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Towards minor theory

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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1996, volume 14, pages 487-499

Towards minor theory

Cindi Kate
Environmental Psychology Program, Graduate School of the City University of New York,
New York, NY10036, USA
Received 21 March 1995; in revised form 28 March 1996

Abstract. In this essay I develop the notion of 'minor theory* following the work of Gillcs
Deleuze and Felix Guattari on Kafka's 'minor literature1 as a way of reconfiguring the production
of knowledge in geography. I will explore the politics of producing theory that is, for example,
interstitial with empirical research and social location; of scholarship that sclf-rcflcxtvcly inter-
polates the theories and practices of everyday historical subjects—including, but not restricted to,
scholars; and of work that reworks marginality by decomposing the major. I will discuss the
ways that by consciously refusing 'mastery* in both the academy and its research practices,
'minor* research strives to change theory and practice simultaneously, and I will suggest that these
practices can be conjoined with the critical and transformative concerns of Marxism, feminism,
antiracism, and queer theory to pry apart conventional geographies and produce renegade
cartographies of change.

The 'cultural turn* in geography, as in other fields, has been associated with the
emergence and growing influence of groups previously marginalized in the academy.
Critical of this exclusion by so-called 'totalizing* theories and the problematic separa-
tions that undergird positivism, those promulgating a new human geography tried to
be clear about their own subject positions, the partiality of their projects, and the
connections between their academic work and their practices in other realms. This
work has significantly altered academic practice. Yet the avowed partiality of the
theoretical claims made under the auspices of the 'cultural turn' presents its own
problems. Those working in new ways are caught in the middle—knowing, as Audre
Lorde (1981, page 99) advised, that "the master's tools will never dismantle the
master's house", but struggling to dismantle it anyway and to rebuild an alternative
with a different set of tools. All the while, the 'master' barely notices.
Then again, if we are so right, why do we care whether or not the master
notices? Is it not alright that he trudge on in his old ways while the world passes
him by? I do not think so. The theoretical twists and turns—cultural and otherwise
—of the last few years are as much about power and authority as about the produc-
tion of theory and the constitution of knowledge. And the stakes are not just
academic. I want to try to understand this contest over critical authority, because I
have a stake in changing its terms. But I do not want to fasten only on the absences,
exclusions, and silences. I am as tired of bean counting as I am of having fewer
beans. I want to wash my mouth of the bitterness of exclusion to find ways not so
much to 'win' as to alter the ways knowledge is prpduced and shared so that the
very notion of a 'contest' is undone. I want to do this in two ways: by developing
the notion of 'minor theory', and by demonstrating the usefulness of the categories
of analysis it offers.
Before I let go of exclusion, or more accurately, work through the pain it causes,
it is important to recognize it as a motivating force for this essay. Exclusion, of
course, is all about power and we have heard and said a lot about who has been and
continues to be excluded from the productions of knowledge and theory in the
488 C Katz

Western academy. The very mention of exclusion increasingly draws the response,
"oh no, not another whiner". Worse, talk of exclusion can lead to an unsavory
hierarchy of marginalization—a kind of competitive victimology—and even to the
cul-de-sac of an essentialist identity politics. Notions of exclusion are all about, one
might even say tautologically about, position, and if we are not careful they can lead
to relativist accounts that offer little of practical value. And they can be disingenuous
—proclamations of exclusion by scholars who are quite included.
Nevertheless, I would argue that, despite years of feminist, postcolonial, queer,
and antiracist critique, and the rich, different productions of knowledge offered
from these quarters, much social theory remains largely impervious to this work.
'Nondominant' perspectives may be acknowledged, and even occasionally cited, but
their claims do not really alter what Susan Christopherson (1989) several years ago
in Antipode referred to as 'the project'. Noting that there are race-inflected or
gender-inflected implications of an analysis, although a significant advance, is not
the same as engaging with or taking seriously the knowledge claims of those working
from nondominant positions, let alone altering one's own academic or other prac-
tices. This argument is neither of straw nor anachronistic—it hit me stunningly
while I was engaged in a close reading of Derek Gregory's Geographical Imaginations
(1994).(1) Somehow Gregory, with all his scopic power, was not seeing something on
the theoretical landscape that I was certain was there. Let me be honest, I was
certain this something was there because I was in it, and I felt invisible. I want to
argue that part of the reason for this eclipse is that much oppositional theory is
produced in a different register, a minor key if you will. The differences are about
performance; different ways of 'doing theory', (2) different ways of reading, writing,
talking that apparently remain veiled to those still bent on 'mastery'. Maybe these
practices are not so much veiled as unappetizing. They assert differences that are
relentlessly material—embodied, positioned, sensual—that do not ignore the alter-
native material conditons under which knowledge is produced and shared.
"Thinking through the body", to use Adrienne Rich's phrase, is messy (1976,
page 284; see also Gallop, 1988). Its knowledge is streaked with the peculiar
temporality and spatiality of everyday life.
These questions of performance and the subjects of knowledge permeate the
not-just-academic questions of exclusion and power, of who speaks (to whom) and
who listens (to whom). The connections between knowledge and power are no less
important because they are well rehearsed. Performative and other theoretical
differences get played out in an impasse once marked by the boring dichotomies of
local against global, structure against agency, class against gender, culture against
economics, and the like, but witnessed more recently in either a hardening of differ-
ences marked by a retreat from dialogue, a groping attempt to be all things to all
people that sloppily elides or makes light of serious differences in the objects of
knowledge and integral practices of various theoretical positions, or a hesitance to
recognize and work through these differences in productive and creative ways,
settling instead for talking past one another.(3) Theorizing 'the minor' offers an

) In this essay I develop ideas first presented in a forum on Gregory's book (Katz, 1995).
<2> Thanks to Clive Barnett who helped me to frame my project this way (compare Barnett,
<3> In a discussion of the 'differential integrities' of psychoanalysis and social theory, Gregory
approvingly cites James Donald, "What seems potentially more fruitful is the dialogue in
which, although the two discourses remain distinct—they are always to some extent talking
past each other—the questions untranslatably specific to each can provoke new thinking and
Towards minor theory 489

alternative to the current standoff. What I am calling minor theory tears at the
confines of major theory; pushing its limits to provoke *a line of escape1, a
rupture—a tension out of which something else might happen. Minor theory can
scratch at major theory from a range of different positions hut its claims are intersti-
tial, and minor and major both must be joined to oppose inequality, injustice,
impoverishment, and oppression effectively. I think this is what Gayatri Spivak
meant when, at the Rethinking Marxism Conference in 1989, she reaffirmed her
Marxism but insisted on a "marxism squeezed through the pores of feminism".*4*
Minor theory is at once multiply porous and a way to squeeze; it opens possibilities
as it distills new kinds of knowledge.

Minor theory
As Spivak's graphic image should make clear, the 'minor' is not so much a stable
form existing in opposition to something major, but relentlessly transformative and
inextricably relational. My conceptualization of 'minor theory' was inspired by and
to some extent follows the work of Gilles Dcleuze and Felix Guattari (1986) on
Franz Kafka, By virtue of his position or identity and his tools, they argued, Kafka
wrote a 'minor literature'. A Czech Jew living in Prague in the first years of the
20th century, Kafka wrote in German, a major language in which he was an out-
sider. Because German was neither his mother tongue nor the language of his
community, Kafka worked with a language in which he was doubly displaced.
Deleuze and Guattari argue that Kafka, like Samuel Beckett, pushed his displace-
ments to their limits to create Mines of escape'. This political strategy is at the heart
of what Deleuze and Guattari conceptualize as minor literature: to write a 'minor
literature' is to use a major language in ways that subvert it from within.
Because the slippage between minor and marginal, or unimportant, seems so
easy, it is important to note, as Deleuze and Guattari do, that neither Kafka nor
Beckett (nor a host of other writers, composers, and visual artists they consider)
were insignificant. Indeed, many were canonical. The minor is not a theory of the
margins, but a different way of working with material. Minor literature, argue
Deleuze and Guattari (1986) with grotesque phraseology, is "affected with a high
coefficient of deterritorialization". It is about the conscious use of displacement.
"In this sense, Kafka marks the impasse that bars access to writing for the Jews of
Prague and turns their literature into something impossible—the impossibility of not
writing, the impossibility of writing in German, the impossibility of writing other-
wise" (page 16).
There was something disconcertingly familiar about this triple impossibility. I
had felt it as a feminist 'squeezed through the pores of Marxism', as it were. The
impossibility of not being a theorist, the impossibility of being an orthodox Marxist,

insights in the other" (1991, page 3, as cited in Gregory, 1995, page 183). Rather than settling
for talking past one another in a sea of untranslatability, which has the danger of reifying new
dichotomies, the construction of minor theory suggests a different way of working with and
within difference. In a refusal to talk past one another, the practice of minor theory would
work the limits of what is untranslatable so that they break, and in these cracks new practices
or terms might emerge.
In an interview with Spivak after the conference, Howard Winant (1990, page 96) asks
about her saying that Marxism had to be rewritten in the pores of feminism; she responds,
"reinvented" and for good measure adds, "swallowed and eaten". I remember "squeezed".
Whatever the verb, the idea is clear.
490 C Katz

and the impossibility of being a feminist devoid of Marxism. But now it seems to
me that the tack of minor theory offers a way of working through the contradictions
and limits more imaginatively; developing the notion of minor theory might actually
transform both Marxist and feminist categories and practices, for instance, and
allow me to escape the feeling of being split or in constant negotiation. Actually, it
would give the 'constant negotiation' a form and direction that would rework and
keep in flux a feminism cum Marxism. Given the transformative quality of what
Deleuze and Guattari mean by the minor, it is more appropriate to suggest, for
instance, a feminist cum Marxist cum queer cum antiracist theory, each squeezed
through the pores of the other so that any production of theory cascades in an end-
less transformative becoming. But although Deleuze and Guattari sometimes seem
more interested in 'their excellent adventure', it is important to remember that the
journey is not the whole project. I want to insist on the importance of power and
position in producing new subjects of knowledge, theory, and practice (compare Katz,
1992, page 504). Minor theory is not about mastery. Although its politics are rooted
in a yeasty notion of theory making—lively and playful—full of possibilities, its intent
is to mark and produce alternative subjectivities, spatialities, and temporalities
(compare Morris, 1994). This demands a theory of interests (compare Spivak, 1988).
This project is delicate—major and minor seem such loaded terms that the
potential for a quick reassertion of binarisms looms large; but I want to suggest not
a simple opposition but an interpolation of major with minor theory. Following
Deleuze and Guattari, I consider major theory to be contextually defined. It encom-
passes the theory or theories that are dominant in a particular historical geography
under a specific set of conditions. It is major because it is dominant in a particular
historical geography, not the reverse. Minor theory, then, might best be conceptual-
ized as interstitial. It is defined as minor in relation to a dominant major theory, but
as the contexts change, so too can the designations of major and minor or the
boundaries between them. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) are clear that the major
and minor are not so much different languages as different uses or treatments of the
same language (pages 1 0 3 - 1 0 4 and passim). Antiracist, feminist, Marxist, and
queer theories, for instance, work the terrain of critical and opposition analysis but
in often different registers and with different objects of knowledge. I am using
Marxism and feminism in this essay as the theoretical practices most relevant to me,
but their relation to one another as 'major' and 'minor' is historical, not personal. I
was actually a feminist before I was a Marxist, but as a feminist in the academy
interested in oppositional theory during the 1970s, I operated within a discursive
formation—and practical politics—that was Marxist. Within this specific and
perhaps small mud puddle, Marxist theory was 'major theory'.
There are other theoretical practices besides feminism that might be understood
as 'minor' in relation to Marxism as 'major'—say for instance, postcolonial or queer
theory—and other kinds of major theoretical formations to work in and against,
such as Freudian psychoanalytic theory or positivism, or even in certain instances,
feminist theory itself. It is also possible to imagine a context in which feminist
theory is 'major', and Marxist theory is minor. And in the world of the Gingrich
Congress, post-Thatcher Britain, and a reactionary globalization by and for capital,
both are truly minor.
The relationality of 'minor' vis-a-vis 'major' does not mean that anything goes.
Constituting the minor is not about naming but about consciously working in a
vocabulary in which one is not at home—where one has become 'deterritorialized'—but
where one works that deterritoriaiization to its limits, forcing it to express something
Towards minor theory 491

differcnt.<5) The appeal of Deleuze and Guattart-s (1986) construction of minor

literature is its rupturing effects. Minor "utilizations'* of language, they suggest, can
"carry you away" or "send the major language racing". The minor is so much a part
of the major that its deployment completely reworks the major from within. One
cannot 'translate* it into the major, so to speak, "without destroying it". Neither is
the relationship between major and minor one of size or importance in some
general sense. The two arc intertwined in an exquisite and mobile tension. There is
no last instance' here, but rather a relationship of constant becoming and change.
The transformative aspect of the minor, or 'a becoming minor', is key to what I
am trying to get at here. The minor for Dcleuze and Guattari is about subversion,
escape, transformation. It is metamorphic—'a becoming'. A look at the obvious and
not so obvious musical referents may be useful here. In the first draft of this paper,
I spoke of these referents in a quite simplified metaphorical way—a beginning piano
student pointing out the interplay between major and minor keys. I was so intent on
this simple metaphor that I even said Dclcuze and Guattari did not talk about the
musical entailments of the minor, although I had been swept away by their references
to Lulu's scream and drawn in by their discussion of Schoenberg's twelve-tone
As their musical referents suggest, Deleuzc and Guattari were onto something
far more subtle. For them the minor and its relation to music are about metamor-
phosis, and explicitly not metaphorical. The connections they draw to music are
about deterritorialization—a simultaneous deterritorialization of the composers (in
this instance Arnold Schoenberg and his student Alban Berg) and of the music
itself—how expression pushes beyond the music itself. Deleuze and Guattari were
enthralled with those moments when sonorousness escaped the formal or signifying
bounds of music, as in Schoenberg's pioneering work with atonality or the rupturing
cry of the heroine's death in Berg's incomplete opera Lulu. Insofar as these art
works are concerned with rupturing formal boundaries and finding new forms of
expression, the connections to the minor are clear. In another vein, Deleuze and
Guattari offer the story of a "John Cage-like concert" from Kafka's Description of a
Struggle, that rehearses the 'triple impossibility' at the heart of minor expressions:
"the supplicant (1) wants to play piano because he is feeling happy; (2) doesn't know
how to play; (3) doesn't play at all ('At the moment two gentlemen seized the bench,
and whistling a song and rocking me to and fro, carried me far away from the piano
to the dining table'); and (4) is congratulated for having played so well" (1986,
page 5). This allegory celebrates a minor production, the silent concert in which
received form is disturbed, and the two men carrying away the 'performer' prefigure
Deleuze and Guattari congratulating the artist for 'playing' so well. What Deleuze
and Guattari fasten on in music and other forms of expression is the rupturing and
liberating effects of pushing through the limits of form or calling into question
Minor theory expresses a particular and undermining relationship to mastery, and it is
significant that in his response to my minoritarian reading of Geographical Imaginations,
Gregory misconstrues 'the minor' as a fixed social position to which a 'Big Boy' like himself
can never have access. The power of minor theory lies in the possibility it offers for the prac-
tice of relationally constituted subjects. This possibility turns on a reading of social position
as mobile, if not unstable; the outcome of historical subjects' ongoing mediation of the struc-
turing forces of society and productions of self and identity. 'Becoming minor'—open to
anyone—entails a conscious effort to produce a subjectivity that simultaneously is 'not at
home' in a set of theoretical or other practices and refuses to be so. Thus it attempts a
political practice of refusal and reworking. As I explicate what this entails, I hope it becomes
clear that not only is there no 'wrong' position, but that it is Gregory who is being 'vulgar' in
suggesting that I offered such an interpretation (compare Katz, 1995 and Gregory, 1995).
492 C Katz

received notions of content. What they mark in Kafka's work and elsewhere is the
welling up of something from within—music or a 'terrible threat'—that reaches past
its moment of expression "to its own abolition" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, page 6,
original emphasis ).(6)
The escape from signification and the "flow of sonorous expression" (Deleuze
and Guattari, 1986, page 6, my emphasis) suggest clear connections between
Deleuze and Guattari's construction of the minor and their concept of becoming.
Indeed, their work is continually enriched by the connections they make from music
(and other forms of artistic expression including painting, film, and literature) to their
linked notions of deterritorialization, becoming, and the minor. Fittingly, Deleuze
and Guattari move in the diagonal or zigzag way that they celebrate as becoming.
My own expositon here traces a path from the minor, to becoming, through deterri-
torialization, and back to becoming, and in this way I hope to have suggested the
rich 'rhizomatic' quality of Deleuze and Guattari's work.
The notion of becoming is crucial to understanding the minor in Deleuze and
Guattari's work. It provides an active and engaging theoretical bulwark against any
simple dualistic slippage of major versus minor. For Deleuze and Guattari meta-
morphosis and becoming connote not just mutability and change, but also a vibrant
ranginess around, and transgressive movement through, the limits and internal
tensions of available forms. 'Becoming minor' insinuates mutuality as well as
mutability. As the minor works on the major from within, the minor is itself trans-
formed. Their mutual movements are simultaneously interstitial and independent,
and because neither simply becomes the other, they are not the only terms (compare
Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, page 306 and passim). The simple binary is always
subverted by 'becoming'. And, as Meaghan Morris (1992) suggests, this offers a lot
of flexibility for thinking about practice differently and positively.

Feminist critiques of Deleuze and Guattari's 'becoming-minor'

If the notion of becoming-minor provides a useful means for rethinking our rela-
tionships to theory and knowledge, it is not unproblematic, and I am not using it
uncritically or without reservations. Given that Deleuze and Guattari's work is
strewn with strings of phrases such as 'becoming-woman, becoming-animal, and
becoming-child' all lumped together, it is perhaps not surprising that there has been
a history of critical feminist engagement with it (if not suspicion and downright
hostility) over the past twenty years. It is testimony both to this work and to the
fruitfulness of Deleuze and Guattari's intertwined notions of the minor and becoming
that they still offer 'lines of escape' appealing to feminist cultural theorists.(7)
What happens to women's, blacks', or children's subjectivity when they, among
others, exist as objects of a becoming? Deleuze and Guattari insist that there can be
no 'becoming-man' because 'man', (distinct from a biological male), is "a standard in
the universe". Majoritarianism is secured not in being the most numerous, but in being
the unmarked 'subject of enunciation' produced as 'a constant and homogeneous
Compare Deleuze and Guattari (1987, page 299). This construction of 'the minor', is
linked completely with the idea of becoming. The notion of becoming, of course, was not
invented by Deleuze and Guattari. It has clear connections to aufhebung, the Hegelian dialec-
tic, and to Marx. Deleuze explicitly distances himself from Hegel's telos and sense of
negation, tracing his own inspirations to Spinoza, Leibniz, and Nietzsche, among others
(compare Deleuze and Parnet, 1987; Boundas and Olkowski, 1994).
(7) T h e key feminists w h o have engaged Deleuze's ideas concerning becoming-minor include,
Luce Irigaray (1985), Alice Jardine (1985), Rosi Braidotti ( 1 9 9 1 ; 1994), Elizabeth Grosz
(1994), and Meaghan Morris (1992; 1994).
Towards minor theory 493

system* that sees all but renders itself transparent—what Donna Haraway (1991)
calls the *god trick*. Majority "implies a state of domination and not the reverse",
and a becoming enacts a separation from that state. In this way, "the subject in a
becoming is always a 4man\ but only when he enters a becoming-minoritartan that
rends him from his major identity". All becomings, then, involve deterritorialization
and "imply two simultaneous movements, one by which ... the subject is withdrawn
from the majority, and another by which ... the medium or agent rises up from the
minority" (Delcuze and Guattari, 1987, page 291 and passim).
Deleir/x and Guattari are interested in the political possibilities that are unhinged
in 'becoming', and insist that all social actors—even those from so-called minoritarian
groups—may be subjects of a becoming. They become so by being dctcrritorial-
ized—leaving the state of being a minority and entering a flux that transforms both
the majority and the minority. Jews must "bccome-Jewish", "blacks must become-
black", and as they do this will also affect the non-Jew and the nonblack. In this
vein, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that 4a minority* serves as the "active medium of
becoming", while the majority is its subject, and this is where their formulation gets
opaque and problematic. As several feminist and other cultural theorists have
pointed out, this leaves the 'minority's* subjectivity suspiciously in the lurch.(8) It is
almost as if *the minority* exists to facilitate the becoming of 'man' and their own
identity is of no consequence. Alice Jardine (1985) was one of the first feminists
writing for an English-speaking audience to appreciate this. "Dclcuzc and Guattari's
imperative 'to become woman' has very little to do with women" (page 215, original
emphasis), she cautions: if a woman must 'become woman' as an example for men,
she could "also be the first to disappear", thereby rehearsing "the old allegory for
the process of women becoming obsolete" (page 217, original emphasis). Luce
Irigaray (1985) expresses a similar concern when she observes that, as the medium
of a becoming, women remain trapped in their historical position as object for a
subjectivity that is denied to them. Serving as the ground for someone else's figure
is an age-old problem for women and other 'others', and despite Deleuze and
GuattarPs insistence that their formulation is different, it is sometimes hard to
discern now. More importantly, Irigaray opposes Deleuze and Guattari's notion of
becoming as a process of transcending gender binaries because it forecloses
women's constructing themselves as alternative female subjects.*9*
Rosi Braidotti (1991) also traces the contradictions raised by the transcendence
of sexual difference through the process of becoming. On the one hand, she notes
Deleuze's notion of the becoming-minority of women offers a "remarkable concept
of human consciousness as moving beyond gender dichotomies". But she cautions
that this desexualization annihilates sexual difference before equality between the
sexes has been achieved. It thus undermines or at the very least ignores one of the
key aims of feminism—"to enable women to repossess and express their sexuality"
(page 119). I too share Braidotti's concern that it is too soon for feminists to forego
hard-won forms of political agency rooted in such a materialist and embodied view
of consciousness, and her fears that women will disappear "from the scene of
history" in the theories of multiple desire linked to becoming.
In a more accusatory vein and in relation to anti-imperialist as well as feminist
concerns, Spivak (1988) raises the thorny issues of interest and power that are
(8>See for example, Irigaray (1985), Jardine (1985), Moore (1988), Braidotti (1991; 1994),
and Morris (1994) who address this question.
Compare Braidotti (1994, page 119 and passim). Suzanne Moore (1988) makes much the
same point with passing reference to Deleuze and Guattari in her important cautionary tale,
" 'Getting a bit of the other' —the pimps of postmodernism".
494 C Katz

elided when agency takes the form of "an undifferentiated desire". She has Deleuze
especially in mind. Spivak too marks a central disappearance: for her, it is not the
subaltern or minor alone who disappears, but the intellectuals who would have them
stand for a particular kind of subjectivity. In this way, of course, the subaltern
subject as historical agent is 'disappeared' by the duplicitously self-effacing writer.
Spivak is clear about the political stakes of this practice: "The banality of leftist
intellectuals' lists of self-knowing, politically canny subalterns stands revealed;
representing them, the intellectuals represent themselves as transparent" (page 275).
Thus reasserting an imperialist practice no less vicious for being subtle.
Feminist critics sympathetic to Deleuze and Guattari's project make much the
same claim as Spivak. As Jardine (1985) argues, the woman of the becoming-
woman rests on "a series of unanalyzed stereotypes" (page 216) deployed at the
service of a masculinist subjectivity. Sexual neutrality, Braidotti (1991) remarks, is
valorized from the privileged (but unmarked and unacknowledged) position of being
able to express one's sexuality. She notes, it is only those whose "own place of
enunciation as the subject" is secured who can idealize the neutralization of
expression and their own erasure (page 121). Women, postcolonials, and racialized
peoples, among other 'minorities', cannot yet give up on their own historically and
geographically specific struggles to claim different subject positions. But this does
not mean that 'becoming-minor' offers nothing to those engaged in politics from
these positions.

Renegade cartographies
All of these serious concerns about the slippages around becoming-minor notwith-
standing, the formulation still offers the promise of breaking a certain impasse in
politics and theory. Deleuze and Guattari's vision of the minor is promising because
it creates new forms of subjectivity (both for 'majors' and for 'minors'); it recognizes
(and depends on) the agency of 'others' in precipitating crises and thus social trans-
formation; it offers a theory of transformation that works from within a relationship
of oppression; and it offers flexible means for thinking about practice in new and
revitalized ways.(10) In order to deliver on these promises becoming-minor needs to
be linked to what Spivak (1988) called a theory of interests in her critique of
Deleuze and Foucault. One way to do this is to 'squeeze' Deleuze and Guattari's
theory of the minor and its various fruitful entailments 'through the pores of
feminism'. In this task I follow Braidotti and other feminist cultural critics who have
been 'squeezing' in interesting and productive ways.
Despite the occasionally tortuous and ill-informed spatial metaphors that pepper
her prose, Braidotti manages to graft a feminist 'politics of location' with the
Deleuzian notion of becoming. She is critical of Deleuze for his distinctly gender-
privileged refusal to recognize the importance of what she calls 'sociosymbolic'
gender location (which clearly includes political-economic location as well) that
leads him to construct a becoming-minor that dissolves sexual difference. Gender-
ing time and sexualizing history, Braidotti (1994) puts forward an understanding of
becoming that does not entail the dissolution of gendered (or, by extension, other
forms of) identity, but is instead "sexually differentiated" and takes "different forms

> Compare Jardine (1985) and Braidotti (1991, page 108) who discuss the different kinds of
nonhegemonic subjectivities suggested by Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the minor;
Braidotti (1991, page 11) who addresses how the minor incorporates the transformative
agency of minoritarians or subalterns; and Morris (1992) who, in a discussion of performance
politics, makes clear how it offers great political flexibility.
Towards minor theory 495

according to different gendered positions" (page 121). She recognizes and

appreciates that at the present historical moment in 4the West', it would be prema-
ture for feminists to give up the struggle for self-definition. Her reworked idea of
becoming hangs on to a feminist critique of power and does not sidestep the
feminist project of forging new forms of female subjectivity. This formulation—
which retains the flux and transmutability of 'becoming'—remembers that all who
enter a becoming arc positioned somewhere, and that this positioning affects where
they go and how they get there. Braidotti\s formulation, with a more activist sense
of politics, makes sense for my intent as well.
Politics is one of the areas where it seems to me Braidotti's loose use of spatial
metaphors is problematic. She calls politics "no more than a theoretically informed
map", and proceeds to excuse Dclcuzc on the grounds that "if you draw your
own map, it is from your own situated point of view1* (1994, page 123). This is a
reaffirmation that location matters only in the most trivial sense. It appeals to a
metaphor of what geographers call 'mental maps', and ironically, it too quickly loses
the richness of a politics of location, the geography of strategy. There is little sense
of politics as action as well as plan. This is too bad because through informed
action—praxis—we shift position as well as change context; and this has everything
to do with a politicized sense of becoming. Moreover, although it is refreshing to
recognize that all maps are drawn from a situated point of view (something tradi-
tional cartographers are bent on mystifying), cartography, as opposed to mental
mapping, is predicated on a double positioning—the mapmaker's point of view is
ineradicable, but the cartographer quite deliberately effects a (partial) displacement
to represent space and place from an explicitly detached location. Mental maps and
abstraction conspire together in cartography. This link is often obscured because
much of the metaphorical appeal to mapping, positionality, and so forth, is not,
strictly speaking, deploying cartography, but is based instead on an unrecognized
appeal to 'mental maps'. Recognition of these broader entailments puts a more
activist and engaged spin on Braidotti's metaphor of 'politics as a theoretically
informed map', and shows clearly how a positioned sense of becoming might offer
real promise for a different kind of politics/10
The notion of becoming is more politically useful if all those engaged in a becoming
are clear about their multiple and mutable (but always somewhere) positionings; as
becoming political actors, we have to learn to be genuinely cartographic—mapping a
politics from our situated positions, but also making usable and shared maps of the
worlds we inhabit collectively. Gender is not class and class is not race; and the
maps of their politics are not homologous. Yet we are lost—metaphorically and
materially—if we think they are of separate worlds. Classed, sexed, raced, and
gendered, we can produce renegade cartographies at once situated, fluid, and
incorporative. For a transformative politics of becoming we neither need idiosyn-
cratically centered mental maps nor 'objective' maps that deny the hand and eye of
their producer. Rather, as renegade cartographers, we produce maps of becoming
that recognize how sociosymbolic and political-economic positions are at once
individual and shared; mobile and situated. Maps of and for a kind of informed

W See Neil Smith's and my essay, "Grounding metaphor: towards a spatialized politics"
(Smith and Katz, 1993) for a more detailed argument concerning the hazards and possibilities
of spatial metaphors, and a discussion of Adrienne Rich's (1986) effective use of the meta-
phor of location in "Notes toward a politics of location". For an illuminating discussion of the
politics of mapping see Brian Harley's (1989) "Deconstructing the map" and Denis Wood's
(1992) The Power of Maps. For an early discussion of mental mapping, see Peter Gould and
Rodney White's (1974) Mental Maps.
496 C Katz

politics that refuses the pigeonholes of identity but embraces position, difference,
and the multidirectionality of change. Renegade cartographies could chart a politics
that makes good on Deleuze's claim that, "The becoming is geographical" (Deleuze
and Parnet, 1987, page 37).(12) To be geographical is not to be ahistorical but to have
a different, nonunilinear, and more geological sense of time—in the words of 18th-
century geologist, James Hutton, "no vestige of a beginning no prospect of an end".

The politics of knowing

So what are the politics of minor theory? I was initially drawn to Deleuze and
Guattari's idea of minor literature for two key reasons. First, minor literature is not
written in a 'minor language' but rather is "that which a minority constructs within a
major language" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, page 16). Second, its politics can
"break forms, [and] encourage ruptures and new sproutings" (page 28). It is not a
politics of the margins and there is no outside. Becoming minor sets up an imbricated
or interstitial politics; a way of negotiating and reworking a space of betweenness to
produce something new, something akin to Henri Lefebvre's (1991) notion of
'representational space'.
I had first heard of the idea of minor literature in an essay by the cultural
theorist Tom Gunning (1991) who drew on Deleuze and Guattari's work on Kafka
to develop the idea of 'minor cinema'. The way Gunning framed minor cinema—
genre bending, counterhegemonic, oppositional—struck a responsive chord in me. I
immediately liked the idea, its concerns felt similar to the way I viewed my own
intellectual work, and I liked valorizing a completely other, but not necessarily
antagonistic, way of working with material and ideas. As I read Deleuze and
Guattari on Kafka and more broadly on becoming minor, I was drawn to the
broader political possibilities suggested by their work.
As Deleuze and Guattari (1987) stress, a major language is inadequate for minor
expressions. As a constant, or standard; it deals inadequately with variations. Yet
the more constant and homogeneous it becomes, the more the major language is
"worked on by ... minorities" and susceptible to "continuous variations that trans-
pose it into a minor language" (page 103). Not surprisingly, the major language tries
to hide its inadequacies—it fears change. Yet a major language is 'oppressed' by its
inadequacies, Deleuze and Guattari argue, and this is most perceptible from the
position of the minoritarian.(13) 'Becoming-minor' is a subversive act. If we transpose
this to what I am calling minor theory, it suggests that we use the "polylingualism" of
our current theoretical language, "to oppose the oppressed quality of this language
to its oppressive quality, to find points of ... underdevelopment... by which language
can escape" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, page 27).
I find this a useful strategy for reworking the way we understand theory and the
production of knowledge in human geography. In geography, as in other fields, one
of the most sticky binaries in social theory involves feminism and Marxism. The
encounter between the two has been useful, altering both feminism and Marxism, as
befits minor theory. Yet it has quickly become unproductive too. Surely I am not
the only feminist who yawns when another bit of mud is slung at David Harvey, or

l12) This notion of becoming also connects to the way Deleuze and Guattari (1987,
page 12f) use the metaphor of mapping. In a discussion of the rhizome as a map, they
note that the map is 'open', changeable, and connected to a broader sphere. Maps, they
argue, have to do with performance and can be constructed as a political action.
<l3> Of course this echoes Marx's insight—picked up by feminists such as Nancy Hartsock and
Donna Haraway—that the contradictions of capitalism would be most apparent from the posi-
tion of the working class.
Towards minor theory 497

yet who also hurts when somehow my work fails to be taken as seriously by the 'big
boys* as I think it demands. The differences between feminism and Marxism, among
other social theories, are serious, but we need a new way of addressing them in the
academy, and by extension, outside academia. Major and minor are not two
separate languages, but "two possible treatments of the same language'* (Dcleuze
and Guattari, 1987, page 103 and passim), and the time is surely ripe politically to
rediscover what connects rather than separates us,
I want to suggest that in social theory at the present moment there is less to gain
by addressing Marxism as major theory to feminism's minor, than by focusing at a
different level of abstraction and taking on the language and practices of mastery.
Marxism might well figure in this, but then so might some kinds of feminism. After
all, the 'major* language of social theory in geography and elsewhere remains one of
mastery; a way of dealing with knowledge in a progressive, linear, and commanding
way that garners respect for those who play by its rules. The different subjectivities
and material conditions of those who produce and exchange knowledge continue to
be erased under the sign of mastery. Yet these different conditions have everything
to do with what knowledge is produced and how it is handled. The largely positivist
treatment of knowledge has only been reinforced by the 'technological turn' in
geography since the 1980s, which grows in influence to the same degree that it
effaces social theory of any sort, let alone the kind of embodied, positioned, and
materialist social theory I am calling for here. It is as frustrating as it is revealing
when oppositional theorists see the problems in these treatments of knowledge so
clearly in certain realms, such as in the mounting critique of the tcchnoturn, but are
then oblivious to their own participation in it elsewhere.
To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, one is not born but becomes a master. But what
if 'one* does not want, to? Must this mean one cannot be 'at home' in the academy?
Before I get caught up in a discusion of 'home' let me be clear that I neither want to
valorize homelessless as a political state nor trivialize 'real' homelessness by discuss-
ing the politics of knowledge this way. Homelessness is a cruel metaphor; Spivak's
characterization of 'deterritorialization' as 'ferocious' is salutary here. Rather, I want
to signal that I and other 'minoritarian' theorists refuse to be 'not at home' any longer.
I am not only refusing the position of outsider—glorified or ignored—but more to
the point, my work is part of a broader project to change the nature and meaning of
our academic 'home'. If through 'becoming-minor' we change that home, materially
and metaphorically, it will not only render the work of those who have refused the
mantle of mastery more visible, but it will require those who have embraced that
mantle—contemporary 'major' theorists—to take stock of the limits of their geogra-
phies, and to be accountable for the worlds they produce in theory and practice.(14)
This reworking of 'home' at several scales, suggests the appeal of becoming-
minor. For one, it does not celebrate marginality but insists on working and
reworking theoretical productions from the inside. But also, these reworkings move
outward from a space of betweenness—as minor theory 'sends major theory racing',
major theory and theorists change as well. All who enter into a becoming change
and are changed. Apart from reconfiguring the academic workplace—a minor
project if ever there was one—the notion of minor theory also presumes new and
reinvigorated objects, subjects, and practices of knowledge, and these have intricate
connections to other forms of practice.

Thanks to Kay Anderson for this phrasing, and more importantly, for her encouragement.
498 C Katz

Deleuze and Guattari (1987, page 309, quoting Gisele Brelet) suggest that the music
of the 20th-century French composer Messiaen accomplishes a minoritarian shift by
presenting "multiple chromatic durations in coalescence, 'alternating between the
longest and the shortest in order to suggest the idea of the relations between the
infinitely long durations of the stars and mountains and the infinitely short ones of
the insects and atoms'".
I tender this notion of minor theory as a means to accomplish something
similar—if less poetic—in social theory. I have elsewhere attempted this by calling
for (and trying to carry out) intellectual practices that work (and play) the 'spaces of
betweenness' in our theoretical productions (compare Katz, 1992; 1994)(15); but
with few exceptions these 'spaces' continue to remain a no man's land in human
geography. In a carefully crafted and insightful article on the feminist film theorist
Claire Johnson, Morris (1994) marks a similar concern, and suggests that the
persistent "erasure of feminism's contribution to cultural debate" turns on "the
troubled feminist category of 'experience'". This notion of experience, she suggests,
"has always assumed the irrelevance of opposing living and writing, art and life, in
feminist cultural activity. When it is used as a way of posing skeptical questions of
history (rather than a way of simply asserting a claim to personal authority), experi-
ence has been part of that struggle to name a different temporality ... that makes a
feminist ethics of history theoretically intelligible" (page 135). But a feminist ethics
of geography is equally necessary, and this involves a skeptical questioning of space
too. Renegade cartographies, rooted in experience and wrought of 'involvement',
struggle to name a different spatiality and chart the politics to produce it.(16)
The 'space of betweenness' from which we can produce these more engaged
accounts of the world emanates precisely from the interstices between mental maps
and the quest for collective veracity. Embodied, situated, and messy, these non-
linear productions of knowledge alter the terrain of theory and practice; they pry
apart conventional geographies not by dismantling 'major theory', but by situating
minor theory in its midst.
Acknowledgements. This paper was initially presented at the meetings of the Association of
American Geographers in March 1995. I appreciate the comments and questions raised by
those attending. I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and provoca-
tive comments. The enthusiasm and support of Kay Anderson, Jane Jacobs, and Sallie
Marston has been sustaining. My deep appreciation to Clive Barnett and Neil Smith for their
insightful comments and encouragement. My deepest appreciation to Meaghan Morris who
gave the first draft of this paper the best read anyone could ask for. Her comments were not
only astute and inspirational, but they were delivered so thoughtfully that even when they
pointed to serious problems, I never felt defensive—surely this is part of what we are talking
about as we struggle towards a new way of working.
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