Wednesday, October 14, 2009

USC Rhetorical Theory Conference

Here is my position paper for the USC Rhetorical Theory Conference this week. A couple of good ideas, though, it is mostly first thoughts toward my lecture for the Common conference here at the U when I get back from Chicago in November. Any comments, therefore, are much appreciated.

Institutional Thought(s): Diagrams of Power and the Constitutive Power of the Multitude
Ronald Walter Greene, University of Minnesota
Position paper prepared for the University of South Carolina Rhetorical Theory Conference
October 15-17, 2009

Institutions play an important role in my theoretical and historical work. Warranted by the uptake of Foucauldian approaches to policy and government in cultural policy studies, institutions have been a key point of contact between power and discourse for exploring the process of subjectification. My work is awash in claims about institutions. For example, theoretically, I have argued that a material approach to rhetorical effectivity must focus on the institutional uptake of trope, arguments, and technologies (Greene, 1998, 1999, 2009). A theoretically claim that I have historically performed by focusing on how Malthusian modes of reasoning interact with both state and global institutions, whether they be the U.S. Presidency or the United Nations International Conferences on Development (Greene, 1999). Moreover, my critical histories of rhetorical pedagogy have been motivated by an effort to resist claims that attention to the practices of persuasion in everyday life means one should abandon a study of the institutional history of rhetoric, an institutional history located squarely within formal educational institutions, like college debate programs, but, also informal educational institutions like the YMCA or PCI-Media Impact (Greene & Kuswa, 2002; Greene, 2004; Greene & Hicks, 2005; Greene & Breshears, forthcoming). More recently, I have claimed that the interface between the rhetorical and the institutional may be a crucial site of articulation for exploring the mobility of some “technologies of public persuasion” to circulate while others may not (Greene, 2009). However, while such an institutional move is meant to link texts to their external coordinates more than their internal dynamics, a reliance on institutions as sites for the reception of discourses and the production of arguments, tropes and technologies becomes precariously dependent on the archival tendencies of particular institutions.

One advantage of an institutional analysis has been to make concrete how institutions produce subjects through the rituals, practices and actions they call on the subject to rhetorically perform to become subjects of the institution. But such an institutional approach may not escape the critique of functionalism and may authorize a rather unfoucauldian interest in the internal mechanisms of institutions. To follow Foucault is to displace the institution. His resistance to an institutional-centric approach is expressed in a lecture dated 8 February 1978: “In short, the point of view adopted in all these studies [of the disciplines] involved the attempt to free relations of power from the institution, in order to analyze them from the point of view of technologies; to distinguish them also from the function, so as to take them up within a strategic analysis; and to detach them from the privilege of the object, so as to resituate them within the perspective of the constitution of fields, domains and objects of knowledge” ( 2007, p. 118). Three methodological displacements of the institution: First, look outside the institution to account for its insertion into a technology of power; second, describe the strategies and tactics that produce and activate the institution as much because it fails than despite its failures; third, resituate the institution into a field of knowledge to displace the institutions own measurements inherent to its functional object. The aim is to allow the institution to become a site to which the technology of power finds “expression, intensity and density” at the same time as the institution partakes in a “whole network of alliances, communications, and points of support” (p. 117). One may start with the rhetorical products and/or subjects of an institution but one should end with a diagram of the lines that traverse a dispositif (Deleuze, 1989, p. 159). Whether one then translates a dispositif as a technology of power as an apparatus, or as an abstract machine, the implications are similar: there is a broader context to which one is supposed to insert the institution; an outside that the institution is inside.

A couple of questions: might the dispositif run the risk of becoming the determining feature, the structure or logic to which the institution activates. Has the institution in its expression of the technology of power become the superstructure to the dispositif’s mode of production? By signaling the “network of alliances, communications and points of support” as the point of a genealogical analysis do we risk becoming “institutionally indifferent” (Bennett, p. 91) to the particulars of the institution under investigation? If so, this would displace how Foucault’s methods allowed one to speak of the birth of the asylum, the birth of the clinic and the birth of the prison from the bottom up, from the microphysics of power traversing the institution and proliferating beyond its walls. The institution cannot merely be an instrument of the general economy of a technology of power; an institution has its concrete forms that while owing much to its outside nonetheless has its own configuration and set of constitutional coordinates. For example, while one might point to how the clinic, prison and asylum might share in a general technology of discipline by sequestering and enclosing populations, the public museum, in contrast, did not work to sequester and enclose populations, but encouraged the “mixing and intermingling of publics” (Bennett, p. 93). Moreover, even in light of the disciplinary similarity between the clinic, prison and asylum, they nonetheless work with different substances (the prisoner, the mad, the patient) and have different functions. There is a difference between the exile of the leper and the partitioning of the plague victim (Deleuze, 1989, p. 42). What is external to the institution is the diagram. As Deleuze reads Foucault: “the diagram or abstract machine is the map of relations between forces … [it] is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place not above but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce” (1988, pp.36-37). One methodologically performs an externalization to assess the immanent relationship between the diagram and its concrete assemblages. Put differently, only in the effects of the concrete assemblages can the diagrams causality be distinguished. In trying to clarify the meaning of an institution we have added another concept to the mix: not simply the diagram/abstract machine/apparatus but the concrete assemblage.

Reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Deleuze notes D&P gives a positive character to what was described negatively in Archeology of Knowledge as “non-discursive environments such as ‘institutions, political events, economic practices and processes’.” (p. 31). The prison exists as one of these non-discursive environments that is now given concrete existence as a “form of content where the content is the prisoner).” A form of content is never too far from a form of expression. The form of expression takes the place of statements previously described in Archeology of Knowledge. Thus, the form of expression referred to by the prison is penal law and its statements about delinquency. But, the form of content manifested in the prison is not an order of discourse as it is with a form of expression but, as Deleuze remarks, a system of light. The form of content works visually while the form of expression works linguistically. While the form of content and form of expression refer to one another they are not homogenous; “they do not have the same form, and do not have the same formation.” What we have is a “mutual presupposition operating between the two forms, yet there is no common form, no conformity, not even correspondence” between the visible and the articulable. If one can, without stumbling, identify the prison as an institution we do so because the institution as a form of content is a system of light we know as panopticism. From such a conceptualization, an institution exists as a visual rhetoric making some things visible and invisible while forms of expression manage to create new objects of knowledge. Two different lines Deleuze refers to as lines of visibilities and lines of enunciation (1989, p. 160) are embodied in the form of content and form of expression. In both cases, form organizes matter and it finalizes functions. As such, a form of content and a form of expression both have within them an organized matter and function. For example, Deleuze writes, “Not only the prison but the hospital, the school, the barracks and the workshop are formed matter. Punishment is a formalized function, as is care, education, training, or enforced work” (p.33). Since a form of content and a form of expression intermingle, one might suggest an institution exists within the concrete assemblage produced by the mutual interaction of the form of content and the form of expression. The diagram is the abstraction of the forms and functions from the concrete assemblage. Following Deleuze’s reading, Foucault does not then place the diagram in a position of the transcendental sovereign because “the diagrammatic multiplicity can be realized and the differential of forces integrated only by taking diverging paths, splitting into dualism, and following lines of differentiation” realized in the divergence or differentiation of the form of expression and a form of content. Because the diagram is an abstraction of form, it is informal; it requires its realization in the form of visible matter and articulable functions. The non-place between the form of content and form of expression is the “place” where the informal diagram is “swallowed up and becomes embodied instead in two different directions that are necessarily divergent and irreducible” p.1988, p. 38). A history of assemblages exists in the encounters between the visible and the articulable as each of “these forms neither enclose nor interiorize anything; they are ‘forms of exteriority’ though which either statements or visible things are dispersed” (p.43). To put it in a rhetorical idiom, we do not go from outside in (context to text) but go from inside out to learn how the outside makes the assemblage.

A lot of conceptual work goes into the answer what is an institution? First and foremost it is a visual rhetoric, visible matter that makes the visible and invisible articulated to an expressed set of functions, purposes and aims discursively oriented to an object of knowledge. But it is always approached from a position of exteriority; first in terms of the institutions formal content and them with the encounter between the form of content and a form of expression. The concrete assemblage of the differential forms is than externalized again as the articulation of the realized effect of the pure form and function of an abstract diagram. Yet, before rushing to the diagram, work needs to be done on those encounters between the visible and the sayable, those moments when a formal content interacts with a formal expression. It is in these encounters that a living substance finds its form in a concrete assemblage. As such, perhaps the rhetorical is useful as a name for this encounter.

To draw a contrast to the foucauldian-deleuzian sketch of an institution, I want to highlight the category of institution as it exists in Anglo-American social sciences. In an oft-cited paper, Geoffrey Hodgson (2006) defines institutions as “systems of established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions. Language, money, law, systems of weights and measure, table manners and firms (and other organizations) are thus all institutions.” Beginning with the idea that institutions are social rules, Steven Fleetwood (2008) argues that “recognition that (a) rules are similar to conventions, norms, values, and customs, and (b) that institutions consist of rules, allows me to augment my initial definition thus: institutions are systems of established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs; institutions consist of, or are constituted by established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs” (p. 247). In this case, institutions are not reducible to the formed matter of an organization because they express social rules, norms and conventions that traverse any given organization at the same time as any one organization exists as an institution (in the sense they create social rules that structure interactions of those within the organization). These rules are not necessarily spoken, in fact, for rules to be effective requires that they “never be purely or fully matters of conscious deliberation” (Hodgson, 2006, p. 4). But, why might people follow the rules? A central answer provided is the role of habit. For example, Hodgson writes: “habits are the constitutive material of institutions, providing them with enhanced durability, power and normative authority. In turn, by reproducing shared habits of thought, institutions create strong mechanisms of conformism and normative agreement (p.7). The social-cultural dimension of institutions is primarily located in this process of habituation by which actors internalize the norms and rules of institutions, which preceded their existence. Institutions, Hodgson argues, have “the capacity to change aspirations instead of merely enabling or constraining them. Habit is a key mechanism in this transformation. Institutions are social structures that can involve reconstitutive downward causation, acting to some degree upon individual habits of thought and action” (p. 7). Human agency is not held hostage to the rules of institutions because habituation is primarily a psychological process that makes possible the objective and subjective character of institutional norms.

Once we note the distinction between institutional structure and human agency that exists in the social science literature we can appreciate the distinction between the new and old institutionalism. As Berk and Galvan (2009) argue the old institutionalism emphasized the power of institutions to create order while the new institutionalism “shifted analysis towards the conditions under which institutions emerge, function, and change”(p. 545). Yet, Berk and Galvan note a lingering structural bias in the new institutionalism manifested in the tendency to read agency off of structural gaps to explain institutional change (p. 548). In contrast, Berk and Galvan offer a strong sense of human agency grounded in Dewey’s concept of habit. Berk and Galvan write: “Habits, in our view, stand in for rule-in-action. They anchor an experiential account of how people follow rules, use rules, and perturb rules in ways that are never exactly the same. Habits live and thrive in ambiguity. And they cannot help but necessitate deliberation and their own transformation” (p.551). From this standpoint, habits do not provide the psychological link between the objective and subjective dimension of institutions; they provide the experiential base for the creative adaption, use and transformation of the institutional norms, rules, customs and values. Habits and institutions begin to change when impulse “overflows the structure of existing habits, sometimes refuse to be domesticated, and is central to how we understand the reformulation of habit itself” (Berk and Galvan, 2009, p. 554). Beck and Galvin then identify three key modes of impulsive motion: raw action, creative deliberation and routine. They privilege creative deliberation for producing the creative syncretism underwriting the agential power behind institutional change. This creative deliberation is, of course, a favorite place to access the rhetorical.

Berk and Galvan’s strong theory of human agency, expressed in moments of creative deliberation, is a more likely place to discover the rhetorical in an institutional analysis than the encounter between the forms of content and the forms of expression that make up a complex assemblage. But lets take advantage of the subjective dimension provided by Berk and Galvan’s turn to habit and impulse, but do so with an eye less toward the rhetorical subjectivity of the orator and more toward the production of the common. For Hardt and Negri, the pragmatist interest in habits provides an important resource for understanding the production of the common because “habits create a nature that serves as the basis of life … habits and conduct are shared and social. They are produced and reproduced in interaction and communication with others. Habits are never really individual or personal. Individual habits, conduct, and subjectivity only arise on the basis of social conduct, communication, acting in common. Habits constitute or social nature” (2004, p. 197). Hardt and Negri insist on the common ontology of habits and not their individual characteristics: “habits are living practice, the site of creation and innovation … that from the standpoint of social communication and collaboration, we have in common enormous power to innovate … Habits are the common basis of which all creation takes place. Habits form … an ontology of social practice in common” (p. 198). While not sufficient, the pragmatic notion of habits allows Hardt and Negri to posit the concept of the multitude as arising from this social ontology of common production. In a passage that deserves more unpacking than I can provide here, Hardt and Negri argue, “Singularities interact and communicate socially on the basis of the common, and their social communication in turn produces the common. The multitude is the subjectivity that emerges from this dynamic of singularity and commonality” (p. 198).

As I have argued elsewhere, one cannot bring Dewey forward to the present conjuncture to craft a deliberative citizen without also recognizing that the very pedagogical dimensions offered for such a rhetorically sensitive subject are the very skills of immaterial labor required of postfordist capitalism (Greene 2003). A strong individualist sense of human agency underwriting rhetorical subjectivity merely provides capitalism with a standing reserve willing to sell his/her labor power as rhetorical capital to corporations of public persuasion (Greene 2003). Hardt and Negri, posit the name Empire to describe the new diagram of power operative today that increasingly organizes itself by learning how to exploit the production of the common. In the immanent unfolding of empire the concrete assemblages of common production differentiate, break into two, positing the vampiric tendency of empire on one side and the activate potential of the multitude on the other. It is this active potential that is capable of producing empire’s outside from the production of the common. What is to be done, then, is not so much the multitude’s institutionalization as its organization.

Bennett, T. (1995). The birth of the museum: History, theory, politics. London: Routledge.
Berk, G. & Galvan D (2009). How people experience and change institutions: A field guide to creative syncretism. Theory and Society, 38, 543-580.
Deleuze, G. (1988). Foucault. Sean Hand (Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. (1991). What is a Dispositif? In T. Armstrong (Ed.), Michel Foucault Philosopher (pp. 159-168). London: Routledge.
Fleetwood, S. (2008). Institutions and social structures. Journal of the Theory of Social Behavior 38, 241- 265.
Foucault, M. (2007). Five: 8 February 1978. In Michele Senellart (Ed.) Graham Burchell (Trans.) Security, Territory Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978 (pp. 115-134). New York: Palgrave.
Greene, R.W. (1998). Another materialist rhetoric. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 15, 21-41.
Greene, R.W. (1999). Malthusian Worlds: US Leadership and the governing of the population crisis. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Greene, R.W. (2003). John Dewey’s eloquent citizen: Communication, judgment and postmodern capitalism. Argumentation and Advocacy, 189-200.
Greene, R.W. (2009). Rhetorical materialism: Rhetorical subjectivity and the general intellect. In B. Biesecker and J. Lucaities (Eds.). Rhetoric, materiality and politics (pp. 43-66). New York: Peter Lang.
Greene, R.W. & Kuswa, K.D. (2002). Governing Balkanization at home: Liberalism and the rhetorical production of citizenship. Controversia: An International Journal of Debate and Democratic Renewal 1, 16- 33.
Greene, R.W. & Hicks, D. (2005). Lost convictions: Debating both sides and the ethical self-fashioning of liberal citizens. Cultural Studies, 19, 101-127
Greene, R.W. & Breshears, D. (forthcoming). Bio-political media: Population Communications International and the governing of reproductive health. In P. Suakko and L. Reed (Eds.). Governing the female body: Health, gender and networks of power. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hardt, M. & Negri, A (2004). Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire. New York: Penguin Press.
Hodgson, G.M. (2006). What are institutions? Journal of Economic Issues, XL, 1- 25.


  1. Hi Ron... I am following, and then not. Lots of big ideas. One thing that comes to mind because he is working along similar conceptual lines and link-ups is the last chapter of Bruce Baugh's _French Hegel_ on Deleuze, Foucault, and the new empiricism. I think that you will find some resonance, and maybe some helpful thought-architecture ... you give plenty to chew over here

  2. Ron:

    I really enjoyed your blog post and fundamentally agree with the overall conclusion (i.e., “what is to be done, then, is not so much the multitude’s institutionalization as its organization.”). Just as food for thought, however, here are a few thoughts/objections I had when reading your position paper. I would love to talk about these ideas more at NCA:

    1) I am fascinated by how the Foucauldian shift from institutionalization to “technologies, fields, domains and objects of knowledge” corresponds historically with a shift from disciplinary societies to societies of control. In other words, while Deleuze’s idea of the diagram (or dispositif) offers one way to conceptualize such changes, another way to think about Foucault’s methodological shift in analyzing power relations is to view them as two different methodologies that correspond with two different regimes of capitalist accumulation (Keynesianism and neoliberalism). I see this as one way of better grappling with the differences and similarities between the immanent project pursued by Hardt and Negri and the more institutionally focused project of govermentality (pursued by people such as Miller and Rose). Keynesianism, after all, was constituted primarily through its emphasis on institutionalization whereas neoliberalism is much more immaterial in its scope and intensity.

    2) In regards to your discussion of “institutional indifference” (and I haven’t read the Bennett piece yet but want to) I see this as coinciding with the “crisis of governance” characterized by control societies (which I discuss in the conclusion of my forthcoming CC/CS piece). To observe the shift away from institutions as the site of material analysis, however, is not to say that institutions have disappeared but that their structural logic has been displaced to that of immaterial networks located outside the structure of institutional form. New developments in technology such as the Internet, for example, offer a “material” basis for making this claim. Aihwa Ong has a good article on this matter (Ch 2) in her book “Neoliberalism as Exception.” She examines how the internet functioned as a material basis for mobilizing a Global Huaren Cyberpublic that exceeded the structural logic of traditional institutions used to mediate the national Indonesian identity of Huaren culture. Her analysis is not entirely optimistic (in terms of encouraging a democratic multitude) but it is a nice concrete example of a material analysis of agency outside the limits of institutionalization.

    3) Finally, does viewing institutions as a form visual rhetoric (produced through a diagram) threaten to dematerialize the project you are working towards? I know materiality can exist in multiple forms, but it almost seems that conceptualizing institutions as visual rhetoric sets up the same bipolar model of power between discourse and materiality that you have been trying to avoid for all these years. Perhaps, I am way off but it reads like the visual rhetoric of the diagram precedes the historical materiality of the institutions themselves (when I think we would agree that the institutions constitute how visual rhetoric is conceptualized hermeneutically as much as visual rhetoric constrains how institutions are hermeneutically conceptualized).

  3. Payday loans
    Wow, one of the best read posts so far.

  4. It is quite long but it has the sense to tell about the topic. Very interesting!

    David Moore
    Public Speaking Training