Inscribing the social

Félix Guattari's political ontology of signs


  • Timothy Deane-Freeman



Guattari, signs, semiotics, expression, Hjelmslev


This essay introduces Félix Guattari’s semiotics, paying particular attention to the role of “inscription,” which he will associate with distribution of and upon the social body. In laying out schematics of exchange and debt in the form of ritual markings and later, of writing, the “signification” of inscription is thus always implicated in projects of social organisation and control of disparate substances of expression. Against, however, these signifying semiotics, Guattari will posit symbolic semiotics, such as he locates in the worlds of “primitive” ritual, mime and gesture, and a-signifying semiotics, which are deployed as chains of information by computers. These semiotics, Guattari argues, remain resolutely dependent on their particular substances of expression, engendering individual and untranslatable worlds which might elude “capture” by dominant forms of social semiotics or inscription. This essay introduces these semiotic categories, arguing that this politics of signs constitutes a strikingly original and often overlooked philosophical intervention.


Clastres, Pierre. Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology. Translated by Robert Hurley with Abe Stein. New York: Zone Books, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Guattari, Felix. Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics. Translated by Rosemary Sheed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

Guattari, Felix. Chaosmosis. Translated by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Guattari, Felix. The Anti-Oedipus Papers. Edited by Stéphane Nadaud. Translated by Kélina Gotman. New York: Semiotext(e), 2006.

Guattari, Felix. The Machinic Unconscious. Translated by Taylor Adkins. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011.

Holland, Eugene. Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. London: Routledge, 2001.

Laurie, Timothy. ``Epistemology as politics and the double-bind of border thinking: Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze and Guattari, Mignolo.'' In Portal: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, July 2012.






Academic articles