Reflections on vectors of subjectification and Felix Guattari’s “Three Ecologies”

by hannesfrykholmuma

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In the introductory text to Three Ecologies, Félix Guattari presents a daunting summary of the ongoing ecological crisis of the planet, and at the same time a proposal for an ecosophy answering to how this crisis can be considered as a possibility to reorganize the current mode of life. Guattari’s reading of three ecologies is hopeful in the sense that it does not fall back on a romantic primitivism with the sole purpose of resetting a presumed lost balance between human and nature. Instead Guattari suggests the reconfiguration of life to happen from within the existing techno-scientific system. For Guattari this implies considering a set of ecologies that forms new nascent subjectivities, the introduction of “new systems of valorization”, and a technically supported revitalization of the planet’s many non-human organisms and systems. In moving away from the typical ecological discourse dominated by the need for austerity, Guattari’s discussion centers on the creative and active processes of restructuring the planet. A key argument in the text is that the stratification between different systems and scales needs to be transgressed, so that the “micro-politics of desire” can be related to larger systems of practice in what Guattari refers to as “processes of heterogenesis”.[1]

In this way the large-scale ecological crisis of the planet is directly related to what Guattari calls “vectors of subjectification” and the emergence of partialized subjectivity.[2] According to Guattari, Freud and his disciples acknowledged certain vectors for the shaping of dissident subjectivity, based on “instinctual urges and […] corporealized imaginary”.[3] Moving beyond the scope of psychoanalysis Guattari argues for subjectification as an ongoing process of different components intersecting and bifurcating, not necessarily in relation to the individual. However, in discussing this process Guattari only provide vague outlines of what these generators could be, referring to them as “institutional objects, be they architectural, economic, or Cosmic”.[4]

So where does this take us in terms of developing an architectural strategy for new subjectivities? Following Vera Andermatt Conley’s reading of Guattari’s text, architecture can be seen as highly involved in the process of forming new subjectivities, as architects have “the responsibility of inventing new territories, of tracing new maps and diagrams while prodding their students and apprentices to do the same.”[5]

According to Guattari’s and Conley’s arguments, it is not enough for an ecosophical architectural practice to reduce emissions in the building process or to design low energy housings. The practice must also consider how architecture supports and delimits new forms of subjectivity. What are the mechanisms and operators that play a part in this process? Following Guattari’s emphasis on the heterogenesis between various micro-conditions and large-scale social processes it is also interesting to consider how the small elements of architecture operate (and can operate) in the formation of new subjectivities. What are the intersections, the bifurcations and moments in which the elements of architecture, such as the staircase, the door, and the ramp become vectors that form new subjectivities? How can the serial subjectivity that Guattari sees appearing in current consumer culture be challenged through architecture?

Hannes Frykholm


[1] Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 34.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Verena Andermatt Conley, “The Ecological Relation,” in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. Peg Rawes (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013), 278.