Our research project, The Pragmatic Genealogy of Concepts funded by a Small Grant from the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, concerns, as its primary object, an issue of the journal Recherches (number 13) from December 1973, which bears the title La Généalogie du capital: les équipments du pouvoir. The issue is the result of a working group of the organisation CERFI (Centre d’études, de recherches et de formation institutionelles), established by French activist, psychiatrist and philosopher Félix Guattari in 1965.
Our interest in Recherches 13 and the contexts around it is multiple, but may be usefully grouped around the following factors:
The object itself, the journal issue, is a collectively written text, which, as well as foregrounding the process of the research that informed it and the process of its own composition, bears witness to an experiment in collective research activity, in the research life of the group. The issue includes several ‘militant interventions’ by the female members of the research collective, which discuss the affective elements of their investment in the project, and the conflicts and tensions which characterised the work of the collective.
The issue appears at a significant point in the history of leftist militancy in France in the years following May 1968. It is symptomatic of a response and a mode of action different from that of Maoist groups such as the Gauche proletairienne. Together with the next issue of the journal (14), presented as Part 2 of the Généalogie du capital, this one written by François Fourquet alone, it proposes a critical analysis of what was referred to as the ‘militant ideal’.
The Genealogy project involves a significant engagement with theoretical ideas and concepts drawn from the work of French philosophers Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and to a lesser extent the historian Fernand Braudel (inventor of the longue durée), Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche. The period in which the project evolved coincided with the composition and publication of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, with the first years of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France on the will-to-know and on State institutions, as well as with Foucault and Deleuze’s engagement in militant activity with the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons. In a wider sense, and in tandem with the work of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Recherches 13 marks a decisive shift away from the paradigmatic framework of Marxism and toward a Nietzschean emphasis on relations of power. The issue’s account of collective equipment steps away from the discourse of social ‘needs’ in its incorporation of Nietzschean and Deleuze-Guattarian thematics of flow, capture, territorialisation, and the genealogy of these effects.
Our project thus combines a close focus on the process and dynamics of collective research, especially as driven by an activist agenda oriented toward social change, the evacuation of a critical moment in the history of French critical theory, and analysis of the way in which concepts are deployed in relation to specific elements of the social field, such as cities, territories and ‘équipements collectifs’ referred to in the Recherches 13 sub-title.
La Toupie Folle
The project’s alternative title ‘la toupie folle’ (the mad spinning top) is taken from a description by Marie-Thérèse Vernet-Straggiotti of the affective and conceptual character of the research in the journal itself.
La toupie folle is an experiment in research and writing and the work is recorded here as it develops in the making. The site features a regularly updated blog on the process of the research, as well as a number of resources such as Chronology, an Index of Names and of Concepts as they relate to R13 and a number of ‘dossiers’ on salient features of and around the work of the Genealogy group of CERFI. As part of the project we will also engage in a series of dialogues with researchers whose work intersects with this.
The project’s researchers are Dr Susana Caló and Professor Patrick ffrench who started working together after sharing an interest in experimenting with collective practices of research. Their long-term project is to write about what they call the Social Life of Concepts in the case of post-war French thought.
In April 2022, they were joined by a research assistant, the brilliant Dr Daniel Nemenyi, who is leading the website design as a research tool.
Dr. Susana Caló is a researcher in post-war histories of psychiatry, semiotics, and social movements. She has published and presented widely on the Institutional Psychotherapy movement, with a focus on linking institutional analysis to broader militant and activist contexts. Her research reconstructs neglected post-war histories of psychiatry in their intersections with wider social-political and urban struggles. She is a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Humanities and Health, King’s College London, a member of the collective Other Ways to Care, and cofounder of Chaosmosemedia.
Over the course of 5 years she co-developed with Godofredo Pereira the research project ‘CERFI. Militant Analysis, Collective Equipment and Institutional Programming’ recovering the overlooked conceptual and practical legacy of the research cooperative CERFI (1967-1987) founded by Félix Guattari. This involved in-depth interviews and conversations with CERFI’s members and collaborators, interviews with groups who have been influenced by the legacy of CERFI, translations and extensive analysis of newly found textual and visual archival material. The project received support from the Graham Foundation, Royal College of Art and Het Nieuwe Instituut.
She is currently working on a book project titled ‘CERFI. Militant Analysis and Institutional Programming’, forthcoming with Minor Compositions.
Professor Patrick ffrench is Professor of French and former Vice Dean (Research) at King’s College London. He wrote his phd on the French literary and theoretical journal Tel Quel, in 1993, under the supervision of Professor Annette Lavers at University College London. As a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College he worked on Georges Bataille and 20th-century French intellectual history, before moving to King’s College London in 1999. The four books that have resulted from this work are: The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1996); The Cut: reading Bataille’s Story of the Eye (2000); After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community (2007) and, co-edited and translated with Roland-François Lack, The Tel Quel Reader (2003). Patrick’s research ranges across French literature, philosophy and culture of the 20th-century, with a particular focus on critical theory, literature and film. He has written on Maurice Blanchot, Roland Barthes, Jean-Luc Nancy, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. More recently his work is about film philosophy and film theory; his two most recent books focus on resonances of a cinematographic imaginary in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (Thinking Cinema with Proust, Legenda, 2018) and cinema in the work of Roland Barthes (Roland Barthes and Film, Bloomsbury, 2019).
Dr. Daniel Nemenyi is a researcher in the philosophy of cybernetics and the history of computing. He specialises in Norbert Wiener and is currently preparing his PhD thesis, What is an internet? Norbert Wiener and the society of control (Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) Kingston University, 2019) for publication. He is a member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective, a visiting researcher at King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities, and an independent web developer. He is a research assistant on this project and developed the website.