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Re: <nettime> Network, Swarm, Microstructure
Felix Stalder on Thu, 20 Apr 2006 00:36:26 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Network, Swarm, Microstructure


On Wednesday, 19. April 2006 18:26, Ned Rossiter wrote:

> I'm really surprised you persist with the idea that networks (as
> protocols) are without hierarchies:
> > All networks can be defined by their protocols, [...] Protocols enable
> > interaction without a hierarchy.
>
> Because in that same first paragraph you contradict yourself:
> > in order to
> > participate in a network, actors have to adhere to the dominant
> > protocols.

First, networks and hierarchies are different modes of organization. The fact 
that real-life organizations tend to be hybrids of various sorts does not 
mean that these modes are not distinguisheable on the basis of their 
differences. It just means that they can be combined. The fact that there are 
endless shades of grey also does not mean that black and white are the same.

> and later:
> > In other words, in order to communicate and be productive, one has
> > to join, by
> > choice or coercion, a particular networks (or several, more
> > likely), thus
> > accept their protocols and have one's view of the world defined by
> > a shared
> > horizon
>
> adherence is another word for submission, and in the case of networks
> it's submission to social/technical protocols that is done willingly,
> although often with tensions of one kind or another (thus the
> politics of networks). Another way of understanding this is that in
> order to participate within a network, one must accept the prevailing
> hierarchies (modalities of governance/protocols). But this isn't to
> say that hierarchies can't be changed or shifted, only that they exist.

Second, adherence to a protocol is not the same as submission under a 
hierachy. One of the origins of the term protocol is in diplomacy and it 
designated the rules that govern the interaction between the sovereign, say a 
king, and the foreign diplomats stationed at his court. The reason why a 
protocol was necessary was, and still is, precisely because the foreign 
diplomats were, and are, not subjects of the king. In fact, they were outside 
the hierachy, independent of the king. Hence, they needed a set of rules that 
governed their interaction. The king could not simply impose his rules.

When we speak about social protocols, it's comparable. We write here in 
English. One can say that the grammar is the protocol of language. In order 
to be able to have a conversation here, I must adhere to the conventions of 
English grammar, a foreign language. But must I submit to the conventions of 
grammar? And for this to be a hierachical situation, who, exactly, would be 
my superior. Is there someone who effectively regulates the English language? 
And who will punish me for my ESL mistakes? 

Now, social protocols are often fuzzy, and some rules can be bent, but still, 
try arranging your words randomly, conversation will stop.

> As a moderator of nettime, you know all too well the way in which
> hierarchies are played out.

Of course, but nobody ever said that nettime was a pure network. Indeed, there 
are those who think it's fac!st dictatorship.

> So let's accept that hierarchies are essential to networks, and the
> question of governance is going nowhere for as long as we persist to
> speak of networks in terms of absolute horizontal relations (or in
> the case of communes example, spaces of consensus).  That's simply
> incorrect, and your own text demonstrates that.

Hierarchies are not essential to networks, even if they are often combined. 
There is a difference between a conceptual discussion of ideal types, and 
concrete analysis of empirical examples.

The fact that networks are not the space of absolute freedom (whatever that 
would be), but that there are rules that cannot be easily ignored, does not 
mean that it's a hierarchy. The fact that it's not a hierarchy, on the other 
hand, does not mean that there is no power in networks. It just operates 
differently. In hierarchies, power operates through coercion. In networks, it 
works through exclusion. These are different modes, and it helps to 
acknowlegde such difference when we want to understand the particular 
character of novel combinations. 

Felix





----http://felix.openflows.org------------------------------ out now:
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 



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