Exploring New Configurations of Network Politics

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= project explores the intersection of politics, networks and cultural practices

URL = http://www.networkpolitics.org/

Description

"This project, funded by the AHRC, is led by Dr Joss Hands and Dr Jussi Parikka and based at ARCDigital (Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture) at Anglia Ruskin University. The project will explore the intersection of politics, networks and cultural practices. The network will work on an analysis of how the emergence of a 'network society' is reshaping the ground upon which we think about politics and culture. The primary objective is therefore to open up a dialogue between researchers, practitioners and activists that begins to map this important new domain of social, political and cultural production. Given that the notion of the network is contested, and entails many variations, the network will also have to address its own form, thus the project will entail a reflexive element which will encourage exploratory and innovative practices. To put it bluntly, it takes a network to understand the network. This will necessitate exploring emerging and ground-breaking media, communications and multi-disciplinary approaches to both scholarship and the dissemination of scholarship. This website will act as a hub for this activity and will be updated with more features and information shortly." (http://www.networkpolitics.org/content/about)

Discussion

Conference Summary from some Networkpolitics 2010-conference themes

By jussi.parikka at 29/03/2010

"We started the Networkpolitics-conference with a very broad outline that was to invite a variety of position papers, supported by some keynotes from established researchers to consolidate some coordinates for this field of research. Already before the conference, we had solicited short position papers from some leading scholars which mapped some themes as preparation for the event. Alex Galloway referred to the new political logic inherent in protocols that is not reducible either to State Power or commercial powers; Eugene Thacker mapped the horrors of networks in terms of its powers of contagion. For Katrien Jacobs, the main interest lies in how sexuality and pornography are emblematic of new transnational zones of articulation concerning power, which also raises the question of how to approach them methodologically. For Elmer, the question of “live method” is central and points towards the medium-specific nature of Internet research, and for Tiziana Terranova, the main interest in networked politics is in the forms of subjectivity it promotes (for example through social networks) as well as the specific forms of statements and institutions that sustain that field.

Our event resonated with such positions. The papers represented a multiplicity of topics, and it would be impossible to impose a unifying logic on them all. However, I found some key resonances, or ideas that guided discussions – a list of topics that is far from exclusive and represents more my own take on these things.

1) One key topic related to aesthetics in the sense of “distribution of the sensible” (Ranciere) as part of politics from Cubitt’s keynote paper on Light to Elmer and discussions e.g. concerning new modes of distributed and open video production, as well as in some art methodological papers. Such an emphasis on aesthetics does not mean falling back to a representational approach, or a focus on art institutions, genres or such, but a more diagrammatic tracking of how the modulation of perception is connected to for example political economy. Indeed, for example Cubitt’s paper links to me in an exemplary way to the move from the articulation of the political with the event more towards the coupling of aesthetic/political – a direction flagged and endorsed by Steven Shaviro. For Cubitt, this is methodologically close to media archaeology (in my interpretation) in that it steers clear of visual culture studies traditional emphasis on interfaces and representations and is more keen on the various structures, structurations, diagrams and economies that sustain the screen – or the distribution of light more broadly.

2) Naturally a key theme was “the logic of social media”, i.e. the modes and patterns of participation of social network culture which need to be understood methodologically and topically. Various papers from viral love as a force of contagion (Sampson) to questions of open source participation (how to get people to participate in crowdsourced projects!) to powers of the false as idiocy (Goriunova) – also a connection to what we could call “evil media studies” in the manner of Matthew Fuller’s and Andrew Goffey’s recent project (see e.g. The Spam Book for a “manifesto” of Evil Media). Writers such as Richard Rogers have been mapping the future of social science methods of Internet research as medium-specific and growing from a full-fledged understanding of the singularity of the medium itself. Rogers writes : “One could argue, classically, that certain objects could not survive outside of their digital environments.” I would argue indeed that ontology informs methodological and epistemological considerations (more philosophical questions were discussed in the panel by Sampson, Franklin and Roberts) but it is clear that we need pragmatic ways to map out what works and what does not. Elmer’s keynote took into account this aspect of network culture research and even if he did not touch too much on the live-methodology aspects he was able to point out how we need to understand hands on what we are doing when we are doing e.g. projects on participatory media. This tied in with the larger field of “research-creation” he talked about. There was a particular phrase in Veronica Barassi’s presentation that I think fits in this stream of interests when she mapped the anthropological and ANT influenced methodological choices for her research on activism; we need to see “networks inside out” – from the point of view of their pragmatics and specific practices. 3) As flagged just above, some papers addressed key points on how (even if invisible) structures and metaphors frame networks. This refers to politics of definitions but also politics of stratification where language can be used as part of larger diagrams of definitions, standards and such; hence I am thinking various bodies of standardization (Cubitt’s paper) to structurations such as clouds (Franklin) to processes such as individuation, forking (Tkacz), p2p (Moore) etc. I think it was already in Cubitt’s keynote where he mentioned how we need to move on from methodological toolboxes of narratives, myths and such to databases, software etc. One could perhaps add, after Ganaele Langlois’ later presentation on Friday, that if we want to look at narratives and signification, we should take into account Félix Guattari’s ideas concerning mixed semiotics which in short, expand the regime of signification from traditional semiotic models to a-signification and non-representational, operational semiotics as well. This is where the multiple modalities of signification work in assemblages. 4) The question of platforms for research, activism and collaboration was present throughout. Key question was that of cross-disciplinarity which probably should be on the agenda for the future as well. Udi Edelman talked of their Lexicon-project that worked as a distributed platform for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and things such as online software art platforms (e.g. Runme.org) etc. kept popping up. Indeed, it’s a matter of concrete assemblages for participation in which the work of collaboration takes place and this is a key challenge for academic activity and the outreach to non-academic participants. 5) The amount of methodological and disciplinary directions became clear during the 2 days. Strongly embedded in various fields of software studies, network politic research also expanded to media archaeology (in terms of new media/old media-shifts as well as art methodologies of media archaeology), participatory methods that connect research-creation as part of this as Elmer flagged (“that kind of activity of research that needs as its crucial component creation – that something is fabricated, practically as well”); various forms of activist methodologies which indeed expand from traditional theory and work through other modalities than the written word: Activist methodologies embedded in software and other organizational forms. In the final discussion we invited people to contribute ideas concerning “future directions” for our project and more widely the agenda of networkpolitics. I think Robin Boast put it nicely through Latour that, to paraphrase from memory, the problem with actor-network-theory is that we do not really understand actors, networks and theory…so perhaps what we are after a bit similar things. Could we say that we need to try to start defining network politics because we do not really understand what networks are, and what politics are?

The discussion continued to flag how networks should not be seen in terms as structures but as achievements, and ethnography as a methodology to follow the experiences/practices that are formative of networks. This is probably a way to pump back some dynamics into networks and not only take them as pre-formed (commercial) platforms – thinking of Facebooks etc. The network does not exist; it has to be created. The network is an event (perhaps even in the Whiteheadian sense!).

Greg Elmer raised an important point that “time” as a political and formative category was not thoroughly discussed and merits more attention. He talked about time as evoked on a political level as part of rhetorics and organisation as well as management of time and attention, how for example the strategic deployment of the rhetorics of the new functions as part of networkpolitics. Tsila Hassine seconded the ideas pointing towards “time” as the driving force behind attention (economies) and as a resource for action. Hence, more research on internet time – or time of networks and bodies in networks – needed and this could be connected back to question of labour, the labouring body and labour time.

In connection, Phoebe Moore pointed towards the changes of work and also intellectual property as the crucial questions in need of further elaboration.

In terms of the time comment, Shintaro Miyazaki added that we should neither neglect historical time in terms of how we can expand research on network politics and network culture in directions where we can learn through their archaeologies.

In his summarizing comment, Elmer returned to key themes; he saw them in terms of conceptualisations of the network through its traffic whether in terms of eyeballs, emotion and popularity (Goriunova, Langlois, Elmer) as well as in terms of processes of virality and mimicry well presented in Sampson’s take that drew e.g. from Tarde. Repetition is in this sense another form of reproduction, circulation and importantly thinking through content without placing emphasis on its semantic signification as in usual semiotics models.

Indeed, even if not many papers did address “politics” directly and focused more on the “network” the implications for a wider agenda of “rethinking network politics” became slightly clearer. I would argue that politics is in this understood more in its Foucauldian tones as less identifiable to a certain institution, or one context that then gets redistributed to other contexts, but as primarily a set of practices, discourses, conducts, patterns and repetitions that circulate from an institution to another, from technologies to others, across scales, and are only temporality in historical situations stratified into an institution and identifiable form. Politics itself is an intensive, dynamic and ephemeral set of practices and modes of influencing, change and working around the common.

With an excellent set of ideas and further questions, we can continue these discussions online and in the future events that are held in October in Toronto (hosted by the Infoscape Lab at Ryerson University) and then next year in Cambridge again!" (http://www.networkpolitics.org/blogs/jussiparikka/29/march/2010/summary-some-networkpolitics-2010-conference-themes)]