Manuel DeLanda...Meshwork or Hierarchy?...Doors 2

M A N U E L   D E   L A N D A

H o m e s :

M e s h w o r k   o r   H i e r a r c h y ?

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Imagine having just landed a corporate job which demands that you move to a new city. In this urban enviroment the corporation has already found you an apartment and, following the tradition of its great corporate culture, it has had it decorated so that it embodies the aesthetic and functional values for which the firm has become famous. No doubt, when you finally move to this new place it simply won't feel like home, more like a hotel suite, despite the fact that it offers you shelter and even luxuries that you did not enjoy before. Does this lack of `home feeling' stems from the fact that everything around you has been planned to the last detail? Would it feel homier if you shared the corporate values that informed the planning? Wouldn't you have to live for a while in this place, interacting with its walls and table surfaces by placing a souvenir where, a momento there, before something like a sense of home began to emerge?

These questions can also be raised even if we eliminate from our scenario the intrusive presence of an outside planner. Would a place feel like home if every expressive or functional detail had been exhaustively planned by yourself? No doubt all of us think about the decoration of our home enviroment, but do we always have an explicit reason why certain things are placed where they are? Don't we often place them in a given location because it feels like that is where they belong, as if our souvenirs and sentimental possesions arranged themselves through us?

Answering these questions in the case of human beings is rather hard because of the extreme variability of human culture and, even within a given culture, the great diversity of human personalities. Besides, I am not aware of any systematic study of these questions regarding human homes. We do have some information, however, about the creation of home territories by certain species of animals which throw some light on the question `Are homes planned or self-organized?'. In particular, I would like to begin my exploration of these issues with a brief examination of bird territories and the role that the expressive qualities of song and color play in their formation.

When the question of how birds create a home territory was first raised (by ethologists like Lorenz and Tinbergen) the answer given to these questions was `Homes are planned', with the remaining controversy gravitating around the issue of `Who does the planning', genes or brains. Are the planned strategies pieced together by genetic evolution or are they learned in the bird's lifetime?. In either case, the formation of a home territory was seen to derive from an internal territorial drive or instinct, with a precise central location in the brain. Out of this `territorial center' commands would be then be issued to other centers in the brain (a nesting center, a courtship center) and out of this hierarchical mental structure a correct set of actions would then be implememted and the borders of the territory would then be appropriatedly marked.

More recently, however, this line of thinking has been increasingly critizised. Philosopher Daniel Dennet, for example, has convincingly argued that to postulate `brain centers' is to simply move all the original questions about an animal's behaviour to an `animalculus' inside the head. Unless this animalculus is `stupid' enough that it does not need to interpret representations or perform other complex cognitive functions, we are simply answering one question (How are territories organized by an animal) with another one of equal complexity. (How are territories organized by an animalculus). Philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have raised essentially the same point, adding that home territories should be conceived not as emanating from an internal drive but as emerging from the interaction of a non-hierarchical set of brain functions and the expressive qualities of the territorial markers themselves, for instance, the color of certain leaves or stems which some birds use to attact females, or the musical properties of bird songs, or even faeces or urine scented with the excretions of special glands.

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Last updated: 16 feb1995