Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Deleuze’s Philosophy for Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_65



Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy has an enormous potential for educational theory, pedagogical practice, and educational research methods and policy. The questions asked by Deleuze (and Deleuze & Guattari in their combined works) address important areas for education such as human subjectivity, experience, logic, language, ethics, creativity, and desire. Deleuze’s philosophy is pragmatic and has a surprising affinity with Dewey’s educational philosophy with its attention to problematic situations and learning from experience. Deleuze’s is the pedagogy of concepts: practical, experimental pedagogy oriented to focusing on problems that defy univocal solutions but represent experimentation with the world and ourselves leading to the creation of new meanings and values. Deleuze’s philosophy defies static “being” in lieu of dynamic “becoming” made possible by relations and connections. Rational thought is complemented by non-thought, or unthought and affective, dimension. Philosophical thinking demands the creation of the new. It has strong political implications, reflecting Deleuze’s ontology of the virtual, and as such is future oriented, addressing the people yet to come. Education as inspired by Deleuze’s philosophy is untimely: it can transcend the physical present and allows us to envisage multiple opportunities in the open future.

Philosophy as Geography

Within the Continental tradition, Deleuze is an odd figure. His thinking has a surprising affinity with American pragmatic tradition, especially with such figures as Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey (Semetsky 2006). Deleuze’s philosophical method has important implications for philosophy of education (and, significantly, in the context of the recently developed new direction, edusemiotics). Deleuze and Guattari described philosophy as a geography of reason (geophilosophy) using the metaphors of maps, diagrams, lines, and planes for expressing the nuances of such experiential and experimental thinking that does not reject logic (Semetsky 2013) while denying binary codes. It is linked to the logic of multiplicities which are relational rather than substantial entities; hence, they defy direct representation in conscious thought or by verbal language. Being signs, they indirectly and enigmatically, like hieroglyphs to be deciphered and interpreted, portend and point to something other than themselves. Any given multiplicity always has a middle element as the included third “located” in-between presupposed binary opposites. Such logic (or semiotics) deals a fatal blow to the two terms in a relation that are usually presented as opposing each other in the framework of Cartesian dualism or analytic reason alike.

Deleuze’s logic is a-signifying and represents an innovative mix of Peirce’s triadic logic of relations and Hjelmslev’s linguistics; both perspectives surpassing Saussurean semiology where the unit of analysis is represented by a signifier-signified dyad. Deleuze and Guattari employ Peirce’s notion of diagram as a constructive part of relational dynamics. A diagram acts as a semiotic bridge that functions as a transversal connection crossing over an a-signifying gap by virtue of conjunction “and.” Thus, meanings are conferred not by reference to some external object but via mediation in the relational, or rhizomatic, network whose contours are always changing. Rhizome is a biological metaphor that underscores the living character of signs situated in life and in experience and points to their impending growth and transformation. Deleuze’s philosophy makes accent on problematic instances in human experiences, not unlike Dewey’s attention to problematic situations, transactions, and revaluations of experience rather than finite solutions.


As embedded in the perplexity of the real-life problematic event, rhizome goes in diverse directions instead of a single path, multiplying its own lines and establishing the plurality of unpredictable connections in the open-ended space of its growth. In short, it lives. It does not represent exactly, but only maps our tentative ways, paths, and movements. Rhizome belongs to the new image of thought that differs from the dogmatic Cartesian paradigm and whose central concept is dynamic becoming in contrast to static being. As a symbol for unlimited becoming through the multitude of its own interconnections, rhizome is contrasted with a tree, the latter symbolizing the linear and direct reasoning that establishes a striated model of dichotomous divisions (the tree of Porphyry – arbor Porphyrii) as an example of the classificatory system, a hierarchical structure based on discrete definitions that serve as the foundation for rational – demonstrable and certain – knowledge. Yet, modern emphasis on the knowledge economy tends to restrict the process of becoming. Deleuze warns: “One can envisage education …giving way to frightful continual training, to continual monitoring of worker-schoolkids or bureaucrat-students. They try to present it as a reform of the school system, but it’s really its dismantling” (Deleuze 1995, p. 175).

Experience, Virtual, and Actual

Deleuze’s ontology posits the virtual field of becoming that can produce practical effects. The virtual contains differences, while the actual contains identities; both planes however are real. The virtual expresses itself in different regimes of extralinguistic signs, sometimes at the level of silent, unconscious, discourse (Semetsky 2010) such as involuntary memories or images. Human experience is an extended milieu populated with affective becomings as sign relations. Relations are ontologically prior and external to their terms, thereby invalidating the whole dualistic split expressed in the logical copula “is.” Instead, it is the conjunction “and” itself an in-between relation that is ontologically basic. Experience is a-subjective, impersonal, and irreducible to an individual property of the egocentric Cogito; rather subjects are constituted in relations by means of intensive individuations via becoming-other within experiential events as folds. Experience is enfolded in the public world and spills over the boundaries of the private Cartesian subject with its isolated instrumental rationality grounded in “I think therefore I am.” Experience needs to be transcended – freed from the constraints of common sense – hence infusing empiricism with its transcendental dimension. Deleuze’s empiricism is radically transcendental! Transcendental empiricism enables an interpretation of signs, signals, and symptoms in practice, thus making sense for the singularity of events. The French word sens means at once sense or meaning, and a direction of the course of action that we take in our practical lives depending on the circumstances and contexts of problematic experiences.

Affects and Becomings

The dynamic subject’s complex process of formation is described by the intensive capacity to affect and be affected. The production of subjectivity is based on the autonomy of affect as if it were a real being, a force. The forceful, as if physical, intensity of an encounter with an affect marks the passage between the experiential states of the body, which is defined by Deleuze, borrowing from Spinoza, as both physical and mental. Accordingly, the body’s power is being changed. Deleuze specifies the body’s power as a capacity to multiply and intensify connections. Conflicting real-life experiences are characterized by their difference; philosophical thinking, then, is conceptualized as the quasi-empirical, practical, mapping of such a difference. By constituting the very content of the movable and moving concepts, the affective dimension is complemented by percepts: “Percepts aren’t perceptions, they’re packets of sensations and relations that live on independently of whoever experiences them. Affects aren’t feelings, they are becomings that spill over beyond whoever lives through them (thereby becoming someone else)” (Deleuze 1995, p. 137). The Deleuzian subject, in a process of becoming-other, is open to an interference of those dynamic affective forces as experiential signs. The transformational pragmatics of experience begins amidst of a “broken chain of affects” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 9) that reside in life, not just in one’s mind.

Pedagogy of Concepts

For Deleuze, the theory of signs is meaningless without the relation between signs and the corresponding apprenticeship in practice. The word apprendre in French means to learn, hence apprenticeship. Fixed facts and linguistic truths are not all there is, and we are wrong to believe in truth; rather, there are interpretations: reading the signs of experience. The existential meanings are created as a function of an encounter in the here and now that always already elicits new and differently distributed contexts for which new concepts are to be created. This is what Deleuze called the pedagogy of concepts: it is practical learning from experience oriented to real-life problems that defy univocal solutions but represent experimentation with the world and ourselves. Concepts are invented in practice and cannot be reduced to any a priori theoretical judgment. Concepts are not limited to linking the propositions in consciousness: they are (in)corporeal and always express an event as an experiential singularity rather than universal and eternal essence.

The relevance for education is paramount: as Deleuze and Guattari said, “If the three ages of the concept are the encyclopedia, pedagogy, and commercial professional training, only the second can safeguard us from falling from the heights of the first into the disaster of the third” (1994, p. 12). Learning cannot take place as representation: this would be the reproduction of the same, denounced by Deleuze. A novel conceptual understanding of a particular event is not a prerogative of consciousness: mind is extended to the level of the body within nature that embodies the unconscious dimension of experience. It is due to a bond between ourselves and the world that new meanings are created. The unconscious surpasses the Freudian personal unconscious and is “a productive machine … at once social and desiring” (Deleuze 1995, p. 144). The unconscious is a collective assemblage situated in the material world, usually studied exclusively by physics. Still physics gives way to biology in Deleuze’s corpus, to all matter as radically alive while just manifesting the different degrees of intensity: the frequency of its expression on different planes. Deleuze shares the ancient Hermetic, esoteric, philosophical worldview in this regard.

The Production of Subjectivity

The creation of concepts is impossible without unconscious affects as non-thoughts. As an unconscious desire in contrast to one’s conscious will, such unthought dimension of experience borders on bodily, as yet a-conceptual, affect. In his move against the Cartesian method, Deleuze speaks of paideia, stating that for the Greeks thought was not based on a premeditated decision to think: thinking is motivated by specific – and often shocking – conditions in real experience that will have deterritorialized our habitual patterns of thought and actions. The subtle language of the unconscious, in the process of individuation as the transformation of our habitual attitudes, is to be perceived. Deleuze wants to achieve the means so as to be able to show the imperceptible “hiding” in affects – that is, become capable of bridging the eternal gap, haunting us since Antiquity, between the sensible and the intelligible. The task of transversal communication is indeed “to bring [the] assemblage of the unconscious to the light of the day, to select the whispering voices, to gather …secret idioms from which I extract something I call my Self” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 84): human subjectivity can be (re)created.

Subjectivity of this sort has little to do with a preexisting, fully fledged, and a priori constituted subject. There is no return to the old self, but invention and creation of new possibilities of life by means of unfolding experiential signs. The world is folded – im-pli-cated with possibilities (le pli in French means the fold in English) that need to be ex-pli-cated. Deleuze points out (citing Henri Michaux, the author of The Space Within) that children are born with 22-folds which need to be unfolded in life. In this respect, there cannot be a priori subject; rather, it is a process of the production of subjectivity through work that forces us to frame a new question, to posit a new problem as a function of experience from which we learn. It is life that is our school! Deleuze’s philosophy problematizes the Enlightenment project with its perception of children being blank slates or tabula rasa. This perception is a suspect in the philosophy of material encounters, which affect the body’s very power expressed by means of multiplying and intensifying connections as if producing a complex rhizome rather than planting a simple root and, accordingly, raising the degree to which human capacities may be increased. There is no beginning or end. There is no tabula rasa: we enter the process in the very middle, in the intermezzo laying down rhythms that constitute experiential folds.

The solely rational intentionality as the mark of human consciousness is surpassed by the fold of being as populated by what Deleuze called little, or micro-, perceptions; philosophical thinking is reconceptualized as a cartographic microanalysis devoted to establishing an unconscious psychic mechanism that engenders the perceived in consciousness. It is impossible to achieve new conceptual understanding or to create new meanings and values without becoming aware of the unconscious in our embodied practice. Deleuze’s pedagogy of concepts is inseparable from the pedagogy of values, the task of which (in contrast to the traditional model of character education focusing on inculcating values if not on direct indoctrination) is to create new values oriented to singular modes of existence rather than any absolute commandments. Instead of conforming to fixed moral criteria, the process of subject formation is affective and esthetic, and the system of affects replaces rigid moral codes.

Education as Critical, Clinical, and Creative

Deleuze’s philosophical method is nomadic (Semetsky 2008) and implies the reversal of traditional moral education that often reduces values to atomistic facts while forgetting that even Socrates doubted whether virtues could be directly taught. Deleuze (1995) used to identify teaching and learning with the research laboratory as the epitome of novelty, creativity, and multiple becomings that challenge the necessity of some superior educational aims or technical objectives imposed from without and accordingly demanding some transcendent accountability. Rather, it is a developed sense of immanent responsibility oriented first of all to oneself while simultaneously becoming-other. The pedagogy of values is irreducible to instruction and is not just a question of intellectual understanding. It involves intensity, resonance, and musical harmony. Its rationale is pragmatic and exists in the essential and positive relation to non-philosophy as a form of art that encompasses, in addition to critical thought, also clinical and creative dimensions located in experience and leading to new modes of existence as embodying new concepts, meanings, and values created in practice. It is an interdependence of thought and life and of mind and world that leads to Deleuze’s philosophy encompassing both critical and clinical aspects. The critical dimension is compatible with Dewey’s assigning to philosophy the function of criticism of criticisms. Yet his logic as a theory of practical, experiential inquiry necessarily includes affective thought. As for clinical, it is not derived from some discourse on pathology; instead, its model is vitality, wholeness, and immanence aiming toward joy and devoted to the intensification of life.

An element of creativity is expressed in Deleuze’s neologism transcoding that defies a habitual transmission of facts from a teacher to a student; instead, education becomes a transcoded passage between experiential milieus that leads to the construction of a new plane, as if of surplus value or the excess of potential meanings that were “dormant” in the unconscious. Deleuze uses musical metaphors of melodies in counterpoint serving as a motif for another. Thus, education informed by Deleuze’s ingenious non-philosophy becomes possible only providing a teacher and a student serve as a motif for each other: they both, acting as a multiplicity, create a novel meaning that demonstrates what the body can do in accord with the logic of sense (Deleuze 1990) that defies direct (unmediated), logical or ideological alike, representations.


The role of a philosopher of education, if Deleuze’s philosophy is used as a model, becomes the one of a clinician or physician of culture described as an inventor of new immanent modes of existence as making a difference in real life with regard to the ethico-political spectrum of experience. Such ethics is strongly opposed to morality. Morality presupposes rigid codes and norms embedded in the hierarchical structure of schooling or society at large, but ethics discards the existing norms in favor of new values created in experience, in life per se via the heterogeneous, multileveled, rhizomatic structures of multiple becomings. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari designate the people of politics who can create real changes as a people to come. Because subjectivity has to be produced, these people may find themselves to be the uncanny products of untimely experimentations. They belong to “an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, irremediably minor race [and] have resistance in common – their resistance to death, to servitude, to the intolerable, to shame, and to the present” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, pp. 109–110). Resistance to the present means becoming aware of the future. This aspect of Deleuze’s practical and immanent philosophy is extremely important for educational futures. Education as inspired by Deleuze’s philosophy can transcend the physical present allowing to envisage multiple opportunities in the open future as a field of multiple becomings. We don’t have to generalize the politics of Deleuze’s philosophy, but rather posit a question, as Hardt (1993) does in his study: “What can Deleuze’s thought afford us? What can we make of Deleuze? In other words, what are the useful tools we find in his philosophy for furthering our own political endeavors?” (Hardt 1993, p. 119) or, for that matter, advancing and broadening the field of educational theory and philosophy.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Edusemiotic StudiesMelbourneAustralia