Ned Rossiter on Thu, 22 Apr 2004 19:02:04 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Organised Networks

The Life of Mobile Data: Technology, Mobility and Data Subjectivity
April 15-16, 2004
University of Surrey, England

'Organised Networks Institutionalise to give Mobile Information a 
Strategic Potential'

Ned Rossiter, Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster


This paper is interested in how networks using ICTs as their primary 
mode of organisation can be considered as new institutional forms. 
The paper suggests that organised networks are emergent 
socio-technical forms that arise from the limits of both tactical 
media and more traditional institutional structures and architectonic 
forms.  Organised networks are peculiar for the ways in which they 
address problems situated within the media form itself.  The 
organised network is thus one whose socio-technical relations are 
immanent to, rather than supplements of, communications media.  The 
paper argues that the problematics of scale and sustainability are 
the two key challenges faced by various forms of networks.  The 
organised network is distinct for the ways in which it has managed to 
address such problematics in order to imbue informational relations 
with a strategic potential.


The question motivating this paper is this: what is the relationship 
between institutions, networks and the mobility of information?  In 
recent months I've been looking at what various research centres in 
the UK are up to in the areas of media studies, communications, 
sociology and cultural studies.  I've been doing this because I've 
just moved from Monash University in Melbourne to the University of 
Ulster, Northern Ireland and I needed to get a sense of what's going 
on.  The lasting impression I have after idling through a dozen or so 
websites is that everyone proudly claims to be pursuing activities 
that consist of building networks.  Yet very few of these sites ever 
explain how their activities constitute a network formation, and I 
can't recall any that bother to define what a network might be.  They 
must have done this at some stage, however, because many of these 
research centres and programs delight in informing the reader of how 
much money they've been able to attract in research funding.  I get 
the strong impression that many of these programs are responding to 
the latest directive set forth by the command-economy of government 
funding agencies.  One can only presume that somewhere along the line 
these projects made some attempt at defining their activities in 
terms of networks.

I would suggest that there is little about the activities of these 
various centres and programs that correspond with a logic of 
networks.  And here, I am talking specifically about networks that 
are immanent to the Internet - the primary socio-technical 
architecture that enables the mobility of data within a logic of 
informationalism.  Really, what the networked university offers all 
its believers is something akin to what Bourdieu calls 'circuits of 
legitimation' that enable the reproduction of 'state nobility' (1996: 
382-389).  I wouldn't begin to deny that I'm also caught up in this 

It almost goes without saying that the networked university is 
conditioned by the advent of new ICTs which enable connections 
between a range of institutional entities and individuals that are no 
longer bound by the contingencies of place.  Equally, the effects of 
neoliberalism in terms of shrinking budgets for higher education and 
a gradual deregulation of education as a commercial service have 
played a strong conditioning force in decomposing the traditional 
university form.  These days it is the norm rather than the exception 
to find that the movement of knowledge and information is restricted 
by authentication firewalls and IP policies underpinned by a hybrid 
paranoid-blue-sky discourse.  Within such architectures, the 
networked university is hardly conducive to radical information 
critique or creative intellectual work (although there are of course 
cracks that do of course allow such practices).  Moreover, there 
aren't too many projects being produced out of all this networking 
beyond the final report that's submitted to funding authorities who 
understand no other language than that of counting beans.  As the 
state continues its process of de-institutionalisation, to what 
extent is a new institutional form emerging that does provide 
conditions for critical Internet research and culture?  How is this 
form manifesting within on- and off-line practices associated with 
the Internet?

The Network Problematic

A spectre is haunting this age of informationality - the spectre of 
state sovereignty.  As a modern technique of governance based on 
territorial control, a "monopoly of violence" and the capacity to 
regulate the flow of goods and people, the sovereign power of the 
nation-state is not yet ready to secede from the system of 
internationalism.  The compact of alliances between nation-states 
over matters of trade, security, foreign aid, investment, and so 
forth, substantiates the ongoing relevance of the state form in 
shaping the mobile life of people and things.  As the Internet gained 
purchase throughout the 1990s on the everyday experiences of those 
living within advanced economies in particular, the popular 
imagination became characterised by the notion of a "borderless" 
world of "frictionless capitalism".  Such a view is the doxa of many: 
political philosophers, economists, international relations scholars, 
politicians, CEOs, activists, cyber-libertarians, advertising 
agencies, political spin-doctors and ecologists all have their 
variation on the theme of a postnational, global world-system 
inter-linked by informational flows.

Just as the nation-state appears obsolete for many, so too the term 
"network" has become perhaps the most pervasive metaphor to describe 
a range of phenomena, desires and practices in contemporary 
information societies.  The refrain one hears on networks in recent 
years goes something like this: fluidity, emphemerality, transitory, 
innovative, flows, non-linear, decentralised, value adding, creative, 
flexible, open, risk-taking, reflexive, informal, individualised, 
intense, transformative, and so on and so forth.  Many of these words 
are used interchangeably as metaphors, concepts and descriptions. 
Increasingly, there is a desperation evident in research on new ICTs 
that manifests in the form of empirical research.  Paradoxically, 
much of this research consists of methods and epistemological 
frameworks that render the mobility of information in terms of stasis 
(see Rossiter, 2003a, 2003b).

Governments have found that the network refrain appeals to their 
neoliberal sensibilities, which search for new rhetorics to 
substitute the elimination of state infrastructures with the logic of 
individualised self-formation within Third Way style networks of 
"social capital" (Latham, 2001: 62-100; Giddens, 1998).[1]  Research 
committees at university and federal levels see networks as offering 
the latest promise of an economic utopia in which research practice 
synchronically models the dynamic movement of finance capital, yet so 
often the outcomes of research ventures are based upon the 
reproduction of pre-existing research clusters and the maintenance of 
their hegemony for institutions and individuals with ambitions of 
legitimacy within the prevailing doxas (Cooper, 2002; Marginson and 
Considine, 2000).  Telcos and cable TV "providers" revel in their 
capacity to flaunt a communications system that is not so much a 
network but a heterogenous mass of audiences-consumers-users 
connected by the content and services of private media oligopolies 
(Flew, 2002: 17-21; van Dijk, 1999: 62-70; Schiller, 1999: 37-88). 
Activists pursue techniques of simultaneous disaggregation and 
consolidation via online organisation in their efforts to mobilise 
opposition and actions in the form of mutable affinities against the 
corporatisation of everyday life (Lovink, 2003: 194-223; Lovink and 
Schneider, 2004; Meikle, 2002).  The US military-entertainment 
complex enlists strategies of organised distribution of troops and 
weaponry on battlefields defined by unpredictability and chaos, while 
maintaining the spectacle of control across the vectors of news media 
(Der Derian, 2001; De Landa, 1991; Wark, 1994: 1-46).  The standing 
reserve of human misery sweeps up the remains of daily horror.

Theorists and artists of new media are not immune to these prevailing 
discourses, and reproduce similar network homologies in their 
valorisation of open, decentralised, distributed, egalitarian and 
emergent socio-technical forms.  In so doing, the discursive and 
socio-technical form of networks is attributed an ontological status. 
The so-called openness, fluidity and contingency of networks is 
rendered in essentialist terms that function to elide the 
complexities and contradictions that comprise the uneven 
spatio-temporal dimensions and material practices of networks. 
Similarly, the force of the "constitutive outside" is frequently 
dismissed by media and cultural theorists in favour of delirious 
discourses of openness and horizontality.  "Immanence" has been a key 
metaphor to describe the logic of informationalisation (see Rossiter, 
2004).  Such a word can also be used to describe networks.  To put it 
in a nutshell, the technics of networks can be described as thus: if 
you can sketch a diagram of relations in which connections are 
'external to their terms' (Deleuze), then you get a picture of a 
network model.  Whatever the peculiarities the network refrain may 
take, there's a predominant tendency to overlook the ways in which 
networks are produced by regimes of power, economies of desire and 
the restless rhythms of global capital.

How, I wonder, might the antagonisms peculiar to the varied and more 
often than not incommensurate political situations of 
informationality be formulated in terms of a political theory of 
networks?  A processual model of media theory inquires into the 
movement between the conditions of possibility and that which has 
emerged within the grid of signs, codes and meanings - or what 
Deleuze understands as the immanent relationship between the plane of 
consistency and the plane of organisation.  How might the politics of 
networks as they operate within informationalised institutional 
settings be understood in terms of a processual democracy?

Conditions of possibility are different in kind from that which comes 
to be conditioned.  There is no resemblance or homology between the 
two.  External forces are not grids whose stabilising capacity 
assures the temporary intelligibility of a problematic as it 
coalesces within a specific situation.  Yet despite these 
dissonances, networks are defined by - perhaps more than anything - 
their organisation of relations between actors, information, 
practices, interests and socio-technical systems.  The relations 
between these terms may manifest at an entirely local level, or they 
may traverse a range of scales, from the local to the national to the 
regional to the global.  Whatever the scale may be, these fields of 
association are the scene of politics and, once they are located 
within institutional settings, are the basis of democracy in all its 
variations.  This isn't to say that in and of themselves these 
components of networks somehow automatically result in democracy. 
But it is to suggest that the relationship between institutions and 
the sociopolitical habitus of the state continues to be a primary 
influence in conditioning the possibility of democratic polities.

The persistence of state sovereignty within the immanent logic of 
informationality presents an invitation to transdisciplinary 
theorists to invent new techniques of deduction, appraisal, and 
critique.  Indeed, the task of invention is an inevitable one for 
creative critical theorists inasmuch as they, along with other 
actors, subsist reflexively within the logic of informationalism. 
The relationship is a reflexive one because the theorist encounters 
problems that are presented by the tensions within the triad of 
networks, institutions, democracy.  Problems emerge in the form of 
feedback or noise peculiar to the socio-technical system.  Critical 
theorists are not, of course, alone in this engagement; it is one 
they share with many whose labour-power is subject to the 
constitutive force of networks-institutions-democracy.

My primary interest in bringing the terms 
networks-institutions-democracy together is to develop a conceptual 
assemblage with which to think the emergence of organised networks as 
new institutions of possibility.  From a theoretical and practical 
point of view how might organised networks be defined as new 
institutional forms of informationalism?  Given that institutions 
throughout history function to organise social relations, what 
distinguishes the organised network as an institution from its modern 
counterparts?  Obviously there are differences along lines of 
horizontal vs. vertical, distributed vs. contained, decentralised vs. 
centralised, bureaucratic reason vs. database processing, etc.  But 
what else is there?

Networks and Translation

All communication is a process of translation. Networks are uneven, 
heterogeneous passages and combinations of communication in and 
through which translation is intrinsic to the connectivity of 
information as it encounters technical, social, political, economic 
and cultural fields of articulation, negotiation and transference. 
Translation, then, is about making connections between seemingly 
incommensurate things and objects.  Translation conditions the 
possibility of communication, transversality, transduction, intensity 
and individuation between different systems (Mackenzie, 2002; 
Murphie, 2004).  From the connection emerges a new logic, a new 
sensibility, and new capacities.  At a very basic level, the logic of 
networks is the process of connectivity.

Networks have the capacity of transduction, which Adrian Mackenzie, 
via Gilbert Simondon, describes as a process of ontogenesis 'in which 
a metastability emerges' within biological and socio-technical 
systems (2002: 16-19).  Or as Andrew Murphie puts it, 'transduction 
*translates intensities* so that they can be brought into 
individuating systems' (2004).  The form of organised networks 
provides a mutable architecture in which matter is temporarily 
arrested within a continuum of differentiation and individuation. 
Transductive forces subsist within the relation between form and 
matter.  The organised network can be considered as a new 
institutional actor whose political, economic and expressive 
capacities are shaped and governed by the metastability of the 
network system.  The intelligibility of such arrangements, relations 
and informational flows is thus most accurately summarised by a 
theory of translation which incorporates processes of transduction. 
Translation is truly a concept of praxis.  It is part and parcel of 
every network.  Transduction conditions the possibility of organised 
networks as emergent institutional entities.

Modernity ushered in experiences of mobility, for people and things, 
in ways hitherto unexperienced.  With mobility came all sorts of 
connections.  Railways moved people and merchandise from the country 
to the city, troops and armaments to the front (Schivelbusch, 1977). 
Telegraphy transmitted code from the metropole to the antipodes and 
back again (Wark, 1997).  The penny novel accompanied workers on 
their journey to the office, the evening newspaper or racing guide on 
their trip back to the suburbs.  People, ideas and things came to 
occupy a shared space and time of motion.  In so doing, the 
experience of movement is at once made possible and defined by new 
combinations of elements.  This is translation at work.

With the onset of the Enlightenment, industrial capitalism and 
modernity, new disciplines emerged in the hard and human sciences. 
The discipline of anthropology set itself the task of cataloguing 
human habits and attributes within a language system that translated 
in various ways into policy initiatives, geographic survey reports, 
academic monographs, economic prospectives, architectural forms, 
museological displays, and cultural exchanges.  This too is 
translation at work.  Elements previously without relation, are 
combined in such a manner that something new is invented (see Brown, 
2002: 6).

What I have discussed elsewhere as a processual media theory 
(Rossiter, 2003a) is derived from research in cybernetics, biology 
and systems theory that is interested in information as it relates to 
the problem of calculation, control and determination in order to 
enhance efficiency.  The primary question for first-order cybernetics 
was how to impose stability and order over the entropic tendencies of 
information, as witnessed, for example within biological systems and 
their transmission of DNA code or radio signals and their 
interference by "noise".  The preoccupation with efficiency in 
first-order cybernetics denies the relational character of 
communication.  Second-order cybernetics saw the necessity of not 
banishing noise from the system, but establishing a balance between 
order and disorder: noise or feedback was "rehabilitated" as a 
"virtue" of communication within a system (Mattelart and Matterlart, 
1992: 45).

Within anthropology, for example, the observer impacts upon that 
which is observed and changes what might otherwise have transpired in 
the course of the event, had the observer not been a part of the 
system.  Second-order cybernetics and systems theory thus adopts a 
reflexive understanding of the relationship between observer and 
observed.  Feedback - what Bateson termed the 'difference that makes 
a difference' - is acknowledged as fundamental to the functioning of 
the system.  Moreover, communication is more properly understood as 
not a unilinear channel of transmission, but rather a non-linear 
system of relations.  Corresponding with this conceptual development 
is a shift from an instrumental view of communication to an 
understanding of communication as a social system.

When information is located within a capitalist economic system and 
its practices of production, circulation and exchange, one can speak 
of the logic of informationalism.  The conceptual developments within 
cybernetics and systems theory correspond with shifts in the logic of 
informationationalism.  The logic of informationalism is 
characterised by various sociologists and political economists as 
heralding a shift from an industrial age of manufacturing, manual 
labour, Fordism, surveillance and internationalisation to an 
informational age of services, knowledge workers post-Fordism, 
control and globalisation.  Christopher May writes that a central 
assumption to this change is a belief that 'New ICTs will transform 
the relations of production of the economies in which they appear, 
promoting fluid networks rather than ossified hierarchies' (2002: 
51).  My argument is that in order for networks to organise mobile 
information, a degree of hierarchisation, if not centralisation, is 
required.  The point is that such organisation occurs within the 
media of communication.  Herein lies the difference between the 
organised network and the networked organisation - a point Lovink 
reiterates in the newspaper for the Free Cooperation conference 
that's about to start (  Let's not forget 
that for all the anti-state rhetoric of anarachists, they, like many 
"radical" outfits, are renowned for being organised in highly 
hierarchical ways - typically around the cult of the alpha-male.

Organised Networks as New Institutional Forms

The challenge for a politically active networked culture is to make 
strategic use of new communications media in order to create new 
institutions of possibility.  Such socio-technical formations will 
take on the characteristics of organised networks - distributive, 
non-linear, situated, project-based - in order to create 
self-sustaining media-ecologies that are simply not on the map of 
established political and cultural institutions.  As Gary Genesko 
writes, 'the real task is to find the institutional means to 
incarnate new modes of subjectification while simultaneously avoiding 
the slide into bureaucratic sclerosis' (2003: 33).  Such a view also 
augurs well for the life of networks as they subsist within the 
political logic of informationality that is constituted by the force 
of the outside (Rossiter, 2004).

The organised network that co-ordinates relations through the 
socio-technical form of the networked institution imbues information 
with a strategic potential.  In this respect, the organised network 
can be distiguished from what David Garcia and Geert Lovink (1997), 
Josephine Berry (2000), Joanne Richardson (2002), McKenzie Wark 
(2002), Konrad Becker (2002), Lovink and Schneider (2002), and others 
on nettime have called "tactical media".  Characterised by temporary 
political interventions, tactical media activism builds on the legacy 
of counter-cultures, protest movements, the Situationists, 
independent media activities and hacker culture.[2]  Lovink and 
Schneider (2002) provide the following short history of tactical 

'The term "tactical media" arose in the aftermath of the fall of the 
Berlin Wall as a renaissance of media activism, blending old school 
political work and artists' engagement with new technologies.  The 
early nineties saw a growing awareness of gender issues, exponential 
growth of media industries and the increasing availability of cheap 
do-it-yourself equipment creating a new sense of self-awareness 
amongst activists, programmers, theorists, curators and artists. 
Media were no longer seen as merely tools for the Struggle, but 
experienced as virtual environments whose parameters were permanently 
"under construction".  This was the golden age of tactical media, 
open to issues of aesthetics and experimentation with alternative 
forms of story telling.  However, these liberating techno practices 
did not immediately translate into visible social movements.  Rather, 
they symbolized the celebration of media freedom, in itself a great 
political goal.  The media used - from video, CD-ROM, cassettes, 
zines and flyers to music styles such as rap and techno - varied 
widely, as did the content.  A commonly shared feeling was that 
politically motivated activities, be they art or research or advocacy 
work, were no longer part of a politically correct ghetto and could 
intervene in "pop culture" without necessarily having to compromise 
with the "system".  With everything up for negotiation, new 
coalitions could be formed.  The current movements worldwide cannot 
be understood outside of the diverse and often very personal 
[battles] for digital freedom of expression'.

RTmark's web co-ordinated campaigns against global corporate 
capitalism, the live webcasting and "Help B92" campaign of Belgrade 
independent radio station B92 following its banning by Serbian 
authorities during the Kosovo War of 1999, Adbusters' culture jamming 
campaigns against media oligopolies, the electronic civil disturbance 
activities and "virtual sit-ins" undertaken by the likes of Critical 
Art Ensemble, the Electronic Disturbance Theater and the Mexican 
Zapatistas, and the Indymedia camaigns against the Woomera detention 
centre in South Australia are just a few of the many examples of 
tactical media.[3]  Tactical media differ from alternative media, 
which is typically concerned about consolidating a "better" option 
for existing media forms (Lovink, 2002: 258; Meikle, 2002: 119). 
Alternative media are frequently underpinned by moral and 
politico-aesthetic discourses of "quality culture".  The paradox of 
alternative media, when it assumes to embody such discourses, is that 
its "alternative" agenda is rendered in terms of stasis and 
conservatism rather than change and transformation.  Whereas tactical 
media, as Graham Meikle notes, 'is about mobility and flexibility, 
about diverse responses to changing contexts ... It's about 
hit-and-run guerilla media campaigns ... It's about working with, and 
working out, new and changing coalitions' (119).  Tactical media, 
then, are about rapidly organised, at times even spontaneous, 
short-term interventions.  Certainly, such interventions resonate 
over time - some even become mythical, as has been the case with the 
Zapatistas.  Diverse skills accumulate and are shared across 
networks; in so doing, they hold the potential for deployment as 
techniques that address specific situations.  Nevertheless, tactical 
media have for the most part been unable to address the problematic 
of sustainability.

A primary challenge for tactical media concerns the question of 
scale.  With their focus on creating "temporary autonomous zones" 
(Bey, 1991), tactical media run the risk of fading out before their 
memes reach a global scale.  And when they do reach a level of 
globality - as in the case of the B92 streaming media reports, and 
the refrain of "anti-globalisation" protests centred around WTO 
meetings - the question of scale becomes focussed around the 
challenge of sustainability.  How are tactical media to create 
effects that have a purchase beyond the safe-haven of the activist 
ghetto?  As Lovink writes: 'Grown out of despair rather than 
conviction, tactical media are forced to operate with the parameters 
of global capitalism, despite their radical agendas.  Tactical media 
emerge out of the margins, yet never fully make it into the 
mainstream' (2002: 257).  This is a problematic clearly recognised by 
Lovink and Schneider (2002):

'We face a scalability crisis.  Most movements and initiatives find 
themselves in a trap.  The strategy of becoming "minor" (Guattari) is 
no longer a positive choice but the default option.  Designing a 
successful cultural virus and getting millions of hits on your weblog 
will not bring you beyond the level of a short-lived "spectacle". 
Culture jammers are no longer outlaws but should be seen as experts 
in guerrilla communication.  Today's movements are in danger of 
getting stuck in self-satisfying protest mode.  With access to the 
political process effectively blocked, further mediation seems the 
only available option'.

Various treatises and commentaries on tactical media note the 
distinction Michel de Certeau (1984: 29-44) makes between tactics and 
strategies.  Graham Meikle makes the important point that strategies, 
with their exploitation of place, are about permanency over time, 
whereas a tactic 'exploits time - the moments of opportunity and 
possibility made possible as cracks appear in the evolution of 
strategic place' (2002: 121).  In one of the many essays associated 
with the fourth Next 5 Minutes festival of tactical media 
(2002-2003), Joanne Richardson suggests that tactical media departs 
company with Certeau over the production of meaning: 'Maybe the most 
interesting thing about the theory of tactical media is the extent to 
which it abandons rather than pays homage to de Certeau, making 
tactics not a silent production by reading signs without changing 
them, but outlining the way in which active production can become 
tactical in contrast to strategic, mainstream media' (2002).

I would argue that it's time to make a return to and reinvestment in 
strategic concepts, practices and techniques of organisation.  Let's 
stop the obsession with tactics as the modus operandi of radical 
critique, most particularly in the gross parodies of Certeau one 
finds in US-style cultural studies.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not 
suggesting that the time of tactical media is over.  Clearly, 
tactical media play a fundamental role in contributing to the 
formation of radical media cultures and new social relations.  What 
I'm interested in addressing is the "scalability crisis" that Lovink 
and Schneider refer to.  If one starts with the principle that 
concepts and practices are immanent to prevailing media forms, and 
not somehow separate from them, it follows that with the mainstream 
purchase of new media forms such as the Internet come new ways in 
which relations of production, distribution and consumption are 
organised.  An equivalence can be found in the shift from centralised 
Fordist modes of production to de-centralised post-Fordist modes of 
flexible accumulation.  Strategies within the spatio-temporal 
peculiarities of the Internet are different from strategies as they 
operate within broadcast communications media.  The latter ultimately 
conceives the "audience-as-consumer" as the end point in the 
food-chain of media production, whereas the former enable the "user" 
to have the capacity to sample, modify, repurpose and redirect the 
social life of the semiotic object.  Moreover, there are going to be 
new ways in which institutions develop in relation to Internet based 
media culture.  How such institutions of organised networks actually 
develop in order to obtain a degree of sustainability and longevity 
that has typically escaped the endeavours of tactical media is 
something that is only beginning to become visible.

The Dehli-based media centre Sarai is one exemplary model of an 
emergent institution designed along the lines of an organised 
network.  Fibreculture - a network of critical Internet research and 
culture in Australasia - is another.  In their own ways, the 
conditions of possibility for the emergence of these organised 
networks can be understood in terms of the constitutive outside. 
Both networks address specific problems of sociality, politics, and 
intellectual transdisciplinarity filtered - at least in the case of 
fibreculture - through a void created by established institutions 
within the cultural industries and higher education sector.

Take the case of fibreculture.  In many ways the fibreculture network 
is quite centralised: list facilitators, journal editors, book series 
editors, website management, conference organisers, etc.  Hierarchies 
prevail.  The facilitator's group has endeavoured to make the 
structure of the network as transparent and public as possible.  Even 
so, the list is not privy to most of what is discussed in these 
various "backrooms".  And to a large extent, that has to be accepted 
- trust has to be assumed - if the network is to develop in the way 
that it has.  So, a degree of centralisation and hierarchisation 
seems essential for a network to be characterised as organised.  Can 
the network thus be characterised as an "institution", or might it 
need to acquire additional qualities?  Is institutional status even 
desirable for a network that aspires to intervene in debates on 
critical Internet research and culture?  How does an organised 
network help us redefine our understanding of what an institution 
might become?

One of the key challenges that networks such as fibreculture present 
is the possibility of new institutional formations that want to make 
a political, social and cultural difference within the 
socio-technical logic of networks.  It's not clear what shape these 
institutions will take, but we get a sense of what they might be in 
cases like fiberculture and Sarai.  To fall back into the crumbling 
security of traditional, established institutions is not an option. 
The network logic is increasingly the normative mode of organising 
socio-technical relations in advanced economies, and this impacts 
upon both the urban and rural poor within those countries as well as 
those in economically developing countries.  So, the traditional 
institution is hardly a place of escape for those wishing to hide 
from the logic of networks.

It's important to distinguish the organised network as a new 
institutional form from traditional institutions that have become 
networked through their use of new ICTs.  As Lovink and Schneider 
(2004) have recently noted, the maintenance of hierarchical forms of 
power within hegemonic networked institutions 'is part of a larger 
process of "normalization" in which networks are integrated in 
existing management styles and institutional rituals'.  Traditional 
institutional forms - corporations, cultural industries, and the 
higher eductation sector - are increasingly appropriating many of the 
technics of tactical media: you can have your p2p experience (but at 
a price!) and who isn't advocating the merits of open source?  Think 
IBM and  There's a distinct whiff of new age 
refashioning in many of these projects as they seek to recapture a 
"spirit" of sharing and experiences of collaboration - the kinds of 
things that were swept into the dustbin in the hard-nosed culture of 
unit-driven corporatism.  Ultimately, the networked organisation is 
distinguished by its standing reserve of capital and its exploitation 
of labour-power.  Such institutions are motivated by the need to 
organise social relations in the hope of maximising "creativity" and 
regenerating the design of commodity forms that have long reached 
market saturation.  It'll be interesting to see the extent to which 
the Creative Commons license is adopted by big business - I'm 
guessing it'll create a suitable amount of havoc, enabling service 
variation and consolidate an even brighter future for the legal 

By contrast, the kind of emergent organised networks that I'm 
referring to are notable for the ways in which information flows and 
socio-technical relations are organised around site specific projects 
that place an emphasis on process as the condition for outcomes.  The 
needs, interests and problems of the organised network coincide with 
its emergence as a sociotechnical form, whereas the traditional 
modern institution has become networked in an attempt to recast 
itself whilst retaining its basic infrastructure, clunky as it is. 
Strangely enough the culture of neoliberalism conditions the 
emergence of the organised network.  The logic of outsourcing has 
demonstrated that the state still requires institutions to service 
society.  Scale and cost were the two key objections econorats and 
servants to neoliberalism objected to.  Forget about ideology.  These 
bureaucrats are highly neurotic, obsessive-compulsive types.  They 
hate any trace of disorder and inefficiency, and the welfare state 
embodied such irritations.  The organised network can take advantage 
of such instituted pathologies by becoming an educational "service 
provider", for instance.  The key is to work out what values you have 
that distinquish your network from the MIT model.  The other factor 
is to work out a plan for sustainability - a clear lesson from the 
dotcom era.

As Phil Agre (2002) has noted, 'Institutions persist in part because 
of the bodies of skill that have built up within them'.  This idea of 
institutions as accumulations of skills strikes me as a perfect way 
of describing what goes on within organised networks such as 
fibreculture and sarai.  Yet why do so many networks fail to persist? 
What does it take for a network to become sustainable as an organised 
form?  What's the 5 year business plan going to look like?  And how 
might it do this without sliding in to 'bureaucratic sclerosis', as 
Genosko puts it.  Lovink and Schneider (2004) suggest that a large 
reason for the transience of networks has to do with the factors of 
information overload, inadequate software and interface solutions, 
and socio-cultural impasses in online communication.

To this I would add the need for networks to address situated 
problems if they are to develop into an organised form.  I'm not 
speaking of flamewars on mailing lists or people who don't express 
themselves in the correct lingua franca of a particular list - these 
are features of pretty much every mailing list with a substantial 
number of subscribers who have a bit of life in them.  Rather, I'm 
talking about problems associated with undertaking projects that 
require an organised response in order to realise activities such as 
conferences, publishing in different formats and platforms, 
educational workshops and training, accredited provision of 
educational packages to the traditional education sector, new media 
art exhibitions, software development, online translation of foreign 
language books, etc.  Networks like nettime used to do some of these 
kind of things in the past, but it seems that eventually their size 
put an end to that.  This doesn't mean individual subscribers to 
nettime don't get together and organise things (they frequently do 
this!), but it does mean that the "brand" of nettime is no longer a 
continuum of relations beyond list culture.  Scale, in the case of 
nettime, has been the impasse to organisation.


In order for tactical media and list cultures to organise as networks 
that have multiple institutional capacities, there has to be - first 
and foremost - a will, passion and commitment to invention.  There 
has to be a desire for socio-technical change and transformation. 
And there needs to be a curiosity and instinct for survival to shift 
finance capital to places, people, networks and activities that 
hitherto have been invisible.  The combination of these forces 
mobilises information in ways that hold an ethico-aesthetic capacity 
to create new institutional forms that persist over time and address 
the spectrum of socio-political antagonisms of information societies 
in a situated fashion.


1 See Agre (2003) for a brief genealogy of the term social capital. 
See Tronti (1973) for an Autonomist deployment of the term.

2 For a personal history of tactical media, see Geert Lovink's 'An 
Insider's Guide to Tactical Media' in Dark Fiber (2002: 254-274).

3 For developed accounts of these various tactical media campaigns, 
see Lovink (2002) and Meikle (2002).  See also Angela Mitropoulous' 
documentation at and


Agre, Phillip E. (2002) 'Real-Time Politics: The Internet and the 
Political Process', The Information Society 18.5: 311-331. 
Quotations are from the online version:

Agre, Phillip E. (2003) 'The Practical Republic: Social Skills and 
the Progress of Citizenship', version 18 May,

Becker, Konrad (2002) Tactical Reality Dictionary: Cultural 
Intelligence and Social Control, Vienna: Edition Selene.

Berry, Josephine (2000) '"Another Orwellian Misnomer"? Tactical Art 
in Virtual Space', posting to nettime mailing list, 13 September,

Bey, Hakim (1991) TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological 
Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, New York: Autonomedia.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1996) The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the 
Field of Power, trans. Lauretta C. Clough, Stanford, Cal.: Stanford 
University Press.

Brown, Steven D. (2002) 'Michel Serres: Science, Translation and the 
Logic of the Parasite', Theory, Culture & Society 19.3: 1-27.

Cooper, Simon (2002) 'Post Intellectuality?: Universities and the 
Knowledge Industry', in Simon Cooper, John Hinkson and Geoff Sharp 
(eds) Scholars and Entrepreneurs: the University in Crisis, Fitzroy: 
Arena Publications, pp. 207-232.

Der Derian, James (2001) Virtuous War: Mapping the 
Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, Boulder, CO: 
Westview Press.

De Landa, Manuel (1991) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, New 
York: Zone Books.


Flew, Terry (2002) New Media: An Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garcia, David and Lovink, Geert (1997) 'The ABC of Tactical Media', 
posting to nettime mailing list, 16 May,

Genosko, Gary (2003) 'Félix Guattari: Towards a Transdisciplinary 
Metamethodology', Angelaki 8.1: 29-140.

Giddens, Anthony (1998) The Third Way: the Renewal of Social 
Democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Latham, Mark (2001) What did you Learn Today? Creating an Education 
Revolution, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Lovink, Geert (2003) My First Recession: Critical Internet Culture in 
Transition, Rotterdam: V2_/NAi Publishers.

Lovink, Geert and Schneider, Florian (2002) 'A Virtual World is 
Possible: From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes', posting to 
nettime mailing list, 1 November,

Lovink, Geert and Schneider, Florian (2004) 'Notes on the State of 
Networking', posting to Nettime mailing list, 29 February,  See also Make World #4,

Mackenzie, Adrian (2002) Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed, 
New York: Continuum.

Marginson, Simon and Considine, Mark (2000) The Enterprise 
University: Power, Governance and Reinvention in Australia, 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matterlart, Armand and Mattelart, Michelle (1992) Rethinking Media 
Theory, trans. James A. Cohen and Marina Urquidi, Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press.

May, Christopher (2002) The Information Society: A Sceptical View, 
Cambridge: Polity.

Meikle, Graham (2002) Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, 
Sydney: Pluto Press.

Murphie, Andrew (in press 2004) 'The World as Clock: The Network 
Society and Experimental Ecologies', Topia: Canadian Journal of 
Cultural Studies 11 (Spring).


Next 5 Minutes 4 Festival of Tactical Media, 11 September, 2002 - 14 
September, 2003,

Richardson, Joanne (2002) 'The Language of Tactical Media', posting 
to nettime mailing list, 3 July,

Rossiter, Ned (2003a). 'Processual Media Theory', symploke 11.1/2, 
pp. 104-131.  For further information, see:

Rossiter, Ned (2003b). 'Report: Creative Labour and the role of 
Intellectual Property', Fibreculture Journal 1,

Rossiter, Ned (in press 2004) 'Creative Industries, Comparative Media 
Theory, and the Limits of Critique from Within', Topia: Canadian 
Journal of Cultural Studies 11 (Spring).


Schiller, Dan (1999) Digital Capitalism: Networking the Global Market 
System, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang (1977) The Railway Journey: The 
Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, Leamington 
Spa: Berg.

Tronti, Mario (1977) 'Social Capital', Telos 17: 98-121.

van Dijk, Jan (1999) The Network Society: Social Aspects of New 
Media, trans. Leontine Spoorenberg, London: Sage.

Wark, McKenzie (1994) Virtual Geography: Living With Global Media 
Events, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Wark, McKenzie (1997) 'Antipodality', Angelaki 2.3: 17-27.

Wark, McKenzie (2002) 'Re: From Tactical Media to Digital 
Multitudes', posting to nettime mailing list, 2 November,

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