Deterritorialization of Scholarship In The Digital Era

Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping

[Submitted by Adam Foster]

If one is to mobilize this critical attitude seen in Foucault’s work in order to go beyond mere criticism to the realm of creating something positive (either out of new ideas or by transforming the old), they must go beyond Foucault and consider Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. In their book What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari put forward the notion of geophilosophy, an epistemology that – instead of the binary of subject and object – focuses on territory and earth, and the processes of reterritorialization and deterritorialization.[1] Territory represents space turned from smooth to striated, and earth represents space that has turned from striated to smooth. Deleuze and Guattari write: “Territory and earth are two components with two zones of indiscernibility – deterritorialization (from territory to the earth) and reterritorialization (from earth to territory). We cannot say which comes first.”[2] This passage reaffirms several notions. First, that there exists a conceptual counter to this process of organization and striation that State philosophy scholarship has been equated with. Second, that the task is not to undo or eradicate the processes undertaken by State philosophy, but rather to allow for scholarship to be malleable and changeable to reflect the current status of scholarship. And third, that the type of scholarship that satisfies nomad thought need not exist on the fringes of the mainstream, for deterritorialization is a process that “takes place on the spot when the State appropriates the territory of local groups or when the city turns its back on its hinterland,”[3] or, at the site of the striated, captured territory. The task then is to allow for the territory, or metaphysical material of scholarship, to be reformatted into something new after being restricted and molded by State philosophical forces.

What would it mean to deterritorialize scholarship? In many ways, this echoes Foucault’s project of critique; it would require unhinging scholarship from its current presupposed features and anchoring points so as to allow for a new meaning of scholarship to emerge. Thus, the ideal is a “clean slate” of sorts upon which scholars can engage in scholarship without any traditions or frameworks guiding them. Foucault’s critique does achieve this by way of its distancing from the governing forces and insubordination thereof. The caution of Foucault’s critique can lead to overly utopian considerations if considered alone. However, if one uses deterritorialization to consider what aspects of contemporary criticism are hallmarks of scholarship, a more grounded approach emerges. Therefore, the task is to identify current aspects of scholarship that are seemingly foundational, and restrict scholarship’s scope into the peripheries of State philosophy.

One such grounding point is the division of scholarship into disciplines such as English, Philosophy, Sociology, and so forth. Such divisions seem natural and apt to most; the scope of what scholars research and investigate is so broad that such a division emerges naturally as certain scholars engage in altogether different research. For example, the work of a biologist resembles in no way the scholarship of one who researches English literature – and this is to avoid the further division that occurs within each respective discipline (though there always remain faint methodological and humanistic connections through the pursuit of understanding the world in one way or another).

However, such a process of division is not a natural occurrence. The earliest scholarship all existed under the banner of philosophy, or perhaps cosmology: attempting to understand the inherent nature or essence of life. There existed only intellectual space between the ideas of Aristotle and those of a more “scientific philosopher” – scientific because of his concerns being more of the world than of man – such as Thales who argued that the life and the world was all formed out of water. This intellectual space exists because Aristotle and Thales were deemed to be different philosophers – not because of their differing pursuits – but rather because Aristotle was deemed to have progressed further than Thales. Thus there exists progressive distance between the two thinkers; indeed, the distinction was one of quality and not discipline. The division of scholarship into the disciplines of the university has been a process that has occurred incrementally, and is certainly not something natural or inherently unproblematic. By deterritorializing scholarship, scholars would ignore the boundaries that exist to define current disciplines and engage in scholarship as if these boundaries did not exist; they would set out to answer questions simply by engaging with them as they please, instead of using the tools and reflexive methodological habits that accompany literature, biology, or any other discipline.

The second feature of scholarship that must be questioned is its grounding in print culture. It is from this point that the Digital Humanities emerge as a potential means of critiquing scholarship. Academic scholarship currently puts an immense amount of pressure on the act of producing a textual product, whether it be a journal article, book chapter, or entire monograph. The Digital Humanities offer the possibility of depressurizing scholarship by creating digital learning environments that do more than simply emulate with text-based scholarship. The benefits of this are simple: not everyone learns best from reading, and thus print-based scholarship benefits and supports only a particular type of communication and learning and thus a particular type of scholar. From a pedagogical standpoint, deterritorialized scholarship becomes more accessible to – and more useful for – a more diverse group of individuals. Furthermore, digital tools are increasingly being adopted as a preferred scholarly communication and research medium. While this phenomenon is by no mean absolute – and we may never see the death of the print medium – digital opportunities are becoming a part of the fabric of contemporary society. Therefore, unhinging scholarly communication from print practices and values allows for academic pursuits to benefit from technological advancements in other areas of culture.

The third feature of scholarship that is already being questioned is the exclusive association between scholarship and research, because research is also fundamentally integrated with a scholar’s pedagogical practices. That is, an academic’s scholarly output is part and parcel of their work as an educator. True, at times this is because academics teach the subject matter that they are researching, yet increasingly the role of an academic is to be a teacher to just as large a degree – if not more in some cases – just as much as they are a researcher. Therefore, scholarship ought to reflect this fact and acknowledge a pedagogical interdependence.

However, before a discussion as to what a deterritorialized and more grounded approach to scholarship will look like, it is necessary to unpack the nature of this shift itself. In his discussion with Deleuze titled “Intellectuals and Power,” Michel Foucault argues that “the intellectual discovered that the masses no longer need him to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well, without illusion; they know far better than he and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves.”[4] This is to say that it is not a matter of the masses – who can be equated with the student body of the classroom, not yet amongst the ranks of faculty – being capable of learning and gaining knowledge without the academic; it is not a question of scholars knowing something which they then pass on to the student. Instead, scholars facilitate a mode of learning. Foucault goes on to state that “The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself “somewhat ahead and to the side” in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of “knowledge,” “truth,” “consciousness,” and “discourse. “[5] Foucault’s statement forms an “ought;” it is indicative of what a scholar should be. This is to say that the scholar ought to resist the (re)production of State philosophy, which is the rendering of all minds subservient to a singular state or ideology.[6] Tied in with the pedagogical aspect of the scholar, this is to suggest that there is a struggle against State philosophy in the realm of university learning, and this struggle is shared amongst educators and students. What role then could intellectuals or scholars have? They are meant to guide the student.

Careful attention must be made as to how the scholar guides students, as to avoid the notion of indoctrination. Therefore, to consider how the digital humanities can serve as a means of representing this altered role of the scholar is to reflect back to my work on Ranciere and political aesthetics of the digital environment, where I argued that we must be attuned to the messages the environments we create deliver to their users.[7] Such a model instigates true democracy insofar that any possible argument or interpretation can emerge while using a particular digital environment (insofar that it is true, valid, or justified). Digital humanities must reconcile this push for democratic learning with the formidable talents of the scholar as a researcher, and with a vigilant lucidity regarding the ideological implications of particular digital interfaces create an environment wherein their knowledge and research is presented in such a way that it complements that of the digital environment user’s discovery and interpretation.

It must be noted that this geophilosophy of scholarship is not, in many ways, an action that is forcefully undertaken under ideal circumstances. Scholars ought not be resistant to the processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, allowing instead for scholarship to be malleable and adapt its meaning to fall in line with contemporary epistemological ontologies. Ultimately, what geophilosophy allows is a becoming of scholarship. Becoming, in A Thousand Plateaus, is inherently a transformation. Deleuze and Guattari argue that, when one undergoes a becoming, “one is deterritorialized.[8]” This places identity or essence in spatial terms, and thus when a becoming enables deterritorialization, it allows the individual to move to a different identity or essence.[9]

It must be noted that the digital humanities are themselves an act of geophilosophy; a deterritorialization of scholarship away from the paper and reterritorialization onto the computer screen. These other potential deterritorializations illustrated are merely means of bringing in the deterritorializations that have taken place in academia as a whole into the spectrum of the digital humanities. Increasingly, as our dependence on technology increases, it follows that technology will increasingly serve as a tool for scholarship. This deterritorialization is not something planned or forced, but merely something that has and will continue to occur; it is therefore emergent.

This is to say that intellectual space is rendered striated, but in a new way. Previous posts regarding the democracy of the aesthetic digital environment might be read as insinuating that the goal is to create an environment of smooth space; that is, space (understood here as the material of argument and thinking) is malleable and able to adapt to any argument. However, instead what is being done is crafting a system of scholarship that does not reject the transition of space from smooth to striated and back again through deterritorialization and subsequent reterritorialization. Instead of holding on to the status quo and current structures of scholarship, this model instead allows them to change and adapt and take the shape that their becoming allows.




Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

———. What Is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. European Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Foster, Adam. “INKE » The Political Aesthetics of Digital Humanities Environments.” Accessed February 4, 2014.

“Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.” Accessed May 12, 2014.

Massumi, Brian. A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.




[1]   Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, European Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 85.

[2]   Ibid., 86.

[3]   Ibid.

[4]   “Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze,”, accessed May 12, 2014,

[5]   Ibid.

[6]   Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 4.

[7]   Adam Foster, “INKE » The Political Aesthetics of Digital Humanities Environments,” accessed February 4, 2014,

[8]   Ibid., 291.

[9]   Ibid.

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