Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Deleuze and Guattari: Politics and Education

  • Matthew Carlin
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_372



The collaboration between French academic philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst/activist Felix Guattari resulted in the production of a wealth of material beginning in the 1970s and lasting until the early 1990s. Although their collaboration produced a synergy that would result in the proliferation of a range of powerful concepts that continue to resonate with architects, painters, writers, philosophers, social scientists, activists, and psychoanalysts, and educators, among others, their initial meeting and subsequent collaboration was the result of fortuitous circumstances in France during the late 1960s. It was the kind of political singularity that marked 1968 in Paris, France, where diverse sectors of society began to collaborate and work together in previously unforeseen ways that provided the opening in which Deleuze’s academic and Guattari’s clinical/political paths were first to cross. Furthermore, it was the events of 1968 political in Paris, France, that served as the fuel for their first theoretical collaboration resulting in the publication of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1983) – a book that is, more than anything else, a work of political philosophy. Together, with Anti-Oedipus, they would write four books in total including Kafka: A Minor Literature (1986), A Thousand Plateaus: Volume II of Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), and What is Philosophy (1994). Although these books deal with a number of different topics, what unifies them as a collaborative project while also setting them apart from Deleuze’s previous philosophical works is their overt political intentions.

Although the subject of education is rarely directly discussed in any of their work, there is a vast untapped potential to utilize the work of Deleuze and Guattari to help politicize the subject of education for teachers, students, and educational theorists and researchers in new ways (Carlin and Wallin 2014). To speak of education in the work of Deleuze and Guattari is necessarily to consider it within the context of the political spirit that brought them together. Consequently, a politics of education conceived alongside the work of Deleuze and Guattari emerges out of a consideration of pedagogy within the prevailing political themes found throughout their collaborations: the concepts of capture and control that describe how contemporary forms of exploitation operate within the context of neoliberal capitalism and a corresponding conceptual invention in the form of the war machine that they mobilize against such exploitation.

Capture and Control

For Deleuze and Guattari, it is act of capture that composes the primary function of State societies and the corresponding concept of control that describes how the expanded presence of the State makes its way into the interior of the socius to work in the service of new forms of capitalist accumulation. For Deleuze and Guattari, the State operates by way of the dual workings of the ruler who binds, serving as the source through which the multitude become adherent to the One, and the jurist who codifies through the imposition of treaties, laws, and contracts (1987, p. 351). This dual aspect of the State is brought to bear on labor power and the conditions for the creation of labor power in order to produce surplus value. The State, in this case, becomes “the sole and transcendent public-property owner, the master of surplus or stock, the organiser of large-scale works (surplus labour), the source of public functions and bureaucracy” (1987, p. 428).

In its neoliberal form, capitalism has become informalized, making its way into all aspects of everyday life and disengaging itself from its previous reliance on governmental institutions to orchestrate the accumulation of surplus value. What this indicates for Deleuze and Guattari is that the State is no longer solely oriented toward capturing those territories existing externally to the socius – in the form of what Marx famously called primitive accumulation – but it is now oriented toward the capture of internal territories (where primitive accumulation is also now directed inward). As capital has become social capital, the extraction of surplus value no longer pertains to the work place, but to the entire interior of the socius, including the capture of affects, desires, and emotional energies. In other words, instead of conceiving of these changes as an indication that the State has become superfluous, Deleuze and Guattari argue that the new expansive properties of capitalist accumulation simply make the State indistinguishable from society. In the face of the construction of new pathways to extract profit from previously unforeseen internal territories, the State has not been abolished, but merely internalized.

As the State has been internalized in contemporary capitalism, and forms of potential accumulation have expanded, social control for Deleuze and Guattari has taken on new importance. As a result both schooling and education have also assumed new roles. No longer does the institution of schooling serve as the specific sites from which one goes to complete the necessary training to be a productive citizen, but an institution that has completely adopted the corporate model. Under these circumstances, students are no longer confined to fulfill their necessary training, but set “free” to actively and continuously participate in consumption, the production of surplus value, and never ending forms of training and education necessary for both. Put differently, a person does not go through life being molded in different institutional arenas at different times of their life. They are no longer solely expected to be in school from ages 5 to 22, but now must be a part of constant modulation and, in the case of schooling, in education mode at all times. Education ceases to exist as a specific and separate institution where one goes and finally finishes to move onto other disciplinary spheres. Instead, educational training begins to meld into the home and workplace – all places that are conceived as potential sites for the extraction of surplus value. This corporate model of education demands a subject that is always already in a process of seeking out new tastes, sensibilities, and images (Carlin and Wallin, p. xxii).

Consider one of the dominant mantras found in educational rhetoric today, that of “life-long learning.” This mantra not only saturates educational institutions, but serves a crucial role in opening up the possibility for the advancement of continuing education. Such education is oriented toward the creation of flexible entrepreneurs who are not only prepared to move from one job to the next, but also to participate in the kinds of never-ending training necessary to effectively seek out new means and pathways to extract profit from the internal territories now being opened up through the State/society/capital nexus and the full adoption of the corporate model into every sphere of life (Carlin and Wallin 2014). In accordance with advancement of continual education and lifelong learning, increasing forms of testing are utilized to create statistical and representative formulations of students as a way to measure their current and potential to become such entrepreneurs. Within this kind of conception of schooling, students are also being prepared to participate in educational training for the rest of their lives – where their success as students becomes increasingly dependent upon the maintenance of their own educational incompleteness. To be a completed subject in education – where one would formally finish schooling and education – would stand in direct confrontation with the neoliberal requisite of lifelong training to ensure that students are a continual source and generator of surplus value for their entire lives.

The internalization of the State not only affects the contemporary model and conceptualization of schooling but also the way that students think. It is what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) refer to as “State thought” that describes an authoritarian, arboreal model of thinking tied to rationality and foundationalism that serves to tether all thought expression to previous categories and concepts. Such thought does not act to defend the State, but “…is already in conformity with a model that it borrows from the State apparatus, and which defines for it goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon” (1987, p. 374). In other words, State thought is the acceptable form of thought that is constituent of the kind of transcendent, binary forms of thought that eliminate multiplicity and difference in favor of the One. Opposed to the authoritarianism of State thought, Deleuze and Guattari propose rhizomatic thought that eschews arboreal essences and growth in favor of the wildness and unpredictability of the root system of grass.

This neoliberal context requires a kind of political intervention that is up to the task of trying to escape the impasses of the regulation, cliché, and predetermination of how one can and should be educated, as well as how one can think. For Deleuze and Guattari, what needs to be done is the creation of new tools – both conceptual and otherwise – that might allow us to extricate a genuine form of education, schooling, and thought from the State of education today.

The War Machine

One of the key concepts that they mobilized in their political philosophy against such exploitation was that of “the war machine” – an idea indebted to the work of French anthropologist and anarchist Pierre Clastres who spent years working with the Guayaki, Guarani, and Yanomami tribes in Paraguay, Venezuela, and Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result of his ethnographic work, Clastres famously proclaimed that “primitive societies” are essentially societies without a State (1987, 2010). This was not the result of situating these tribes on the bottom rung of some teleological rendering of world history. By contrast, Clastres recognized that “primitive” peoples had created the kind of sociocultural mechanisms necessary in order to avoid the emergence and imposition of the State.

When the State is perfected, power resides in the hands of the few, society is organized hierarchically, the “legitimate” use of violence is monopolized, and those with power have the ability to forcibly extract profit/riches from the rest of the populace. Such perfection culminates in the emergence of the despot. While this ideal State has been enacted to varying degrees of success, despotism has served as the “horizon” of all that the State desires to be. Those who have managed to avoid such Ur-aspects of stateliness did so not as a result of an accident, luck, or an “undeveloped” form of socioeconomic organization that predated the advent of capitalism and the formation of the nation State but rather through a form of sociocultural organization intentionally designed to prohibit, or limit the possibility of, the formation of the State. Why have “primitive” peoples organized themselves around deterring the formation of the State? It is precisely because they are well aware of the consequences of its emergence.

For Clastres, the way that primitive societies avoid the State and the kind of capture and control imminent to Stateliness is through the enactment of war – sometimes real and sometimes symbolic in nature. This may seem counterintuitive. However, for Clastres war stands against sovereignty and the associated consolidation of wealth and power in the way that it acts as a form of rupture and flight from such capture. It is not as if primitive societies do not have leaders. Only that war enacted by warriors is on the side of the socius in order that leaders, while granted great respect and prestige, lack any ability to consolidate power in the hands of the few. Specifically, it was the mechanism of war that served this function, ensuring both the “dispersal” and “segmentarity” of groups so that neither the consolidation of power in the hands of the few nor the reification of institutional life was possible (1987, p. 357).

For Deleuze and Guattari, Clastres’ work and inherent critique of the teleological advancement of the world that culminates in the formation of the State and its associated institutions allowed them to consider the concept of war as a source from which to avoid capture. Similarly, it was through the work of Clastres that Deleuze and Guattari advanced the argument that the State is not a recent invention nor a product of a particular form of economic development as many Marxists have advocated, but rather a social formation that has always been in existence. Like Clastres, Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the war machine is not a reference to an armed and militarized group that engages in acts of violence. In other words, the primary object of the war machine is never war but another kind of violence that allows for escape, or what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as “lines of flight” from the kinds of capture and control that define the State’s influence over the social field. Only when the State appropriates the war machine does it come to exist as a military institution – incorporated into the administrative and bureaucratic spatiotemporal formation that pertains to the State. Set against such control over the social field, the war machine for Deleuze and Guattari is that which mutates and defines all forms of creativity. Such mutations can be found individually or through group formations and can refer to either material practices or acts of thought: to art, education, ecology, economy, philosophy, or politics. It is a concept that refers to variable relations to war itself, innumerable creative potentialities, and as such to multiple meanings (1987, p. 422).

Deleuze and Guattari develop this concept through a reference to spatiality and movement. In terms of space, it is the smooth space of the war machine that enables lines of flight from the grooved, predetermined, striated space of the State that dictates how one is to live a life, think, and be educated. In terms of movement, the war machine is always intimately connected to what they call the nomad. However, the nomad is not necessarily a reference to movement but a reference to escape from the sedentarism engendered by striated space that allows for the formation of the State in all of its variants. Ultimately, for Deleuze and Guattari, the war machine is “irreducible to the State apparatus…outside its sovereignty and prior to its law: it comes from elsewhere” (1987, p. 352) and as such the nomad is always, in movement or in stillness, that which is able to remain external to the apparatus of the State.

An Education of the Outside

As always external to the State, the war machine stands in opposition to the coded plane that functions alongside the State/society/capital nexus. To participate in a war machine is to participate in an uncoded radical form of difference that evades the establishment of any kind of stable identities. The State can appear in an unlimited number of ways within the context of schools including hierarchical centralized authority inherent in administrative, teacher, student, and parent/teacher group formation, as well as the kinds of transcendent, identitarian, and representative forms of thought that constitute legitimate knowledge throughout all levels of schooling. However, the war machine can similarly appear in unlimited social formations, but is always oriented toward undermining and/or escaping from the bureaucratic, administrative, and spatiotemporal formations of control that dominate any level of education where the State has become internalized. The war machine is the absolute outside to the State. For Deleuze and Guattari, “(T)he State’s pretension to be a world order, and to root man. The war machine’s relation to an outside is not another ‘model’; it is an assemblage that makes thought itself nomadic” (1987, p. 24).

As a result, to enact the war machine in education is to subvert the consolidation of power in any of its forms while creating the eventual (sociocultural, organizational, and political) mechanisms that will inhibit its appearance again. To create an education of the outside is to extract a genuine form of education, schooling, and thought from the State of things as it pertains to the corporate model in operation today. An education inspired by the war machine would coincide with a kind of combat that would help us to evade the known through problematizing our habitual comportment and thought as it relates to how one is to teach, how one is to learn, and how an education is to proceed. Education inspired by the war machine would instigate a kind of “unlearning” that would work to disrupt common sense and constituted knowledge, as well as the methods currently in operation in schools today that determine the ways that bodies are organized and groups are formed.


For Deleuze and Guattari, concepts such as “the war machine” should be conceived of as tools. In this sense, the conceptual tool should not be mobilized in order to label our experiences in education so that multiplicity of difference is obscured through the application of the concept, but to create new connectivities that illuminate difference and complexity in previously unforeseen ways. In other words, we should not consider the use of a concept such as the war machine in terms of the way that we can bring it to bear on pedagogical or educational environments. To utilize concepts as Deleuze and Guattari intended is not to use concepts in a representative manner – and here we should think of the term representative in its full political significance where the multitude is represented by and subsequently falls under the control of the One. We can utilize terms such as “the war machine” and others found in the work of Deleuze and Guattari as ways to create new connections within and between fields, ideas, and situations, so that we might open up the potential to extract a genuine form of education from the preestablished realm of pedagogy in operation today. In the politics of education inherent in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, we are reminded that education bound to prior categories of expression is antithetical to the promise of pedagogy itself. In other words, by containing pedagogical experiences within a series of predetermined conceptual formations – by always confining pedagogy to what has already been determined – the possibility of learning itself becomes foreclosed. As such, an engagement with Deleuze and Guattari would generate a politics of education oriented toward the disruption of the State in all of its forms.


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  7. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIESAS Sureste (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social)ChiapasMexico