Immanence and the Social Sciences

Now that the Deleuzian insistence on thinking immanence has made significant inroads (even in the social sciences!) it’s time to consider trends of use.

On one side, “immanence critique” has become a popular epistemological method. For instance, the ‘scale’ debate in geography that proposes a ‘flat ontology’ argues that epistemological considerations can no longer remain agnostic to ontology (Foucault is often cited in this instance). Rather, ontology an epistemology can be co-constitutive if they’re placed in immanent relation. An example I heard yesterday was a recent geography paper written on mosquito management in Arizona that used characteristics of the mosquitos ‘ontology’ (their terms, not mine) to determine management techniques best suited to the ‘singularity’ of the mosquito. Herein lies what I consider a set of elisions that makes “immanence critique” simply a stand-in for ‘attention to detail’ or ‘relative autonomy’ without any of the benefits of immanence in its full philosophical force.

What “immanence critique” does is a priori limit out typological analysis. This mirrors the strong anti-positivism of American Post-Modernism that pushes the tired maxim “there is no master-narrative” to extreme proportions. In ‘identity politics’ disputes the claim is that strong anti-essentialism entails eliminating all identity-talk. In ‘cultural studies’ it insists that there is no such thing as culture. Etc etc. The problem is that such thinking succumbs to the same problems as transcendental thinking, only in reverse. Vulgar immanence critique posits the source of transcendence as error or illusion. It doesn’t offer an immanent explanation for the specific transcendent thinking it wants to critique, but rather a generalized condemnation of its use.

Continue reading “Immanence and the Social Sciences”