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Steffen G. Bohm on Thu, 30 May 2002 05:20:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> organisation, management and empire - review of 'empire' in 'ephemera'

The following review of Hardt and Negri's 'Empire' appeared in issue
2(2) of 'ephemera: critical dialogues on organization' published May
29th, 2002 at http://www.ephemeraweb.org

by  Iain Munro

Review of:
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000) Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press. (PB: pp. 496, £12.95, ISBN 0674006712)

Capital from its inception tends toward being a world power, or really
the world power. (Hardt and Negri, Empire)

Every limit appears as a barrier to be overcome. (Marx, Grundrisse)

What makes heroic? – To go to meet simultaneously one’s greatest
sorrow and one’s greatest hope. (Nietzsche, The Gay Science)

In many respects Empire is a book about rebels and revolutionary
heroes. These heroes are to be found scattered across the pages of
history, in both fact and fiction, including St. Francis of Assisi,
bishop Bartolome de Las Casas, the rebel slave Toussaint L’Ouverture,
Bartleby the Scrivener, revolutionary ideologues such as Karl Marx and
Rosa Luxemburg, the film maker Charlie Chaplin, the peasant soldiers
of Vietnam, the Chinese students of Tianamen Square, and the Zapatista
rebels of Mexico. Each of these heroes is a step on the way to a new
revolutionary force that Hardt and Negri call “the multitude”. This
revolutionary being will transfigure society beyond recognition, to
found a truly communist global society, a counter-empire. The book
ends by looking forward to the coming revolution, “a revolution which
no power will control – because biopower and communism, cooperation
and revolution remain together, in love, simplicity, and also
innocence” (p. 413).

The book draws upon a staggering range of sources and disciplines
including literature, history, philosophy, economics, politics, and
international relations. It is a truly multidisciplinary study that
takes Marx’s Capital and Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus as
models. A comprehensive critique of the book will not be attempted in
this review because for my own interests it will prove far more
fruitful in this limited space to see the many ways in which
Organization Studies and the study of Management may be enriched with
reference to this brilliant work. As such, this review will provide a
brief outline of the major concepts discussed throughout the book, and
then attempt to suggest how the Organization Studies and Management
literature might benefit from using these concepts.

The Control Society

Hardt and Negri draw on an idea loosely sketched out by Deleuze
towards the end of his life, which suggests that in the Twentieth
century we have moved from a disciplinary society to a more invasive
society of control (Deleuze, 1995). This does not mean that
disciplinary institutions have disappeared, but that their authority
is no longer confined to particular institutions. Instead power is
becoming integrated into every aspect of social life by way of
increasingly interconnected networks. They follow Foucault and Deleuze
in showing that historically the police includes everything so that
now the object of policing has become life itself.

Hardt and Negri’s analysis of Empire focuses largely on international
relations and politics for many of its examples, however, it also
strays into areas such as management when useful. In fact, the authors
state that management thinking has a strong affinity with postmodern
theory and postmodern forms of control, and quote from an edited
collection on postmodern management by Boje et al. (1996) to
illustrate this assertion. The quotation they use goes as follows,
“The postmodern organization…has certain distinctive features –
notably an emphasis on small to moderate size and complexity and
adoption of flexible stuctures and modes of institutional cooperation
to meet turbulent organizational and environmental conditions” (p.
152). The authors take pains to show that the postmodern epoch is by
no means any freer than the modern epoch. They warn us that postmodern
ideals such as the production of difference, hybridity and flexibility
may be associated with new forms of social control. In fact, many
people do not experience mobility or flexibility as ‘liberatory’ but
as a forced flight from poverty and misery. Not all movement is
liberatory, for instance, the massive migrations from the country to
the metropolitan centres, the flows of legal and illegal migrant
workers upon which transnational corporations depend, and the millions
of dispossessed who have had to flee famine and war.

Disciplinary practices mold the behaviours of individuals, whereas
networks of control modulate their interactions. Discipline operates
by segregating and fixing, whereas modulation operates by integrating
and organizing differences. Hardt and Negri highlight marketing as a
paradigmatic postmodern process whereby “every difference is an
opportunity” (p. 152). The paradigmatic form of modulation according
to Deleuze (1995) concerned the control of money, specifically when
the gold standard was replaced by floating exchange rates.

The authors observe that this new form of power is immanent to the
means of production and the social fabric in a quite different way
than in disciplinary power. Disciplinary power was still tied to
transcendental notions derived from the identity of God, the monarch
and the state. The authors state that “the elements of transcendence
in disciplinary society decline while the immanent aspects are
accentuated and generalized” (p. 331). Transcendental elements include
the authority of the sovereign state and its constitutive
institutions, such as schools, barracks, the police and so on.
Immanent aspects include the networks of production, the identity of
those who constitute these networks and the webs of cooperation these
networks presume.

There is very little on the dangers of the control society in the
management literature. Indeed, there are some developments which may
be seen as hugely sympathetic to the idea of the control society. Many
recent fads concerning the management of ‘knowledge’ (information
systems, knowledge management) and ‘business processes’ (business
process re-engineering, supply chain management, enterprise resource
planning) champion the idea of the increasing cybernetic integration
of workers, computer systems and machines. The most bizarre
affirmation of this kind of thinking that I have come across so far is
to be found in a book on knowledge management which states that
communication technology can encourage workers or ‘crew members’ to
“begin constructing a common language and synchronizing their mental
and physical rhythms” (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995: 231). There is some
literature in Organization Studies which questions these kinds of
workplace innovations, but it is grounded in an outdated theory of
power (disciplinary) that was developed for the industrial workplace.
Empire and its theory of the control society provides a theory of
power specifically derived from post-industrial relations of
production. If one wants to find more reflective and critical
explorations of the control society it is worth looking to literature
and film, particularly in the genius of William S. Burroughs, J.G.
Ballard and Philip K. Dick, and films such as Gattaca, Videodrome, or


Hardt and Negri draw on Foucault’s concept of biopower, which he
developed for the social practices of Eighteenth and Nineteenth
century capitalism and updates the concept to be relevant for the new
practices of post-industrial capitalism. One of the central
differences in their reformulation of biopower concerns the increasing
importance of what they term ‘immaterial labour’, and how to exercise
control over bodies and minds in order to extract value from this form
of labour. Immaterial labour is made of three broad areas:
communicative labour in informational networks, interactive labour in
symbolic analysis and problem solving, and affective labour in the
provision of a service. A distinctive problem of this new mode of
production is the impossibility of measuring the value of such labour
(p. 401).

Affective labour fits well with the other more information-based forms
of production, not only because it is immaterial but also because it
produces “social networks, forms of community, biopower” (p. 293). A
new level of cooperation is essential with the emergence of immaterial
labour, where the production process directly concerns the production
of social relations, and cooperation is at once a product of these
networks and a prerequisite for their formation. It is also important
to note that affective labour is clearly a corporeal activity, but its
product is immaterial, such as a feeling of ease or excitement.

There is some interesting work which has attempted to adapt Foucault’s
concepts of disciplinary power and biopower for investigating
postmodern organizations (Jermier et al, 1994; Townley, 1994; McKinley
and Starkey, 1998; Ball and Wilson, 2000). The work of Hardt and Negri
would be particularly useful in helping to clear up some of the
conceptual confusion that has arisen in this literature, as a
consequence of attempting to apply concepts developed from a largely
industrial era to one where work has been increasingly informatized.
There has been some movement in this direction, I am thinking
specifically of the recent publication of Body and Organization, which
despite its title, deals very well with aspects of ‘immaterial labour’
. The ethnographer Paul Rabinow has also taken the idea of biopower
and attempted to make it relevant to the postmodern world,
particularly with regard to the biotechnology industry and the work on
the human genome (Rabinow, 1996a, 1996b). Rabinow describes the
postmodern epoch as a ‘biosocial society’ where the barriers between
nature and culture have entirely broken down and our very biology is
becoming artificial.

The Network and the Informatization of Production

Today, the assembly line has been surpassed by the network as the most
powerful mode of production. The network is the quintessential
postmodern institution, being a virtual space for both the production
and the circulation of information. The network has made Empire
possible, specifically in terms of the globalization of production.
The network is not simply the Internet alone, but involves the
entirety of connections that make up the world market as a whole. In
fact, the world market, the flows of finance, money, information and
commodities, is held up by Hardt and Negri as the ideal type of
network. No one exists outside of the network, or as Hardt and Negri
put it: “In its ideal form there is no outside to the world market:
the entire globe is its domain” (p. 190).

Hardt and Negri distinguish three modes of production whether it be
based on: i) agriculture and the extraction of raw materials, ii)
industry and the manufacture of durable goods, and finally, iii)
service provision and the manipulation of information. Economic
activity is increasingly characterized by the third of these modes of
production. However, it is important to note that when production
moved from being largely agricultural to largely industrial, the
remaining agricultural production was itself reorganized along
industrial principles. Exactly the same process of reorganization is
taking place today with respect to the manufacturing industry, not
only is it supported by more information, it is itself being
transformed into another kind of service: “all production tends toward
the production of services, towards becoming informationalized” (p.

There is plenty of mainstream work praising the entrepreneurial flair
of networks (in its most ideological form see The Economist, 29 July
1989, p.82, but for a more reflective summary see Castells, 1996).
There is also some more critical work on the status of the network as
an organizing force (Wallemacq, 1998; Munro, 2000). Within
Organization Studies and Sociology there has been some interest in the
development of Actor Network Theory which explicitly takes the network
and concepts like hybridity as its guiding principles (Law, 1992; Law
and Hassard, 1999). There is also an insightful literature in
Sociology on cyberbodies which deals well with the role of networks
and hybridity (Featherstone and Burrows, 1995; Haraway, 1997).


Protection and oppression can be hard to tell apart. (p. 106)

The idea of the U.S. becoming a world police force is traced back to
the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 where the U.S. vowed to ‘protect’ all the
Americas from interference by European nation states. This was further
reinforced in the Twentieth century when President Roosevelt declared
that the U.S. would become an “international police power” (p. 177). A
distinctive feature of conflict within Empire is the re-emergence of
the concept of the ‘just war’, and the idea of humanitarian
intervention. In fact, conflict within Empire is increasingly
described in terms of police actions where the enemies are not a
distinct country or army but are described as ‘criminals’, ‘drug lords
’ or ‘terrorists’. They are increasingly difficult to localize and
identify, creating a state of ‘omni-crisis’ rather than clear
conflict. Given that this book was first published in the year 2000,
it contains some remarkable predictions about the recent emergence of
the ‘war on terrorism’, waged with only vague and unattainable
objectives, against a diffuse enemy, and across a potentially
unlimited time span.

Global capital has moved from rule by imperialist nations, to rule by
an imperial Empire. The old imperialist form of sovereignty is an
enclosed space, using linear controls (the road and railway network),
which subsume its outside (the frontier, the colonies, the global
ecology). As this it simultaneously civilizes and creates alien/savage
identities. According to Hardt and Negri, the closing act of the old
‘imperialist rule’ was the Tet Offensive of 1968. Since then the world
has been moving rapidly toward the ‘imperial rule’ of Empire. This
form of sovereignty is an open space where there are no more
frontiers, it is composed of vast networks, and it integrates all
identities within its constitution.

“Empire is a machine for universal integration” (p. 191). At the same
time, however, the multitude is divided and turned against itself by
maintaining certain cultural differences in order to ward off any
unified resistance to capitalist control. The first world has now
entered the third world through banks, especially by debt, and
transnational corporations, and the third world has entered the first
with the appearance of ghettos and shanty towns near its productive
centres. In reality, there is no third world and the authors point out
that the distinction was always rooted in a fallacy, that of
diachronic economic development. Hardt and Negri state that “empire is
characterized by the close proximity of extremely unequal populations”
(p. 336). They mention cities such as Los Angeles and Sao Paulo as
specific examples, but this phenomenon has become widespread towards
the end of the Twentieth century. Unsurprisingly we now live in a
climate of segregation and anxiety, which also calls for constant
protection and intervention.

The authors state that there are three major sources of global control
in Empire: the bomb, money and ether (p. 345). The threat of nuclear
destruction has lead to the gradual disappearance of wars between
nations and the emergence of an “omni-crisis” and global police force.
The flows of money and finance exercise huge power over the policies
of both corporations and nations. As Deleuze previously stated: “A man
is no longer a man confined but a man in debt” (1995: 181). And
finally, control is exercised through communication networks, remotely
and continuously. The importance of communication to imperial control
cannot be overemphasized: “Communication is the form of capitalist
production in which capital has succeeded in submitting society
entirely and globally to its regime, suppressing all alternative
 paths” (p. 347). It is through the new communication networks that
older forms of sovereign power such as the nation state are being
undermined, and these same networks also provide the site of productio
n and circulation of capital in the world market.

The authors do not proclaim the end of the nation-state, but that the
nation-state is a relatively subordinate force within Empire. The
authors map out the pyramidal shape of Empire where, although the U.S.
is at the top, it is by no means the control centre of Empire. Empire
operates in a non-place (ou-topia) which has no control centre,
although it does have more or less dominant constituent forces. Below
is a diagram outlining the constituent layers of Empire: (see
www.ephemeraweb.org/journal for the diagram)

The Three Tiers of Empire

By virtue of being the only remaining superpower and being the only
nation with the capability to stand in as a world police force, the
U.S. is situated at the pinnacle of the pyramid. This however, is not
the same as being in a position of control over the rest of the
pyramid. On the same tier as the U.S. are the global elite which
determines the transnational agreements and monetary instruments that
regulate international exchanges. The second tier contains the
transnational corporations that regulate the global flows of capital,
technology, and people. Nation states are situated slightly below the
massive transnational corporations, but they are able to bargain with
these huge corporations and still have the power to redistribute
incomes and discipline their own populations. In the lowest tier of
empire we find the civil society, NGOs and humanitarian organizations
which form the capillary ends of the networks of power. Power, in the
form of military and police intervention, is often invited into an
area and legitimated by organizations on this lowest tier. This tier
is beyond politics “meeting the needs of life itself” (p. 324).

Hardt and Negri note that Empire contains within it the seeds of its
own destruction, the possibility that the intense cooperation that is
required in a network society will allow the means of production to be
captured by the multitude. From its very beginning Empire existed in a
state of crisis and decline. But the authors go further than this and
state that the process of degeneration and ‘corruption’ is essential
to the functioning of Empire. Following Deleuze (1995), they show that
Empire works by means of corruption, in a machinic fashion as it
declines and decomposes. Corruption is the process by which capitalism
separates a body and mind from what it can do, thus controlling its
productive powers and extracting surplus value. Corruption and decay
are continuously at work in all realms of social production, for
example, in the lobbying done on behalf of corporate interests, in the
privatization of what was originally public (land, rivers, knowledge
and ideas), and in the extraction of profit from sterile financial
speculation. These all constitute acts of violence against the
productive powers of the multitude no less than does the invocation of
terrorism to suspend the democratic process or the deployment of a
rotten police force to harass and attack protest groups.

As far as I am aware business and management texts appear to have
remained happily oblivious to concerns relating to the West’s colonial
past, its exploitation of vast slave and migrant populations, to say
nothing of the emergence of Empire. However, the rising popularity of
management courses on subjects with an international flavour such as
international marketing, international business and global strategy,
all of which are taught in the department to which I belong, suggest
an implicit awareness amongst students and teachers that Empire is
with us. As a book, Empire may provide a very rich background to the
historical phenomenon of globalization, but also on how production is
organized within today’s networks of power. Business ethics was one of
the first areas in management theory to look into problems of
international business beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. However,
rarely do journals such as The Journal of Business Ethics ever express
any concern for problems relating to the exploitation of the masses,
or the forms of corruption that are necessary to Empire, or the
difficulty in telling protection from oppression in this new global

The Multitude

Disobedience to authority is one of the most natural and healthy acts.
(p. 210)

The concept of the multitude replaces that of the proletariat, or
constitutes a different form of proletariat, as the revolutionary
force within Empire. Unlike Marx’s mass of industrial workers, the
multitude includes the entire world population. Today, everyone is
subject to exploitation by capital, the unemployed are just as
important in creating the conditions for the exploitation of a
flexible, mobile workforce as are those who have jobs. Although the
multitude contains everyone, the poor form the core of this
collectivity since the poor are the elementary productive force of

The multitude lies beyond representation, and its revolutionary
potential lies not in its ability to represent itself as ‘a people’,
but in its productive forces and creative capacities. Drawing analogy
with St. Francis the authors accord the multitude’s god-like powers in
its potential for creativity: “only the poor has the ability to renew
being ‘The poor is god on earth’” (p. 157).

There is an implicit comparison between the multitude and Nietzsche’s
superman. The multitude is beyond human in at least two senses, first
because it is fundamentally machinic being composed of a hybrid of
machines, communications networks and people. And second because it is
the creator of new values and as such can be understood in terms of
what Deleuze called the ‘self overcoming man’ (Deleuze, 1983). The
multitude’s continual experiments in living and producing brings about
the transvaluation of values (Nietzsche, 1969). The multitude is the
driving force of capital, because its forms of resistance determine
the path along which capital will move to exploit labour in the
future. The worker and student protests of the 1960s and 1970s led to
a rise in the value of services and intellectual labour associated
with a move against factory discipline and a re-evaluation of the
production of culture in terms posed by the counterculture. The hero
of resistance ought not to be an isolated and lonely individual but
the joyous collective. Hardt and Negri refer to the stories of Coetze’
s Michael K. and Melville’s Bartleby as a warning against isolated
resistance, the moral being that such a lonely struggle is effectively
suicidal. They contrast such solitary creatures with “the genius of
collective practice” (p. 206), which can become an experimental and
joyful experience.

The concept of the multitude could prove very fruitful in helping to
reform the study of Industrial Relations, and reformulate its
understanding of what constitutes the proletariat today. The area of
Organization Studies is notable in its almost complete disregard for
the multitude, specifically when glancing at the contents of any
textbook in the area – where are the poor, where is the multitude?
There is a notable exception in the work of Gibson Burrell, whose book
Pandemonium attempts to launch a ‘retro-organization theory’ and looks
specifically at the areas excluded from mainstream study such as the
peasantry, the dispossessed and even terrorists, all of whom may
constitute the multitude. Hardt and Negri also tell us that
disobedience is a perfectly natural and healthy phenomenon and what is
needed is a body “completely incapable of submitting to command” (p.
216). Such bodies are described in the essays of William S. Burroughs
on the subversion of control by viral mechanisms, and in the
philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari (1983, 1988) and Land (1995)
which resist the organized body with a Body without Organs.

Immanent Revolution

According to Hardt and Negri, revolutions of the kind that Che Guevara
imagined are no longer possible. One cannot cut oneself off as a
nation from the world market, to do so would simply lead to the
creation of a ghetto. Today, however, the revolutionary forces of
society confront capital as never before, directly without the need
for mediators such as the unions or the nation state. The fact that
the multitude continuously creates the network of communications which
is at once the means of production and the product itself is of
profound revolutionary import. According to Hardt and Negri where the
means of production revolve around immaterial labour, such conditions
“provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary
communism” (p. 294).

The networks of the control society are always open to the possibility
of resistance, where the effectiveness of the network is to a large
extent determined by the freedom of movement allowed within it. In the
words of the authors: “The same design element that ensures survival,
decentralization, is also what makes control of the network so
difficult” (p. 299). This quirk in the design of the networks of
control allows for new possibilities of radical democracy, “the
circuits of productive cooperation have made labor-power as a whole
capable of constituting itself in government” (p. 350).

The authors confess that one weakness of their analysis is an
inability to say what the new revolutionary practice might look like.
However, they also note that it is not for them to map out a new
theoretical utopia but for the multitude to experiment and create new
ways of living together. One important indicator they give is the
crucial role of the commons in resisting the privatization of
everything: “The commons is the incarnation, the production and the
liberation of the multitude” (p. 303). This is particularly important
when the communication networks increasingly demand cooperation and a
common language.

They suggest at least three ways by means of which the multitude may
achieve the new communist ou-topia. The first is by campaigning for a
‘social wage’, guaranteed for all. This is based on the idea that
production is biopolitical to the core, where the social and the
economic coincide completely, and is therefore reliant upon all
members of the globe for its functioning. Secondly, they call for
truly global citizenship, not simply for the capitalist elite, but for
the entire multitude. This may seem like an ideological statement, but
the authors explain that this is merely the recognition of an existing
economic reality, since the developed nations already rely on a huge
migrant workforce, much of it ‘illegal’, for their agriculture and
manufacturing. Nomadism and miscegenation are “the first ethical
practices of Empire” (p. 362). People must themselves gain the right
that money already has – “the power to circulate”. And thirdly,
knowledge and language must become part of a commons for public use,
and not sealed behind the gates of private ownership: “Knowledge has
to become linguistic action and philosophy has to become a real
reappropriation of knowledge production. In other words, knowledge and
communication have to constitute life through struggle” (p. 404).

There is some work in the Management literature which addresses the
idea of liberation, but rarely if ever addresses the idea of
revolution. Much of it is inspired by the work of Jürgen Habermas and
his idea of ‘discourse ethics’. This could itself just be another
symptom of the control society, ‘keep talking, communicating,
producing, obeying’, rather than being liberatory in any respect.
Unsurprisingly, to really look for the experiments in living which are
being performed by the multitude today, one has to look outside of the
Management literature. The multitude is coming together in protests
throughout the world in their efforts to campaign for a commons,
whether it concerns the environment, intellectual property rights, or
the division of the world’s resources. Although Hardt and Negri do not
say so themselves, there are some fascinating experiments in creating
a commons on the Internet which are currently ongoing. These involve
projects such as the development of open source code, the
establishment of the Freeware Foundation (http://www.fsf.org/fsf/),
the development of the GNU general public license (the remarkable
invention of free property) and shareware such as Napster and
Gnutella. Even more important are debates concerning the status of
intellectual property in general, which have massive implications for
the welfare of the multitude, for example, whether or not the human
genome is to be treated as a commons for the public good, and whether
or not essential pharmaceuticals are to be permitted to be produced
cheaper in those poorer third world countries which desparately need
such medications (Chomsky, 1999).

Conclusions and Connections

[P]hilosophy can’t battle with the powers that be, but it fights a war
without battles, a guerrilla campaign against them. (Deleuze, 1995)

This review has attempted to provide a short introduction to a few of
the principle concepts developed in Empire: the control society,
biopower, post-industrial networks of production, Empire, the
multitude, and the concept of immanent revolution. It has also
attempted to give a brief comment on the profound importance of these
concepts for Organization Studies and the Management literature. If
for no other reason this book should be read for its very rich and
informative history of globalization and the rise of post-industrial
forms of production.

Empire is not a new communist manifesto, nor did its authors intend it
to be such (Hardt and Negri, 2001). It is not written in the style of
a manifesto, being a rather weighty academic piece of work. One of its
major strengths is that it draws on a diverse range of sources,
however, it often draws on some difficult philosophical concepts where
it helps if one already has a good knowledge of the two outstanding
works that Empire takes as its models, Capital by Marx and A Thousand
Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari.

The authors are acutely sensitive of the significance of truth for the
postmodern world, and wish to highlight the revolutionary potential of
this concept. We cannot wash our hands of truth, and like Chomsky, we
need to take control of the production of truth, a duty that should be
to clear to anyone, academic or otherwise, after reading this book.
“The real revolutionary practice refers to the level of production”
(p. 156). This is the case not only for the production of goods and
services, but the production of knowledge and truth. This is the
essence of biopower.


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Townley, B. (1994) Reframing Human Resource Management: Power, Ethics
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Iain Munro can be contacted at im18 {AT} st-andrews.ac.uk

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