Traditional sociological analysis of crime, policing, and criminology only focuses on molar aggregates like the state, society, social classes, races, sexes, and so on. This approach represses the molecular social currents that serve as the condition for the possibility for molar social categories’ emergence and preserves the status quo. Not only is molecular analysis necessary to understand molar social phenomena – it is necessary for the possibility of political change.
Schuilenburg 12(Marc, Lecturer in Law at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, “Institutions and Interactions: On the Problem of the Molecular and the Molar,” in Deleuze and Law Edinburgh University Press)
The term ‘molar’ is used in physics, especially in the science of thermo- dynamics (the first science of complexity), which studies the interactions between large collections of particles on a macroscopic level. The term refers to the Avogadro Constant, a constant number of particles the value of which is 6.023 x 1023 mol1 (like a dozen is 12 and a score is 20). This number of particles defines the amount of substance called the ‘mole’. One mole of any substance is 6.023 x 1023 particles of it, which may be atoms, molecules, ions or electrons, depending on the substance. The Avogadro Constant is named after the Italian chemist and physicist Amedeo Avogadro (1776–1856), a specialist in the field of chemical gases, who discovered in 1811 that equal volumes of all gases under the same conditions contain the same number of particles. In other words, a mole of any gas always takes the same volume at a certain pressure and temperature. It is impossible to count such an enormous number of par- ticles, but it can be weighed. A mole of any substance is that substance’s atomic or molecular mass expressed in grams, and this mass is called the ‘molar mass’. The number of moles of any substance is the amount of it (Beavon and Jarvis 2003: 20–1).
It’s only a small step from Avogadro’s number, which indicates the absolute number of molecules in one mole substance, to the approach taken in social scientific research to studying what Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus call large ‘molar aggregates’ (ensembles molaires) (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 181, 183, 340). These molar aggregates (‘the state’, ‘society’, ‘the market’, ‘social classes’, ‘sexes’) represent functional, stable entities or large-scale structures and have a specific use in social theory. According to Deleuze and Guattari, they ‘presuppose pre-established connections that are not explained by their functioning, since the latter results from them’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 181). Simplifying social reality like this, scientists divide it into part–whole relations, which are presented as more or less homogeneous. This allows them to isolate and control specific matters. As a consequence, research- ers study the parts in terms of what they contribute to the whole or ‘any sort of original totality’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 42). In doing so, they make their object of research distinguishable from the rest of the world. They draw boundaries around that which is to be researched or scrutinised. The causes of what people do are then located in a system which is supposed to determine human behaviour, e.g. economic dynam- ics, culture, values, mentality, and so on. They are supposed to precede interaction and develop in a knowable and predictable way (Van Calster and Schuilenburg 2011).
In sociology, this is reflected in the work of one of the founders of French sociology, Emile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, a social fact, i.e. the description of what the social precisely entails or defines, is characterised by the power of external coercion it exerts upon individual behaviour, and the influence it has on personal attitudes or needs. An example of such a social fact is the language in which we speak and communicate. After all, the language we learn to speak from birth is inescapably imposed upon us. It has a compelling and invisible force, so to speak, which no one can escape. According to Durkheim, a social fact is not only identifiable because of its external influence on what indi- viduals do and say, it additionally has a reality of its own that cannot be reduced to the qualities of separate individuals. In other words, it is an independent entity that imposes certain views and ways of acting on the individual, which he or she would not have displayed spontane- ously. From that perspective, a social fact is not only coercive and supra- individual, it can also be understood as objective (in the meaning of a ‘thing’) (Laermans 1995).
The characteristics of a social fact feature most clearly in Durkheim’s thesis of a conscience collective, the largest common denominator of the content of the consciousness of individuals in a society. This col- lective consciousness manifests itself as a separate variable and forms the foundation for cohesion in a community. It not only generates emotions that are qualitatively different than individual perceptions, it has specific characteristics as well (Durkheim 1973). If we apply those characteristics to society itself, then society will have a reality of its own, a philosophical point of departure called ‘realism’. In ‘realism’ society has its own nature. The independence of society as a whole brings forth convictions, norms, ideas and perceptions that are shared by the members of that society.2 Although psychological insights about associations of individuals can be of importance for understanding changes in solidarity in a society, it is up to the science of sociology to subsequently study that solidarity as an independent social fact. This can be accomplished through scientific methods and models, as Durkheim demonstrates, which can be used to objectify and verify statistics about birth rates, marriage rates, suicide rates and criminality rates. It is possi- ble to analyse the annual average of marriages, births, voluntary deaths and the degree of criminality, which expresses the collective conscious- ness or morality of a society as a whole, without discussing the related individual circumstances.
But, according to Deleuze and Guattari, this kind of thinking is trapped in a representational logic that does not acknowledge social reality as such. Behind the part/whole distinction lurks the hypothesis that parts exist because of the whole (‘something that already exists’). Not only are they part of the whole, they maintain the whole in exist- ence. Therefore, the problem of the molar is a sociological problem ‘so long as the whole is considered as a totality derived from the parts, or as an original totality from which the parts emanate, or as a dialectical totalization’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 44). In fact, there is no sort of evolution that will cause parts to form an integrated whole, any more than there is an original totality from which they can be derived. Instead of society being an organism or ‘collective self’, we must understand that every society is ‘constantly escaping in all directions, never stops slipping away’ and, Deleuze asserts in an interview with Paul Rabinow and Keith Gandal, is ‘flowing everywhere’ (Deleuze 2006: 280). From this point of view, the main emphasis is no longer on abstract quantities, but on the fluid character of social reality itself, what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘the molecular’. This molecular medium (milieu) refers to ‘singularities, their interactions and connections at a distance or between different orders’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 280). With a reference to the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, they speak of subtle and supple (but no less disquiet- ing) breaks, ‘which occur when things are going well on the other side’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 198).
The dominant position of molar thought in contemporary scientific research is not surprising. Social scientists, like all researchers, tend to break down reality into wholes that consist of parts in order to focus attention on ‘large numbers and statistical laws’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 280). It is a molar approach, ‘manifesting the statistical aggregate and state of equilibrium existing on the macroscopic level’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 57). However, social reality is much more complex than the molar approach can or will research. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the molar cannot be understood without the molecular. What the molecular offers, at a minimum, is ‘an entire world of unconscious micropercepts, unconscious affects, fine segmentations that grasp or experience different things’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 213). As such, the molecular approaches the fluid character of social reality, which is always incomplete and cannot be made absolute in an all-encompassing whole.
If we again look at the way physics deals with the molecular, it first assumes that elements exist apart from each other and are constantly in motion (Kubinga 2003: 65). Physicists and chemists therefore speak of interactions between molecules (proteins, lipids, metabolites and so on). Although scientists consider the molecular as the most fundamental level of interaction, they recognise that information in this area is still poor and incomplete. Specific knowledge as to why interacting mol- ecules group into spontaneous order is lacking (Sijbesma 2007). Nature offers nice examples of such ‘self-assemblage’ or ‘self-organisation’, by which molecules adopt a defined arrangement without guidance or management from an outside source. However, controlling the shape and structure of self-assembling systems still generates many questions.
From a philosophical point of view, it is clear that on the molecular level things are different than on the level of the molar, where con- cepts of ‘control’ and ‘functionality’ are predominant. This is impor- tant because the molecular composition is more concerned with flows (including poles, mutations, connections, accelerations, singularities and quanta), while the molar is about segmented lines, i.e. ‘the binary, circular, and linear’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 209). Alliez (2009) is therefore right in stating that the molecular level revolves around ‘small complex relations’, rather than ‘huge dialectic structures’ that direct the whole. In terms of the social, it means that attention is turned to interac- tions that have no reference to a centre, standard or norm. The focus lies on ‘becoming’, as Deleuze and Guattari write in A Thousand Plateaus, and not on ‘being’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 275, 277). Unlike with the molar, inhabited by unchanging essences or laws with a permanent identity, small changes can have huge and unpredictable effects on the molecular.
In developing this idea, I would like to distinguish three characteristics of the molecular. It is important to note that these characteristics do not present new abstract principles intended to provide a new representa- tion of reality. Rather, they coincide separately with each ‘event’ or each ‘case’. First, the molecular is about the immediate. It deals with ‘beliefs and desires’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 219) that represent the world ‘here and now’ and which transcend actions from a rational- calculating portrayal of mankind, as represented in the classical judicial works of Beccaria (2009) and Hobbes (1985). The latter assume that people prefer to choose an action (for example obeying rules or violat- ing them) from which they think they will benefit. The problem with this approach, Deleuze states in his book on Hume’s empiricism, is that rationalism ‘expects ideas to stand for something which cannot be con- stituted within experience or be given in an idea without contradiction: the generality of the idea, the existence of the object, and the content of the terms “always,” “universal,” “necessary,” and “true”’ (Deleuze 1991: 30). As is well known, another problem with such rationalism is its all too narrow time-frame. After all, the effects of such a choice are spread over a long period of time. The immediate instead deals with interactions (such as pride, frustration, pleasure, anger, shame and so on) which exist in real time, that is here and now. From a molar perspective these interactions are seen as exceptional and are largely kept outside ‘the order of the discourse’, to quote Foucault (1971). In fact, they fall outside the structural frame of uniformity or a knowable goal (Schuilenburg 2008; 2009: 210).
Second, the molecular is characterised by heterogeneous series that produce difference. Rather than representation by means of ‘identity, opposition, analogy and resemblance’ (Deleuze 1994: 137), a system of series is a differenciating of differences by means of the coupling of heterogeneous series (whose elements are already heterogeneous). This actualisation is not a unilateral process, but rather the result of a whole series of mutually reinforcing effects, e.g. non-linear relationships, series of events and affairs, non-intentional acts and open series of interactions that lead in directions not previously agreed or established. As such, molecular relations are made possible by other acts making other acts possible in turn. They are in a constant state of flux and permit an infi- nite number of connections, creating with every connection something new. This means that – against the laws of classic causality – coincidence must be seen as a cause of social change(s).
Third, the molecular is about perspectivism, i.e. accepting that all truth can only be known in the context of one’s own perspective. Perspectivism, which takes root in Hume’s empiricism and Kant’s idealism and was further developed by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, rejects the idea of a specific interpretation of social reality that would be ‘complete’ or ‘total’. Perspectivism claims that all knowledge is perspectival. Concrete circumstances and behaviour will always been seen from different viewpoints. Or, as Nietzsche points out in The Will To Power: ‘In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, . . . it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings – “perspectivism”’ (Nietzsche 1967: §421). Yet perspectivism has nothing to do with rela- tivism. Perspectivism may develop sensitivity for different points of view or interpretations. It compels people to see the conditions and actual circumstances under which a certain view may appear.
In short, contrary to the molar, the molecular knows neither univo- cal definition nor individual boundaries. It is fundamentally ambiguous and paradoxical. Perhaps it is this intangibility that raises suspicion and mistrust among social researchers towards the idea of researching the molecular. Researchers in sociology and economics, for instance, tend to categorise interactions in terms of ‘usefulness’ and ‘interest’ for the larger whole (profit, sales, and so on). By so doing they focus their attention on the molar. Even criminologists who research group proc- esses actually focus on the characteristics of a group, such as rivalry, structure or leadership, which underline the static and therefore spot- light the molar. Hence instead of limiting sociology to molar structures, at least implicitly always based on a juridical model,3 Deleuze wants to focus on the question of genesis or the emergence of relations through which existing structures are themselves constituted. For Deleuze, the work of Tarde bears witness to how the molecular, as opposed to molar aggregates, could lead to an understanding of the emergence of new social phenomena or new stratifications (see also van Tuinen 2009). What does this mean in terms of interactions between people of flesh and blood?