It seems obvious to suggest that there is an architecture to Portland’s artisan/maker scene. But this is no normal architecture; it is an architecture that contains other architectures, all of which are constantly free to become some other shape or form, always and never finished. People come and go in the community of makers, enterprises flit in and out of existence, and styles/trends constantly are created, destroyed, reshaped, and recycled. Rapid changes in technology in turn change embedded modes of communication, coordination, and commerce in the making ecology. Artisans and makers live amongst a diverse and ephemeral architecture marked by possibility (rather than routine) and becoming (rather than being).
The idea of assemblage, which comes from the theoretical work of Deleuze and Guattari, helps us to think about how Portland’s makers’ architecture might function. Put simply, assemblages are a theoretical conception for imagining the ways in which linkages are formed within and between individuals and how they develop into social groups. Importantly, assemblages take into account the intensive environment from which each individual emerges. This is where the notion of becoming is most relevant: the closer an artisan works with her craft, the more she becomes connected to and enmeshed in the ecology that supports it. She carves out new linkages through this ecology when she seeks inspirations for design, machines and tools for crafting, collections of people to consume and support it, and so on.
The metaphor that Deleuze and Guattari continuously turn to is the tree/root system (the “arborescent model”) versus the rhizome. Whereas the tree is centralized and reaches further out into the ground to draw resources in, the rhizome is decentered, always in process (no point of origin or conclusion). For Deleuze and Guattari, the connections and linkages that occur in a specific cultural-economic context (like Portland’s artisan economy) are not concretely and/or centrally structured, but rather they spread like water over a surface, constantly changing and being changed by that surface.
Alas, this is just the tip of the iceberg, an introduction to the introduction of Deleuze and Guattari’s work as it fits Portland’s artisan economy. Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is not simple to articulate in a short blog post; their work is often so abstract that it requires its own glossary. Concepts are even renamed elsewhere in their oeuvre: assemblages, for example, were referred to as “desiring-machines” in Anti-Oedipus. But for our purposes, we need to stress the advantage that assemblages have over imagining Portland’s artisan economy as a static thing. Assemblages allow us to imagine Portland’s assemblage of artisans and makers as a dynamic and emergent cultural economy. Thinking in assemblages can give us a snapshot of what the Portland artisan economy is, but more interestingly, they can also tell us something about its possibilities.