Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Deleuze and Guattari in Early Childhood Education

  • Liselott Mariett Olsson
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_62

Introduction: A Thought Created Through Encounters in ECE

Deleuze and Guattari were at their most active during the 1970s and 1980s in France, and they were part of a generation of thinkers that also included Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), and Jean-François Lyotard (1924–1998) among others. The intellectual milieu in France was at this time dominated by structuralist thought, but Deleuze and Guattari challenged structuralism as it was expressed in linguistics, anthropology, and psychoanalysis through redefining structures as open ended and unstable. For them, a first condition of any structure is something that always deviates and escapes from it. This concerns linguistic structures but also society as a whole and even the history of philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, 2004). The Western history of philosophy has always been preoccupied with defining conditions for thought and organizing a place for systematic thinking (Spindler 2006). For Deleuze and Guattari, this equals not thinking at all, as thought conditioned in that way is marked by recognition and representation and obeys the laws of that which we already know:

“Everybody” knows very well that in fact men think rarely, and more often under the impulse of a shock than in the excitement of a taste for thinking. (Deleuze 1994, p. 132)

Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy breaks with this tradition of thought in that it transfers the status of thought as superior, interior, and grounded in pre-given conditions to a thought that lays out its ground as it proceeds and that is continuously created through encounters with the outside:

Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. (Deleuze 1994, p. 139; original emphasis)

This reworking of philosophy and thought presents a number of philosophical problems that connect to the contemporary context in ECE, of which three will be mentioned in this introduction:

Structure and the Social Field

One important connection between Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy and the field of ECE concerns how structure is conceived of and worked with in the social field:

I would say for my own part: a society, a social field does not contradict itself, but what is primary is, that it is leaking. (Deleuze 1994, p. 61; my translation)

If a first condition of any structure is that it is leaking, it is possible to study and work in the social field beyond predetermined positions and habitual ways of thinking, talking, and doing. This makes it difficult to talk about Deleuze and Guattari as “poststructuralists” as they consider also the linguistic system as leaking and do not give the linguistic sign the status as bearer of signification (Deleuze and Guattari 2004). The sign here has the status as a-signifying, and signification has been replaced by function, the only important thing being how linguistic signs work. Rather than identifying (linguistic) discourses, research here needs to focus on the nondiscursive, non-interpretative potentialities inherent in any structure.

Thought Created Through Encounters and the Relation of Research and Practice

A second connection with the field of ECE concerns the relation of research and practice and the role of the researcher. When the conditions for thinking are changed in the way described above, research and the researcher can no longer be considered as distanced from practice. Rather, they are immediately part of that which is studied and contribute in creating the empirical material. This is where “transcendental empiricism” gets its sense, as it indicates a certain devaluation of the already conditioned thought and promotes a new relation between research and practice. There is an important difference between the words “transcendence” and “transcendental.” Transcendence refers to the highest organizing principle, i.e., thought that organizes empirical experiences, but transcendental is that which comes before the consciously thinking subject, expressed in the quote below as “a-subjective consciousness”:

What is a transcendental field? It can be distinguished from experience in that it doesn’t refer to an object or belong to a subject (empirical representation). It appears therefore as a pure stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self. (Deleuze 2001, p. 25)

Transcendental empiricism is a “wilder kind of empiricism” that does not let consciousness designate the subject as capable of thinking of itself and the world as objects. Researchers that are normally accustomed to delivering consciousness-raising critique of practice from a distance are here invited to fully admit science’s productiveness and inventiveness and to engage in the co-creation and coproduction in, of, and with “the empirical.”

Becoming and the Image of the Child

This conceiving of the subject also leads to a third connection concerning the image of the child in ECE research and practice. The field has during later decades developed into paying more attention to children’s voices and rights. For instance, through the rise of the new sociology of childhood (Qvortrup 1994) where children’s participation was an important question as well as the child’s right to “being” rather than “becoming adult,” Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy invites to a slightly different image of the child. Following their thinking, it is exactly “being” that is contested in favor of “becoming.” However, and most importantly, this is a becoming that is different than the becoming-same of a child becoming adult. The becoming of a child is here a becoming without a purpose and goal (Deleuze and Guattari 2004). This is where the notion of a “neomaterial” philosophy gets its sense. In fact, reality and being are within this philosophy closer to a realist than an idealist perspective, although and importantly realist with a twist. Neomaterial here indicates that physical and material reality harbors more than one dimension. A virtual dimension continuously actualizes itself into the actual dimension that we hold for real:

A life contains only virtuals. It is made up of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in a process of actualization following the plane that gives it its particular reality. (Deleuze 2001, p. 31)

For research and practice in ECE, this line of thinking brings the possibility of multiple and transforming images of the child. The child that we see every day is obviously a real child, but through the idea of a virtual dimension perpetually actualizing itself, the child is also a continuously becoming child.

According to Zourabichvili (2003), since Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking and concepts create a rupture with the history of philosophy, they need to be approached through their own grammar and logic. Otherwise, their particular logical consistency will be misinterpreted, and the potential of the philosophical work will be overlooked. It is also important to remind of the context where it was created: the aftermaths of May 1968, a context of political activism where intellectual work was intimately connected to social and political everyday life. The use of Deleuze and Guattari needs to take this political activism into account. Otherwise, it runs this risk of depoliticizing this body of work or maybe even uncritically runs the errands of contemporary political governing that also claims “creativity” and “thinking outside the box.” There is great need for further research here that tentatively and with carefulness explores this thinking in ECE. Below follows the tracing of a trajectory – from Anti-Oedipus (1984) to A Thousand Plateaus (2004), via The Logic of Sense (2004) and over to What Is Philosophy? (1994) – that makes visible some possible connections with political activist work in ECE.

Desire as Production of Real – The Turn of the Gaze of Lack in ECE

The book Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia was originally published in French in 1972. The book can be understood as a long and meticulous critique of psychoanalysis’ structural overinterpretation of the subject. Psychoanalysis is in the book credited with the creative move of having invented the psyche, the unconscious, and desire as driving force, but the critique delivered by Deleuze and Guattari concerns desire and the subject being read and understood through the features of lack of a fantasized object:

To a certain degree, the traditional logic of desire is all wrong from the very outset: from the very first step that the Platonic logic of desire forces us to take, making us choose between production and acquisition. From the moment that we place desire on the side of acquisition, we make desire an idealistic (…) conception, which causes us to look upon it as primarily a lack: a lack of an object, a lack of the real object. (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, p. 25; original emphasis)

Even though the field of early childhood education is a different field than the field of psychoanalysis, the features of lack and acquisition are quite prevalent within these practices, not the least through the way that the field has picked up theories coming from developmental psychology, where the child has got its position and predetermined development and where everything that does not fit in to this predefined scheme is considered in need of being redressed. Even within so-called “child-centered pedagogies” desiring-repression is evident, as they talk about departing from children’s “needs.” When desire is equaled with “need,” it inevitably takes on the features of lack and acquisition: you need to acquire something because you do not have it. As an alternative, Deleuze and Guattari propose to see desire as “pure production of real” (1984, pp. 26–49). They try to turn around the logic that says that institutions, such as preschools, respond to preexisting needs embedded within children. From their perspective, desire must be politicized: children become “needy” since institutions capture, reduce, and tame their desires. Moreover, the alternative definition of desire as “pure production of real” proposes that institutions also have the choice to reverse this gaze of lack and instead become curious of and “latch onto” children’s desires, making it possible for them to influence and produce real life in preschool in new ways.

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (2004), desire is given a more complex setting. In an interview with Claire Parnet (Boutang 2004), Deleuze talks about how Anti-Oedipus was poorly received and how desire was misunderstood as “spontanéisme.” The sequel A Thousand Plateaus can therefore be understood as an attempt to deal with this misunderstanding through connecting desire with language. Language is here treated in a different way than within linguistics; in fact, this book is possible to read as a long battle with linguistics. Linguistics accord language nonspatial and temporal features that make it seemingly independent of materiality. This lack of materiality creates somewhat imperialist pretentions of language as encompassing all other strata. But at the same time language is underestimated in that it also contains a pragmatic and becoming dimension (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, p. 70).

In A Thousand Plateaus, desire is connected to language through describing how it works in assemblages where bodies and language go through a rhythmic act of re- and deterritorialization and breaking out of and settling into territories, the contours and frames of a particular assemblage (Grosz 2008).

It seems important for the field of ECE to take this move into account. A “spontanéiste” idea of desire might lead to a romanticized image of the child, promoting an “anything goes” pedagogy consisting in simply following children’s desires and interests, as if they were purely “emotional” and disconnected from the territory offered to them through the educational setting.

Today, the situation is even more complex as contemporary governing has changed face into neoliberal attempts to govern, no longer only through externally imposed rules but through the very modulation of desire and internal self-regulation (Massumi 2003). There is a great risk, then, that the trying to “latch onto” children’s desires uncritically joins this movement. Here is opened a great potential for further research that tries to simultaneously navigate critique and creation of alternatives.

Production of Sense: A Tool for Dealing with Learning and Knowledge in ECE

In contemporary educational contexts, young children’s learning is highlighted, but as Deleuze says, it seems that this is only said “because it is the fashion” (Deleuze 1994, p. 166). Education has developed from being considered the key to well-being of nations and individuals into a global and result-oriented competition between nations within an economic logic. Knowledge is treated in a simplified way where truth is taken for granted and questions and problems taken as givens with equally given, “correct,” and true answers and solutions. Or knowledge is being treated in the abovementioned “spontanéiste” and relativist way through a romanticized image of the child and the proposal of an “anything goes pedagogy.” The writings in The Logic of Sense (2004) might here be useful for navigating questions of learning and knowledge in ECE. In this book, as well as in the book Difference and Repetition (1994), Deleuze proposes a notion of sense as continuously produced in everyday events. Truth is here seen not as given but as a deserved effect of the sense being produced. This is expressed in how solutions to problems come forward in a proportional relation to the sense of the problem:

A solution always has the truth it deserves according to the problem to which it is a response, and the problem always has the solution it deserves in proportion to its sense. (Deleuze 1994, p. 159)

This has got implications for the way learning and knowledge is conceived in ECE. If truth is seen as an effect of sense and if a solution is proportional in relation to sense, children’s answers and solutions no longer need to be judged from the point of view of truth or falseness. Instead, there can be engagement in how children – departing from the very sense-production at stake – will construct problems and formulate questions. Here, there is great potential for developing more research. This alternative way of conceiving of sense-production might help educationalists to approach content in pedagogical practice in a stringent and still open way. This might also make possible – in a time and place where focus is only on results and questions of what and how – the opening up for and the reclaiming of questions of why, that is, questions of the sense and meaningfulness of ECE research and practice.

Plane of Immanence: Transdisciplinary Political Experimentation in ECE

The sense and meaningfulness of ECE need to be continuously rethought maybe today more than ever as the force and immediate workings of neoliberal governing invade and hijack efforts in the field. Here, the notion of “a plane of immanence” might be of help in order to make possible a transdisciplinary political experimentation in ECE. The plane of immanence is not to be understood as a concept. Rather, it is on the plane of immanence where concepts are created. The plane of immanence is the equivalence of the earlier mentioned transcendental field where consciousness no longer functions:

The transcendent is not the transcendental. Were it not for consciousness, the transcendental field would be defined as a pure plane of immanence, because it eludes all transcendence of the subject and of the object. (Deleuze 2001, p. 26)

In What Is Philosophy? (1994), Deleuze and Guattari show how this plane is in itself transforming and connective and how it is on this plane that continuous actualizations of the virtual dimension of reality are taking place. In this book, the authors claim that society is threatened by an increasingly poor and uncreative thought. As an answer to this threat of a thought with low vitality, leading only to the expression of fashion-like opinions, Deleuze and Guattari draw up the contours of the three disciplines, philosophy, science, and art, as originally and equally creative disciplines with the common task to experiment together and work against simple opinion and for a creative thought. Philosophy, science, and art harbor the possibility to do this through their respective and complementing ways of relating to the virtual. The virtual is, as earlier said by Deleuze and Guattari, defined as an added dimension to reality where things “spring up only to disappear immediately (…) an infinite speed of birth and disappearance” (1994, p. 118). In order to reach a creative thought, philosophy tries to retain this speed and give to the virtual a consistency specific to it through creating concepts. Science tries to slow down this speed in order to gain a reference that will actualize the virtual through incessantly creating functions. Finally, art tries to gain compositions where finite speed never stops restoring infinite speed within the virtual by creating sensations. The continuous creation of concepts, functions, and sensations binds the three disciplines together and makes them capable of working against simple opinion and for a creative thought. Even though each discipline has its proper means to do this, they also sometimes exchange roles and functions, such as when artists create sensations of concepts or functions. Furthermore, in order for concepts, functions, and sensations to not fall back into simple opinions, the disciplines need to find themselves in a constant reinvention of themselves. This is where they all need the confrontation with a non-philosophy, a nonscience, and a nonart, not as negation or opposition, but as a producer of disciplines in continuous becoming. This might present one of the greatest challenges for ECE and for education in general today: to approach educational questions in a transdisciplinary way in order to reclaim a vital and creative thought and to become forceful political actors. Here, there are great possibilities for future ECE research in the intersection of philosophy, science, and art.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Södertörn UniversityFlemingsberg/StockholmSweden