new forces and trajectories.
    ii) Unsymbolic means outside of language/words. For an explanation of unsymbolic differences see Alliez (2004, pp. 92-93).

    Badiou, A. (2000). Deleuze: The Clamor of Being (L. Burchell, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
    Buchanan, I. (1999). Introduction. In I. Buchanan (Ed.), A Deleuzian Century? (pp. 1-11). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
    Tormey, S. (2005). A ‘critical power’?: The uses of Deleuze. A review essay. Contemporary Political Theory, 4(4), 414-430.
    Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is Philosophy? (H. Tomlinson & G. Burchell, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.
    Jeanes, E. L., & De Cock, C. (2005). Making the familiar strange: a Deleuzian perspective on creativity. Paper presented at the Creativity and Innovation Management Community Workshop, Oxford, UK, 23-24 March.
    Bogue, R. (2004). Search, swim and see: Deleuze’s apprenticeship in signs and pedagogy of images. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(3), 327-342.
    Rajchman, J. (2000). The Deleuze Connections. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and Repetition (P. Patton, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.
    Williams, J. (2003). Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Difference and Repetition’: a Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
    McMahon, M. (2005). Difference, repetition. In C. Stivale (Ed.), Gilles Deleuze:Key Concepts (pp. 42-52). Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.
    Deleuze, G. (1989). Cinema 2: the Time-image (H. Tomlinson & R. Galeta, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
    Smith, D. W. (2005). Critical, clinical. In C. Stivale (Ed.), Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts (pp. 182-193). Montreal: McGill-Queens Press.

    • Abderrazak Belabes says:

      First of all, I want to thank James E. Rowe for his close reading and careful commentary, which is no small issue when it comes to the thought of ‘an uncommon’ personality like Deleuze. The general theme, the substance if I may say so, of this article is the question: ‘how can economists learn from non-economists?’. It is about a series which will approach in addition to Gilles Deleuze, Umberto Eco, René Girard, Philippe Descola, Edgar Morin, Maurice Godelier, Henri Poincaré, Nicolas Bouleau, to name just a few. The informed reader will notice that some of these authors are writers, anthropologists, mathematicians. The challenge is to encourage the economist to make more use of his human dimension, to be more sensitive to his living environment, to tend towards the ‘man economist’ rather than ‘the economist man’, beyond ideological cleavages, chapel quarrels between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, from the infinite mirror game where the reflections of mimetic desire give birth to an indefinite search for rivalry to obtain the same object, which paradoxically leads to convergence and resemblance (Girard, 2001).

      To formulate the question differently, most fields of knowledge have been built on the idea of conceptualization, i.e. on the search for affinities, orientations, tendencies, general laws. A crucial point, which has escaped this mainstream conception of knowledge, lies in the fact that “laws need to cling to a substance in order to operate: initial conditions and boundary conditions” (Bouleau, 2015, p. 108).To apply this to Deleuze, as a man philosopher, is to be interested in the singular, whereas man philosophers end up in oblivion. If we are interested in the elaboration of knowledge closely related to our living environment, the question of the singular really arises and deserves attention. Thinking differently, becoming different, and creating differences through its simplicity and originality, on this point I agree entirely with Rowe.

      About the idea that economics is a combination of several disciplines; I think – as many workshops testify – that such a way leads to put together complex and disparate elements. This produces views that do not work on the substance, i.e. questions, conceptualizations, the underlying views of the world, and values (Belabes, 2019, p. 90).

      Belabes, A. (2019). The Methodological Paradox in the Mainstream Economic Discourse. Journal of King Abdulaziz University: Islamic Economics, 32(3), 87-104.
      Bouleau, N. (2015). Sur la place du singulier dans la connaissance. Communications, 1(96), 107-118.
      Girard, R. (2001). Ce qui se joue aujourd’hui est une rivalité mimétique à l’échelle planétaire. Le Monde, 5 November.

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