Transduction and Interdisciplinarity, or Why There Can Be No Methodology

Some words you read, find alluring for the ineffable hint of what they might be able to do for you well beyond what they signify or how you understand them to mean at all.  There are a host of key words, words that are also generally concepts in the Deleuzian sense, that I have encountered for the first time, found irreducibly interesting, and yet have had absolutely no idea what they are supposed to mean at first.  After some time–years, frequently–I have come to arrive at an understanding of them, not a straightforward knowing, through experimenting with what they can do instead of only what they mean.

Transduction is precisely one of those keywords for me.  I can’t remember exactly the first time I encountered it, but I suspect it was in the midst of my first bewildering attempt to read affect theory of the Spinozist genealogy.  I’m sure I put the word in some piece of writing for a grad seminar, where the deployment promptly fell flat on its face when I was unable to articulate exactly what it was doing there or what I was doing with it (never mind what it “meant”!).  Since then, though, particularly through spending time with Gilbert Simondon’s work on individuation as an ontogenetic process, I’ve come to cherish transduction for what it can do conceptually.

A bit of amateur philology in the OED reminds us that “transduction” is a term that emerged to describe two forms of communication process in which a multiplicity of flows must be thought simultaneously as an individual, though metastable, system.  In the case of signal transduction, its first usage in 1947 concerns the flow of multiple electronic signals through vacuum tubes.  In the case of genetics, transduction refers to the process by which a virus transfers genetic material from one cell to another, each consistent component becoming something else than it was before in the process.  In both cases, related words like “mutation,” “infection,” “mutual transformation” and other nonlinear concepts all evoke a form of relationality that Deleuze and Guattari call “mutual presupposition.”  And as I’ve written here before about Simondon, transduction in the case of ontogenesis is the way of thinking all of the levels of a being’s individuation–the physical, biological, psychic, and collective–as simultaneously generating and being generated by the individuation process.  

Viral transduction

To blend each of these threads of thought to gloss Simondon further, we could say that in any given individual its physical dimensions, for instance, are in a relation of mutual presupposition with its biological dimensions, its psychic dimensions, and its collective dimensions, and vice versa for each of the other levels.  Cause and effect co-emerge in this case, forming the whole that can also be distinguished into different dimensions.  What is taking shape here is a nonlinear account of a dynamic system of individuation as the processual generation of a being–ontogenesis.  Transduction refers to that phase shifting of all four levels into one individual.  And then back into four levels.  And really both at the same time.  And so on.

If this feels disorienting, well, that’s because that is what the concept transduction can do well.  As I’ve been working on my dissertation proposal, I’ve come to deploy transduction as its un-methodology.  I think Vicki Kirby has more or less definitively explained how the very notion of “methodology” is a fantasy of omnipotence of the rational cognitive human subject, or at least a symptom of logocentrism.  In her reading of Derrida, which aims at “granting an even greater operationalism to what is sometimes preliminary in his thought” (ix) by refusing the idea that the infamous “no outside the text” is reducible to human language or culture in opposition to nature, Kirby notes that deconstruction makes impossible the idea of methodology

“because grammatology begins with the assumption that the difference between the interpreter, the interpreting apparatus, as well as the difference between the object or concept under investigation, is compromised” (7).

So, if there is no final methodology to arrive at, so to speak, how does one write a dissertation, for instance? I of course mean this purely on the level of concepts, not in professional terms. Interdisciplinarity is a fetish-object these days and more often than not has much more to do with the neoliberal remaking of the academy so that scholars can now do twice or three times as much disciplinary or methodological work than their previous generations.  For that reason, it makes me uncomfortable to endorse it.  Trans-disciplinarity, though, in the sense of an un-method of transduction– what would that look like?

I’m thinking of my dissertation as a dynamic ecology, a transductive un-method that, if I could condense it into a single sentence, “diagrams multiple levels of abstraction and concreteness together, accounting for their distributed causes and effects in a nonlinear system.”

My dissertation specifically engages the emergence of gay and transgender children as figurations and populations through which queerness is becoming included in a vital politics of the state and biocapitalism.  What are the genetic elements that compose it in a transductive un-method, then?

  1. It is a set of questions, first of all: How have the gendered and sexual utterances of children and adolescents come to accrue a contemporary facticity? What juridical, biomedical, and new media apparatuses are implicated in the generation of the fact of gay and transgender childhoods? In what way do these apparatuses stratify gender and sexuality at the population level through American technologies of race and class? And how must the contemporary inclusion of queer childhoods in a vital politics of whiteness be contextualized in a longue durée of the strangeness of childhood as an irresolvable problem of the trans-generational transmission of Western modernity?
  2. It is an archive that organizes my cutting into the present and recent past to focus on gay and trans children through the criminalization of bullying and the therapeutic and biomedical treatment of gender variance and transgender diagnosis in children.  The archive combines recent American jurisprudence, state-level hate crimes and anti-bullying legislation, psychiatric and biodmedical research and protocols of gender identity and puberty suppression, and new media archives of teen suicide, hacking, doxing, and cyberbullying.
  3. It has a theoretico-un-disciplinary grounding in queer theory, critical race theory, new media, and political affect, fields into which I aim to make specific trans-disciplinary interventions.

These three genetic components of the dissertation–its conceptual questions, its archive, its theoretico-disciplinary grounding–are meant to be put into a transductive relation, the result of which will be an individual, so to speak: a dissertation.  Rather than imposing a way of seeing, thinking, speaking and writing upon my objects using a methodology (gay and trans kids), I want to let each component of the dissertation mutate, infect, mutually presuppose and ultimately phase shift, the others.  The final product, then, will be less a representation of an object per a specific way of thinking, but instead a participation in the present and the recent past, a participation whose aim is to make this dissertation relevant to the unfolding of the future of gender, sexuality and race in childhood.  To aim at a transduction, then, is to not know exactly what the meaning of my work will be in advance, but rather to assemble it in a way that affirms what thinking and writing can do, and to push that process to its productive limit, the limit of thought.

Well, yes and no.  If I really wrote a dissertation that worked like that, I don’t think it would be legible enough to do the other thing I want it to do: serve as a bridge into a professional world where disciplines and methodologies do matter.  So I’ll need to pursue a more integrative approach.  Nevertheless, while I embark on this thinking and writing process that will eventually result in a dissertation I can at the moment only intuit, rather than envision, I still want to let the nonlinear process of transduction quietly, perhaps even unconsciously, animate my work.

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