Geert Lovink on Tue, 10 Oct 2006 14:18:20 +0200 (CEST)
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[Nettime-nl] cfp: new network theory (amsterdam, 28-30 juni 2007)
FIRST CALL FOR PAPERS
NEW NETWORK THEORY
Dates: 28-30 June 2007
Organized by: Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Institute of
Network Cultures (Amsterdam Polytechnic, HvA), and Media Studies,
University of Amsterdam.
New Network Theory, the 2007 ASCA International Conference, organized
by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA), the Institute of
Network Cultures (Amsterdam Polytechnic) and Media Studies at the
University of Amsterdam, has issued its first call for papers. The
conference, to be held on Thursday, 28 June to Saturday, 30 June, 2007,
also includes a public program with renowned speakers.
Deadline for Submission of Paper Abstract (500 words) and Biography
(100 words): 10 January 2007
Submit to: email@example.com
Acceptance Notification: 1 March 2007
Further inquiries to: Dr. Eloe Kingma, Managing Director, Amsterdam
School of Cultural Analysis, Oude Turfmarkt 147, Oude Turfmarkt 147,
1012 GC, Amsterdam, tel: +31 20 525 3874, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/University of Amsterdam)
Sabine Niederer (Institute of Network Cultures)
Richard Rogers (University of Amsterdam)
Jan Simons (University of Amsterdam)
Locations: Pakhuis de Zwijger Media Warehouse (28 June), University of
Amsterdam (29-30 June)
General Introduction: Rethinking Network Cultures
The object of study has shifted from the virtual community and the
space of flows to the smart mob. When the object of study changes, so
may the distinctions that dominate, particularly the schism between
place-based space and place-less space, both organised and given life
by networks. We would like to exploit the potential of writing
contemporary network theory that suits and reflects the changes to the
objects of study that come to define our understandings of network
culture – a post-Castellsian network theory, if you will, that takes
technical media seriously.
It is time to look for elements that can make up a network theory
outside of post-modern cultural studies (which marvelled at the
place-less place) and ethnographic social sciences (which reminded us
of the ground). What network culture studies needs is a ‘language of
new media,’ perhaps even signage, to speak in terms of Lev Manovich;
what it currently has is a science-centered ‘unified network theory,’
to paraphrase the language of Albert-László Barabási.
Whilst it may come as no surprise to critical Internet scholars, the
notion that networks are not random but have underlying structures
remains the key insight for network scientists. Instead of posing new
questions, the work that follows from that insight often seeks to
confirm that structure and its accompanying patterns, across more and
more network-like objects. The question remains which specific
contribution critical Internet scholars and practitioners can make to
opening up network thought. Such is the purpose of the network theory
conference. How must we rethink network culture with a renewed emphasis
on technical media and social software?
Networking and Social Life
Social Software and Insider Networks
Network Governance / Organised Networks
Actor-Network Theory and the Assemblage
Network Knowledge Production
Networks and Disengagement
Locative Media and Networks
Other topics may be suggested.
Prospective Themes and Panels:
Networking and Social Life
‘Networking,’ colloquially speaking, continues to be encouraged in our
professional lives, but no one seems to have thought through how life
would be guided if we apply network theory to professional ‘networking’
As network scientists’ terms and ideas spread, it is of interest to
speculate about one’s social life governed by the power law,
preferential attachment, hubs, self-organization, swarming and
cascading effects. To network in a colloquial sense, essentially is to
connect oneself with a hub. As the hub receives more connections (or
becomes ‘preferentially attached’), the hub may become a
superconnector, handling a disproportionately large number of
connections relative to those of the other hubs in the overall network.
As the network continues to grow through self-organisation, general
knowledge of the existence of the superconnector may cause swarming
A superconnector, network science reports, has the greatest
vulnerabilities, however. If the superconnector cannot handle the
traffic, the network breaks down. If there's breakdown, with or without
cascading effects, which determines the extent of the damage, you’re on
your own again. One implication is that one should continue to seek
fresh hubs (as long as they last), and keep them from becoming
overheated superconnectors. Hub-seeking behaviour, along with
superconnector-care, come to guide social life.
Social Software and Insider Networks
What if the social software model, which performs networking in private
and public spheres simultaneously, came to dominate our social life?
One could argue that we would witness the spread of insider influence.
Would networking be the means by which we discuss and effect social
change, above all else?
Having registered with social software, your friends may write to you,
asking you to associate yourself with them and their acquaintances in
an online environment. You cannot see your friends’ networks unless you
join, too, making it something of a secretive realm at first.
Invitations sent by the software are becoming more explicit about why
you are invited, and the purpose of social software:
"Since you are a person I trust, I wanted to invite you to join my
network on LinkedIn. I'm using it to discover inside connections I
didn't know I had. It's interesting to see the level of access you can
have with only a few people in your network."
It may be unreasonable to concern oneself with the prospect of everyone
creating and building insider networks. The democratisation of insider
influence (social software for all), however, seems contrary to (or
perhaps helps to explain) the current infatuation with governance and
Moving to the level of social policy, we can ask about the effects of
network-centric thought put into practice institutionally. We are used
to the phrase, “it’s company policy,” as a justification for a
particular decision that has been taken for you. “It’s network policy”
is a phrase not yet in circulation. What if it were to change our ideas
about what is ‘social’?
Perhaps it was the accessibility of Barabási’s Linked (2002) that
prompted networks to be given to great expectations, ones they may not
be able to meet and ones that may change our ideas about what is
‘social.’ In Linked, the special case studies and stories that
connected the small community of social network researchers for so long
grew beyond the realm of familiarity, dependability and implication.
Network research was no longer in the business of studying social
influence only, and usually after the fact.
Before, they asked: how did the Medici family increase its power base
in Renaissance Florence (strategic marriage); which mid-western doctor
should be approached by a pharmaceutical company to serve as the broker
for spreading the word about a new product? With Linked, networks moved
on to account for many other phenomena, including the spread of disease
(HIV-AIDS). Since then network thought could very well lead to
prospective planning; controversial action could be undertaken by
employing a kind of ‘network policy’ that would supplant social policy.
Historically, waiting lists in hospitals, for example, were determined
on the basis of first come, first served, where an extreme emergency
would call for the queue to be jumped. With a network policy the hubs
should be served first, as they have a greater chance to spread disease
than the isolates. They are better networked.
Whereas networks hardly played a role in Hardt and Negri’s popular book
Empire (2000), in Multitude (2004) the network form of organisation
reached centre stage. According to Hardt and Negri, “the multitude must
be conceived as a network, an open and expansive network in which all
differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that
provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live freely in
common”. Beyond good or evil Hardt and Negri, like the scientists, now
see networks everywhere we look – “military organizations, social
movements, business formations, migrations patterns, communication
systems, physiological structures, linguistic relations, neural
transmitters, and even personal relationships.” The multitude authors
present distributed networks as a general condition. Hardt and Negri:
“It is not that networks were not around before or that the structure
of the brain has changed. It is that network has become a common form
that tends to define our ways of understanding the world and acting in
After September 11, 2001 the enemy is not a unitary sovereign state,
but rather a network, Arquilla and Ronfeldt wrote in Networks and
Netwars (2001). Networks move in to failed states, taking them over,
allegedly, but without re-establishing the borders. The enemy, in other
words, has a new, sprawling form. But that particular military insight
reverberates to the technical media, too. According to planners of the
war against terrorism the Internet is not well equipped to face up to
the networked enemy, at least not with its currently protocol. Is the
end-to-end principle on which the Internet is based increasingly viewed
as quaint architecture?
Dawn of the Organized Networks
At first glance the concept of ‘organised networks’ appears oxymoronic.
In technical terms, all networks are organised. There are founders,
administrators, moderators and active members who all take up roles.
Think back to the early work on cybernetics and the ‘second order’
cybernetics of Bateson and others. Networks consist of mobile relations
whose arrangement at any particular time is shaped by the ‘constitutive
outside’ of feedback or noise. The order of networks is made up of a
continuum of relations governed by interests, passions, effects and
pragmatic necessities of different actors. The network of relations is
never static, yet is not to be mistaken for some kind of perpetual
fluidity. Ephemerality is not a condition to celebrate for those
wishing to function as political agents. The theory of organised
networks is to be read as a proposal, a draft, a concept in the process
of becoming that needs active steering through disagreement and
collective elaboration. (See the Fibreculture mailing list, discussion
on organized networks in November/December 2004 and Ned Rossiter's
upcoming book Organized Net).
Needless to say, organised networks have existed for centuries. Their
history can and will be written, but where would that bring us? The
networks we are talking about here are specific in that they are
situated within technical media. They can be characterised by their
advanced irrelevance and invisibility for old media and p-in-p (people
in power). General network theory might be useful for enlightenment
purposes, but that doesn’t answer the issues that new media-based
social networks face. Does it satisfy to know that molecules and DNA
patterns also network?
Truism today: there are no networks outside of society. Like all
human-techno entities, they are infected by power. Networks are ideal
Foucauldian machines: they undermine power as they produce it. Their
diagram of power may operate on a range of scales, traversing
intra-local networks and overlapping with trans-national insurgencies.
No matter how harmless they seem, networks bring on differences.
Foucault’s dictum: power produces. Translate this to organised networks
and you get the force of invention. Indeed, translation is the
condition of invention.
Mediology, as defined by Régis Debray (1996), is the practice of
invention within the socio-technical system of networks. As a
collaborative method of immanent critique, mediology assembles a
multitude of components upon a network of relations as they coalesce
around situated problems and unleashed passions. In this sense, the
network constantly escapes attempts of command and control. Such is the
entropic variability of networks. Network users do not see their circle
of peers as a sect. Ties are loose, up to the point of breaking up.
Some would say the user is just a consumer: silent and satisfied, until
hell breaks loose. The user is the identity of control by other means.
In this respect, the ‘user’ is the empty vessel awaiting the spectral
allure of digital commodity cultures and their promise of ‘mobility’
Networking and Disengagement
Networks are everywhere. The challenge for the foreseeable future is to
create new openings, new possibilities, new temporalities and spaces
within which life may assert its insistence on an ethical and
aesthetical existence. Organised networks should be read as a proposal,
aimed to replace the problematic term ‘virtual community’. It should
put the internal power relations within networks on the agenda and
break with the invisible workings that made out the consensus era.
Organised networks are ‘clouds’ of social relationships in which
disengagement is pushed to the limit. Community is an idealistic
construct and suggests bonding and harmony, which often is simply not
there. The same could be said of the post-9/11 call for ‘trust’.
Networks thrive on diversity and conflict (the notworking), not on
unity, and this is what community theorists were unable to reflect
upon. For them disagreement equals a disruption of the ‘constructive’
flow of dialogue. It takes an effort to reflect on distrust as a
productive principle. Indifference between networks is a main reason
not to get organised, so this aspect has to be taken seriously.
Interaction and involvement are idealistic constructs.
Passivity rules. Browsing, watching, reading, waiting, thinking,
deleting, chatting, skipping and surfing are the default condition of
online life. Total involvement implies madness to the highest degree.
What characterizes networks is a shared sense of a potentiality that
does not have to be realized.
Millions of replies from all to all would cause every network, no
matter what architecture, to implode. Within every network there is a
long time of interpassivity, interrupted by outbursts of interactivity.
Networks foster, and reproduce, loose relationships – and it’s better
to face this fact straight into the eye. They are hedonistic machines
of promiscuous contacts. Networked multitudes create temporary and
voluntary forms of collaboration that transcend, but not necessary
disrupt the Age of Disengagement. The concept of organised networks is
useful to enlist for strategic purposes.
After a decade of ‘tactical media’, the time has come to scale up the
operations of radical media practices. We should all well and truly
have emerged from the retro-fantasy of the benevolent welfare state.
Networks will never be rewarded and ‘embedded’ in well-funded
structures. Just as the modernist avant-garde saw itself punctuating
the fringes of society, so too have tactical media taken comfort in the
idea of targeted micro-interventions. Tactical media too often assume
to reproduce the curious spatio-temporal dynamic and structural logic
of the modern state and industrial capital: difference and renewal from
the peripheries. But there’s a paradox at work here. Disruptive as
their actions may often be, tactical media corroborate the temporal
mode of post-Fordist capital: short-termism. It is retro-garde that
tactical media in a post-Fordist era continue to operate in terms of
ephemerality and the logic of ‘tactics’. Since the punctuated attack
model is the dominant condition, tactical media have an affinity with
that which they seek to oppose. This is why tactical media are treated
with a kind of benign tolerance. There is a neurotic tendency to
disappear. Anything that solidifies is lost in the system. The ideal is
to be little more than a temporary glitch, a brief instance of noise or
interference. Tactical media set themselves up for exploitation in the
same manner that ‘modders’ do in the game industry: they both dispense
with their knowledge of loopholes in the system for free. They point
out the problem, and then take off. Capital is delighted, and thanks
the tactical media outfit or nerd-modder for the home improvement.
What constitutes linking, and how could we describe its mirror phantom,
or rather, its shadow? The link as a reference to another informational
object only comes into being as a conscious act. There is no automated
process of putting links. And there is no unconscious or subliminal
linking either. These could all be worthy scientific propositions but
as of yet they do not exist. Linking is tedious work. It’s an effort
and should be considered ‘extra work’. There is no routine in linking.
It’s a precise job that needs constant control. But the opposite of the
conscious link is not the broken but the absent link. What is the
lifespan of links and networks?
Locative Media and Networks
The Internet has long been considered as the next step in the process
of abolition of space and time constraints through media. Wireless and
mobile media seem to have brought this process further along: people
and places can be accessed anywhere any time. Paradoxically, the
mobility of mobile phones, PDA's, portable game consoles, MP3 players
and other devices have also re-introduced questions of space and place.
'Where are you?' is probably the most frequently used opening sentence
of a mobile phone conversation. Activists, 'flash mobs' and soccer
hooligans use mobile technologies to coordinate surprise actions at
specific places and specific times. Mobile technologies have moved
computer games from the desk-top screen into the streets (e.g., Pack
Manhattan). Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographical
Information Systems (GIS) have given the term 'navigation' back its old
meaning: from 'surfing in cyberspace' (remember Netscape Navigator) it
has re-acquired the meaning 'finding one's way through geographical and
physical space'. Streets, buildings, objects, animals and people can be
'tagged' in order to provide location-based and contextual information
about their whereabouts, preferences, medical needs, bank accounts,
sites, businesses, institutions, histories, and sales and discounts.
Cyberspace and the so-called 'real world' converge into what Lev
Manovich has called 'augmented reality,' and in this 'augmented
reality' it does matter where you are. Locative media allow people to
map and share their own cartographies (which implies the dazzling
theoretical possibility that there are as many maps as there are
map-makers), but they also allow authorities to keep track of everybody
and everything. Locative media (in combination with biometric
technologies) might also give rise to two extreme forms of
claustrophobia: on the one hand one might ask whether it will be
possible to ever break out of one's own maps (a new variety of the
Cartesian question), and on the other hand one might ask whether it
will be possible to keep out of sight.
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