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Cognitive Assemblages: Technical Agency and Human Interactions
N. Katherine Hayles
In the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, assemblage (agence- ment) carries connotations of connection, event, transformation, and be
over cognition, it would seem unlikely to define assemblages as cognitive;
however, the broader definition of cognition I employ brings my argu
ment somewhat closer to theirs (although significant differences remain).
I want to define cognition as a process of interpreting information in con
texts that connect it with meaning. This view foregrounds interpretation,
choice, and decision and highlights the special properties that cognition
bestows, expanding the traditional view of cognition as human thought
to processes occurring at multiple levels and sites within biological life
forms and technical systems. Cognitive assemblage emphasizes cognition
as the common element among parts and as the functionality by which
native) is to allow for arrangements that scale up. Starting with cognitive
I am grateful to William Hutchison for sharing his work on drones; to Maryann Murtagh for her help with sources; and to the students in my Critical Inquiry seminar on the nonhuman at the University of Chicago.
1. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, vol. 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (Minneapolis, 1987).
2. Alison Williams suggests that assemblage is an appropriate way to think about drones; however, she does not foreground the role of cognition, as I do here; see Alison J. Williams, “Enabling Persistent Presence? Performing the Embodied Geopolitics of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Assemblage,” Political Geography 30 (Sept. 2011): 381–90.
Critical Inquiry 43 (Autumn 2016)
© 2016 by The University of Chicago. 00093-1896/16/4301-0002$10.00. All rights reserved.
coming. For those who privilege desire, affect, and transversal energies
My reason for choosing assemblage over network (the obvious alter
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