Connectivity is about connections. Surprising, I know, but there it is. What makes it interesting and novel as a theory is the philosophy that underpins it.
Firstly it is ontological. It is about being, so naturally there is a semblance of phenomenology in the complex assemblage of ideas that underpins it. But this is not the phenomenology of Heidegger, more the later phenomenology that emphasises the importance of intersubjectivity. (For more on this idea, there is a post coming up in a few days with an interview with Jens Olesen who’s paper ‘Boss and Binswanger’s health anthropologies and existential philosophies’ is the topic of our discussion, and very much about the notion of intersubjectivity.)
Intersubjectivity is, itself, an idea that has been developed extensively in symbolic interactionism, and there are people within this Network who know a great deal more about this than me – particularly the work of Jürgen Habermas and some of his critical philosophy. But it is the work of Deleuze and Guatarri that underpins the unique logic of connectivity as I understand it.
Deleuze and Guattari’s work is, to say the least, iconoclastic. Dense, poetic, frustratingly opaque at times, it contains the kernel of some of the most radical ideas from 20th century philosophy. D&G, for example, introduced the idea of rhizomatics, which argues that our thinking is too linear; too tree-like, too ‘arborescent’: that the belief that our knowledge had roots, branches and bears fruit is a complete fiction, and that instead, our knowledge is more like a virus, or a rhizome, spreading out like an underground matrix. D&G argued that we are never at the beginning or end of anything, only ever in a series of middles.
They also introduced the idea of territorialisation, when we become fixed in our thinking, and the task of constantly deterritorialising our position to become more nomadic in our thoughts; always looking to liberate our thinking to a thousand possibilities (hence their book A Thousand Plateaus).
One of their most radical ideas is that we form assemblages with objects. Assemblage theory has been written about extensively by Manuel de Landa and there is a fabulous set of videos by de Landa at the European Graduate School that are well worth watching here). D&G make some radical claims about the relationship implicit in this assemblage. The first is that there are assemblages happening all the time. There is an assemblage between my fingers and my keyboard; between my back and my chair; between the chair and the floor, and so on. Assemblages are formed because objects desire. They yearn to exercise their capacities. Thus the chair desires to be sat on; the keys of the keyboard to be pressed.
This is not the desire that we are used to; the desire borne of a lack or want for something, but a positive energy that all things carry that give the assemblage vitality. To give an example, if I am walking on the beach (did I mention I live about 15 minutes from the beach?), and I get tired, I might find a rock to sit on. I notice there is a rock in the sun that’s just the right height for me. D&G might say that I form an assemblage with the rock which desired to be sat on (it ‘communicated’ with me through its height, shape and warmth, and succeeds in enticing me to it at the end of my long walk).
This is communication of a very different order to the kind you will see in phenomenology or symbolic interactionism, which focus on the interaction between conscious, communicating human beings. D&G do not privilege human consciousness and see everything as a matrix of connectivity. So in the picture at the top of this posting, we could identify a number of assemblages happening that are not only between the people in the game. We can see a man-chair-floor assemblage; a man-ball-hand assemblage; and a man-floor-face assemblage about to develop.
Imagine now how physiotherapy might be re-conceived through this lens. Barbara Gibson’s paper that I’ve quoted a lot in these posts (‘Disability, Connectivity and Transgressing the Autonomous Body’), uses three case studies to illustrate therapeutic assemblages using D&G’s philosophical principles. She highlights a man-dog assemblage; a man-machine assemblage; and a woman-woman assemblage. There is no sense here of one party in the assemblage being subservient or ‘dependent’ on the other; the chair desires the person as much as the person desires the chair. Thus there is no stigmatising on the basis of weakness or deficiency – such a powerful feature of contemporary physiotherapy. The only ‘lack’ occurs when someone is prevented from fulfilling their desire because of asymetrical power relations that create normative judgements and impose barriers to movement.
These ideas may better reflect the complexity and fluidity of people’s experience and relationship to their bodies, their therapeutic encounters, and their healthful desires. And they may be particularly important for the future of physiotherapy, because they deal so much with bodies, and bodies are the site, par excellence, of future change in health care.
Tomorrow will be the last post in this series. The purpose of these posts has been to set down some ideas that might form the basis of a paper that we will write to help explain a philosophical idea to physiotherapists. In tomorrow’s post I’ll summaries the feedback I’ve had to date and the comments people have posted up. We’ll then leave it open for a week for further discussion before organising or writing teams.
So remember, if you have any comments, please either post them below or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).