Deleuze has long been described, along with Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva, Irigaray, Lyotard and others, as a philosopher of difference. The work of these French philosophers is often assimilated to the ‘politics of difference’ which characterises a number of ‘minority’ social groups and interests: feminists, racial minorities, gay and lesbian movements have all demanded the recognition of differences that were previously assimilated, denied or simply unknown. In some cases, elements of the philosophy of difference have even contributed to the formulation and theoretical expression of such a politics of difference. 1 Our ultimate concern in this chapter is the relationship between the ‘politics of difference’ and Deleuze’s approach to the concept of difference. We shall return to the relations between philosophy and politics of difference at the end of the chapter, but we must first ask in what sense may Deleuze be described as a philosopher of difference?
The answer to this question may be found in the concern throughout his work with the nature of multiplicity. Deleuze never claimed to abandon or overthrow the concepts of identity, sameness, the One, etc. Rather, he was concerned with the question of how identity is constituted and what forms it takes. The real question is not whether or not there is unity but what form this takes: ‘what is the form of unification?’ (Mengue 1994:11-12). In particular, the problem to which he returns over and over again is the problem of how to conceive of a form of identity or unity which is not identical to itself. In this context he insists on the importance of the concept of multiplicity, on condition that this is understood as a substantive and independently of any relation to identity:
It was created precisely in order to escape the abstract opposition between the multiple and the one, to escape dialectics, to succeed in conceiving the multiple in the pure state, to cease treating it as a numerical fragment of a lost Unity or Totality or as the organic