Epistemology as Politics and the Double-bind of Border Thinking: Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze and Guattari, Mignolo

Timothy Nicholas Laurie


This paper examines Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s theories of writing and the State in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, teasing out issues of gender, primitivism and academic expertise in the authors’ claims about power and politics. While noting the benefits of politically analysing social customs and traditions, Laurie highlights the complicities between Deleuze and Guattari's theories and the assumptions embedded in their anthropological sources. He further argues that the cultural and historical speculations in Anti-Oedipus cannot be divorced from the authors' privilege of philosophy as a uniquely European creative space. Seeking an alternative perspective on cultural translation, the paper turns to Walter Mignolo’s study of the 'book' in Spanish-Amerindian colonial encounters. Foregrounding the critical value of philology for ‘de-colonising’ theory, Mignolo argues that Eurocentric cultural comparisons serve to legitimate particular ways of knowing within contested fields of representation. However, in both Deleuze and Guattari and Mignolo, the paper questions the gender dynamics of writing practices implicitly articulated in meta-narratives about the State and/or colonialism. Laurie suggests that these authors frequently remain oblivious to the role of women in the historical contexts examined, and that understanding political dynamics within cultural groups requires questioning the privilege of writing itself, both in and outside the academy. While sympathetic to the role of political philosophy in negotiating complex historical issues, this paper also advocates a rethinking of the subordinate place attributed to anthropological and historical research practices in the theoretical exegeses of Deleuze, Guattari and Mignolo.


Deleuze; Guattari; Mignolo; writing; history; colonialism; anthropology

Full Text



Browitt, J. 2004, '(Un)common Ground? A Comparative Genealogy of British and Latin American Cultural Studies, ' in Estudios culturales y cuestiones globales, (eds) C. Castilln, C. Santib-ez & M. Zimmerman. University of Houston, Houston. Available online: URL: http://www.class.uh.edu/mcl/faculty/zimmerman/lacasa/VirtualPublication2.html [Accessed 11 August 2012].

Cheah, P. 2006, 'The Limits of Thinking in Decolonial Strategies.' Townsend Center for the Humanities, November/December. Available online: URL: http://townsendcenter.berkeley.edu/publications/limits-thinking-decolonial-strategies [Accessed 11 August 2012].

Chow, R. 1993, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Deleuze, G. 2007, Two Regimes of Madness: Text and Interviews 19751995, trans. D. Lapoujade. Semiotext(e), New York.

Deleuze, G. & F. Guattari 1986, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. D. Polan. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Deleuze, G. & F. Guattari. 1994, What Is Philosophy?, trans. H. Tomlinson & G. Burchill. Verso, London.

Deleuze, G. & F. Guattari. 2004a, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem & H. R. Lane. Continuum, London.

Deleuze, G. & F. Guattari. 2004b, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi. Continuum, London.

Derrida, J. 1978, 'Cogito and the History of Madness, ' in Writing and Difference, trans A. Bass. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 3163.

di Leonardo, M. 1998, Exotics at Home: Anthropologies, Others, American Modernity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.

Ebron, P. A. 2001, 'Contingent Stories of Anthropology, Race, and Feminism' in Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis and Poetics, (ed.) I. McClaurin. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, & London, 21131.

Fanon, F. 1963, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. C. Farrington. Grove Press, New York.

Freud, S. 1949, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, trans. James Strachey. Hogarth Press/Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London.

Gathercole, P. 1971, 'Patterns in Prehistory": An Examination of the Later Thinking of V. Gordon Childe, ' World Archaeology, vol. 3, no. 2, 22532." http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00438243.1969.9979503

Grosfoguel, R. 2007, 'The Epistemic Decolonial Turn.' Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 21123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09502380601162514

Hulme, P. 1999, 'Voice from the Margins?: Walter Mignolo's The Darker Side of the Renaissance, ' Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 21933. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13569329909361961

Key, C. J. and J. J. MacKinnon 2000, 'A Feminist Critique of Recent Archaeological Theories and Explanations of the Rise of State-Level Societies, ' Dialectical Anthropology, vol. 25, 10921. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1011020211607

Laurie, T. and Stark, H. 2012, 'Reconsidering Kinship: Beyond the Nuclear Family with Deleuze and Guattari', Cultural Studies Review, vol. 18, no. 1, 1939.

Leach, E. R. 1961, Rethinking Anthropology. University of London/Athlone Press, London.

Leibowitz, L. 1975, 'Perspectives on the Evolution of Sex Differences, ' in Toward an Anthropology of Women, (ed.) R. R. Reiter. Monthly Review Press, New York, 2035.

Lvi-Strauss, C. 1966, 'The Scope of Anthropology, ' Current Anthropology, vol. 7, no. 2, 11223. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/200687

Lvi-Strauss, C. 1972, The Savage Mind (La pense sauvage). Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.

Lvi-Strauss, C. 1977, Structural Anthropology, trans. C. Jacobson & B. G. Schoepf. Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Lvi-Strauss, C. 1987, Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss, trans. F. Baker. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

McClaurin, I. 2001, 'Theorizing a Black Feminist Self in Anthropology: Toward an Autoethnographic Approach, ' in Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis and Poetics, (ed.) I. McClaurin. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, and London, 4976.

Michaelsen, S. and Shershow, S. C. 2007, 'Rethinking Border Thinking, ' South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 106, no. 1, 3960. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2006-014

Mignolo, W. D. 1994, 'Signs and Their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World, ' in Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, (eds.) E. H. Boone and W. Mignolo. Duke University Press, Durham, 21970.

Mignolo, W. D. 1995, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Mignolo, W. D. 1999, 'I Am Where I Think: Epistemology and the Colonial Difference', Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 23545. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13569329909361962

Mignolo, W. D. 2000, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Mignolo, W. D. 2007, 'Delinking, ' Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 449514. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09502380601162647

Mignolo, W. & Tlostanova, M. 2006, 'Theorizing from the Borders: Shifting to Geo-and Body-Politics of Knowledge, ' European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 9, no. 2, 20521. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368431006063333

Miller, C. L. 1998, Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Monaghan, J. 1994, 'The Text in the Body, The Body in the Text: The Embodied Sign in Mixtec Writing, ' in Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, (eds) E. H. Boone & W. Mignolo. Duke University Press, Durham, 87101.

Morris, M. 1998, Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Ochoa, T. R. 2007, 'Versions of the Dead: Kalunga, Cuban-Kongo Materiality, and Ethnography, ' Cultural Anthropology, vol. 22, no. 4, 473500. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/can.2007.22.4.473

Olkowski, D. 1993, 'The Postmodern Dead End, Minor Consensus on Race and Sexuality, ' Topoi, vol. 12, 16166. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00821853

Pels, P. & O. Salemink 1994, 'Introduction: Five Theses on Ethnography as Colonial Practice, ' History and Anthropology, vol. 8, no. 14, 134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02757206.1994.9960856

Pyburn, K. A. 2004, 'Introduction: Rethinking Complex Society, ' in Ungendering Civilization, (ed.) K. A. Pyburn, Routledge, New York, 146.

Schwaller, J. F. 1996, 'Book Review: The Darker Side of the Renaissance, ' The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 27, no. 3, 94647. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2544115

Silverblatt, I. M. 1987, Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Singh, B. 2008, 'Aadamkhor Haseena (The Man-Eating Beauty) and the Anthropology of a Moment, ' Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 42, 24979. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/006996670804200203

Slocum, S. 1975, 'Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology, ' in Toward an Anthropology of Women, (ed.) R. R. Reiter. Monthly Review Press, New York, 3650.

Stoler, A. L. & Cooper, F. 1997, 'Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda, ' in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, (eds) A. L. Stoler & F. Cooper. University of California Press, Berkeley, viix.