Manuel DeLanda about Dynamic Stability

Short text on Manuel DeLanda, written by Yvette van Nierop for DEAF03.

Manuel DeLanda is a philosopher with a background in experimental filmmaking, computer art and programming. As a philosopher, he presents a neo-materialist way of looking at the world.1 He is interested in the way things organize themselves, from the formation of rocks out of sedimentation processes, to the organization of social relationships within a society. As the foundation of reality he has adopted a nonlinear model of matter-energy flows.2 This means that according to DeLanda there should not be made a distinction between the materiality of matter and the flexibility of energy.

His interest is in the balance between stability and flexibility, especially the process of stabilization - destabilization - restabilization. DeLanda calls for a readjustment of the classical concept of stability. Stable is not the same as static, a thing or a situation that is stable does not need to be static in the sense that it stays exactly the same all the time. A process can be self-regulating, self-stimulating and self-maintaining, allowing small variabilities within the process but still presenting a stable state when viewed as a whole. This kind of dynamic stability can be destabilized by internal or external factors. When destabilized, the separate elements will reorganize themselves into new states of dynamic stability.

To explain this in a less abstract way: Two friends, friend A and friend B, visit each other in turns. This way they keep in contact for years. Friend A gets a girlfriend, friend C, who moves in with him. That is not a problem for the friendship because she gets along just fine with friend B. Then friend B gets a girlfriend, friend D, but she cannot stand friend A. Under her influence friend B stops calling and visiting friend A, the friendship weakens and they lose contact. In the original structure of the relationship the two friends formed an autocatalystic loop with just two reactions; friend A visits friend B and in turn friend B visits friend A. Girlfriend C fits in seamlessly in the existing situation. Girlfriend D disrupts the stability of the friendship and it dissolves.

Internal and external variations are part of the model of the self-organizing processes of dynamic stability. But they can also disrupt the stability. The introduction of girlfriends in a friendship poses the risk of destabilization. Their introduction can be seen as a crossroad with two available options, the girlfriends either merge in with the existing friendships or the girlfriends disrupt the friendship. The example above shows a case in which the disruption came from an external factor, a girlfriend. But dynamic stability can also be disrupted because of an internal factor. A friendship can break up over a row, about the ownership of a music record for instance. According to DeLanda, these dynamic processes of clustering, maintaining and dissolving are applicable in different areas; on social relationships as well as on the organization of organic material and lifeless materials like stone sediments.

According to DeLanda, the formations of hierarchies follow the same kind of principle of dynamic stability. There needs to be an organizing aspect, just as in non-hierarchical formations. In the case of a friendship, such an organizing principle can be the fact that both friends appreciate the same music. In the case of hierarchical constructions, the organizing principles evolve around power and control. Hierarchies exist within the genes of a cell, within human society and within technological developments. Social hierarchies for instance, occur when not everybody has the same access to resources and social status. When those differences are fixed in a body of (religious) legitimacy, a social hierarchy is formed.

1. "Neo-materialists produce profoundly new experiences and understandings of the fluid links between the body, mind and material world. They reject traditional metaphysics. They refuse a non-material conception of the mind and language". http://www.psa.ac.uk/cps/1995/wats.pdf

2. "Non-linear matter-energy flows are capable of spontaneously generating order out of chaos. Under the right conditions, wholes that are more than the sum of their parts can emerge out of the local dynamics of their components". http://www.xs4all.nl/~notnot/events/text_Emergence.html

Manuel DeLanda, Selected bibliography
War In The Age Of Intelligent Machines. New York: Zone Books, MIT Press, 1991
A Thousand Years Of Non-linear History. New York: Zone Books, 1997.


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