Manuel Carrión Research Process

[The text of this post is copied from a document sent to me by Manuel Antonio Carrión Lira.  Manuel is exploring diagrammatic aesthetics and diagram practice in the Design School of the University of Valparaiso, Chile (  He previously worked at CRAC Valparaíso, which displays a wonderful diagram on its homepage.  I'll be answering Manuel's questions about the Diagrammatica Project in future posts. - J.R.]

The following questions are part of Manuel Carrión Lira’s research project for his Thesis assignment in the Bachelor of Design. The research is about diagrams, specifically how can we manage their construction, what does this implies and what should be the role of design in this process. This investigation aims to initiate a much deeper and longer process of investigation regarding diagrams, design, philosophy and semiotics, this is why the main objective is to gather the main theoretical materials and references to build what is called a ‘tool box’ to draw some specific research topics.


We recognize the value of diagrams not only in its logic representation,  but also in its generative capacities. Our investigation understands diagrams as a graphic configuration capable of placing coordinates that we can use to build models of reality. It is generative because it is undone, it does not stand as a finished and complete argument. Diagrams points out and places turning points that allow us to move through them in diverse ways. As a mediation tool it gives us a pre-made order. With this pre-made order we can read, construct, deconstruct a reality. The diagram does not determine meaning as a finished and final product; instead, it opens a multiplicity of interpretations and paths to be followed. The diagrams do not reproduce models, inevitably proposes something, by analytical and abstract means.

We are starting from three theoretical discussions. If we understand diagrams as a graphic construct that is built by words, drawings and a surface, we can unlock three issues about diagrams. Diagrams as order, as a way of making reality appear. Foucault (1966) points out in his work about history and institutions, how language and power are related, and one reproduces the other in a recursive dialectic. This observation is very important to understand the place of diagrams in language and how diagrams (by breaking the syntax in the text) open up more interpretations and become unstable and complex text through the new spatiality where they are placed.

Other important reference is the abstract machine concept (Deleuze and Guattari; 1977). They see the diagram as a generating tool. They place the logic of diagram before the sign and iconic logic. Diagram is a way of thinking in pure matter-function (1977). With this we can understand diagrams as pre-semiotic tools. They do not represent anything; instead they present themselves so we can, through them, complete meaning as a significance process.

On the other hand where design, as practice and thinking, comes into discussion we try to understand the inscription process of a diagram. Diagrams are drawings or texts , which have been inscribed on something. This question about that something for Jean-Louis Déotte (2007) is crucial.  The appareil (translated as apparatus) is the name he gives to the becoming of both technique and thinking. He says that we can´t think of the history of perspective without thinking in the importance of paper. If we think of diagrams as something that can help us as a mediator we must think of the way the diagram will appear. We believe that design is nowadays the place and context that has the tools and the techniques to critically propose and discuss this matter. We understand Déotte's question as a question about technology, technique, theory and practice, and how these work together in the construction of certain specific apparatus.

Where we want to go with this investigation is to propose some trajectories we can follow up to learn how to build diagrams. We think that diagrams more than composing elements, they have specific forces that shape them into being a diagram.  These forces are also what we call topics of investigation. We can identify the epistemological, methodological and pedagogical force.

Finally we would like to bring again the concerns of Foucault (1966) about language and power to understand that discussing diagrams and how they work and are built, will always be a political question. The potential that diagrams have is finally the power of building new relations, realities and new ways of thinking this realities.

Foucault, M. (1966), Las palabras y las cosas.
Deleuze, G. Guattari, F. (1977), Mil mesetas, capitalismo y esquizofrenia
Déotte, J. L. (2007), ¿Qué es un aparato estético?


  1. About your project Diagrammatica. How were the diagrams selected? Which were the categories of diagrams, if there was any? What was the curatorial process like? ANSWER
  2. Do you think that there are some basic elements that make a diagram what it is? What makes a good diagram?  ANSWER
  3. In your paper ‘Theory Pictures as Trails: Diagrams and the Navigation of Theoretical Narratives’ you define diagrams as cultural objects and also as tools for navigating ecologies of information.  I can understand that if they are tools it is because they have a function, an objective.  The importance of a methodology to build diagrams then is crucial. If we understand design practice as a discipline that shapes matter into form, where would you place design practice in the discussion of constructing diagrams? ANSWER
  4. Diagrams as drawings need a surface; they need a vehicle to work through. How do you think the surface and technology affects diagram relations? ANSWER
  5. Based on your experience and the work you have been developing. Is there a specific diagram you would suggest to look at to be analyzed? ANSWER