In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Assemblage

  • Introduction
  • The Origin of Assemblage and Its Conceptual Development
  • Assemblage and the Interplay between Mobile Ideas and Situated Regimes
  • Assemblage and New Materiality
  • Assemblage and the More-than-Representational

Urban Studies Assemblage
June Wang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0060


Assemblage describes the dynamic process of a constellation in which a composition of heterogeneous elements forms a provisional socio-spatial relation but is always subject to change. Initially introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the idea of assemblage thinking has brought about the relational turn to urban studies to reflect on the structure–agency relationship. The idea has subsequently been deployed in a variety of areas from spatiality of power and political apparatus, mobility of human and non-human things to nature-culture configurations, among others. A number of new concepts have been introduced to redefine socio-spatial relations through the lens of assemblage, such as actor-network theory, “new materialist” geographies, politics of knowledge, affect and bodily encounter in (geo)politics. In addition, the utility of assemblage thinking has been widely recognized in many disciplines. Debates and contestations carry on between the two schools of political economy and post-structuralism on how to capture the relational and territorial socio-spatial dynamics.

The Origin of Assemblage and Its Conceptual Development

Assemblage was first introduced in Deleuze and Guattari 1987. The authors used the term agencement (translated to “assemblage” in the English version) to highlight the process in which human and non-human components, including actors, discursive elements (statements, plans, and policies), and materials (nature, infrastructure, etc.), are put into a rhizomatic arrangement. In this light, an assemblage describes the dynamic process of a constellation in which a composition of heterogeneous elements forms a provisional socio-spatial relation but is always subject to change. On the one hand, the concept of assemblage was addressed by Deleuze and Guattari 1987. Nevertheless, Deleuze and Guattari did not develop it into a full-fledged theory but allowed thoughts on it to disperse throughout the book (including footnotes). The assemblage thinking currently deployed in most urban studies literature is from the seminar book and a number of works that endeavor to explain theories on assemblage. DeLanda 2006 provides a thorough analysis of the flaws of conventional approaches based on totalities and essences, whereas the actor-network model of Latour 2005 has gained popularity for its emphasis on actors and their agencies. Nail 2017 provides a full-fledged interpretation of assemblage in a more recent collection to provide a new answer to the growing demands for assemblage thinking in political actions. Aside from anatomy of the basic structure of assemblage, which has both contingent and concrete qualities, Nail 2017 goes further to illustrate four typologies of assemblages and their changes through de-territorialization and re-territorialization axes. These four typologies of assemblages pave the ground for the deployment of assemblage in empirical studies.

  • DeLanda, Manuel. A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum, 2006.

    DeLanda attempts to establish an alternative theory to study social ontology by drawing upon the complexity of assemblage. The theory of social assemblage rejects the two notions of totalities and essences, which limit conventional social analyses to two levels: the macro and the micro. Instead, social assemblage proposes that the properties of the whole emerge from the interactions between parts, bearing in mind that the simpler entities are themselves assemblages of sorts.

  • DeLanda, Manuel. Assemblage Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781474413640

    DeLanda provides a detailed overview of assemblage theory by garnering fragmentary discussions of assemblage theory in the work of Deleuze and Guattari 1987. He then moves beyond its original formulation, allowing for the integration of communities, institutional organizations, cities, and urban regions. The book opens up assemblage theory to sociology, linguistics, military organizations, and science so future researchers can rigorously deploy the concept in their fields.

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

    For Deleuze and Guattari, the assemblage contrasts with homeostatic systems, autonomous structures, homogenous interests, and intentions. Assemblage components “from near and far” made up of “fixed and mobile expertise and regulations” are always in the process of “coming together (territorialization), just as [they are] always also potentially pulling apart (de-territorialization).”

  • Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Actor-network theory departs from the conventional definition of the social as a type of material or domain. Instead, it treats it as a collective assembled by connected things, people, and ideas. Latour explores “the social” through agencies of human and non-human actors in multiple material-semiotic relations.

  • Nail, Thomas. “What Is an Assemblage?” SubStance 46.1 (2017): 21–37.

    DOI: 10.1353/sub.2017.0001

    The essay traces the distinction between “agencement” and “assemblage” and cautions its three consequences. The basic structure of assemblage has abstract conditions, concrete elements, and operators (personae). Like a machine, assemblage is formed when mobile operators arrange disparate, concrete elements according to abstract conditions.

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