[-empyre-] The Network Society


Just wanted to say that I really liked "they rule" when I saw it on the net a while ago. Also, I was wondering if you knew the work of a French group who used to call themselves "Bureau d'etudes" and now "Universite Tangente". They create fantastic maps of the "world government" and the like which can be downloaded as pdfs:


I completely agree with you when you say resistance needs some discussion on strategy as opposed to an "anything goes" approach. I would suggest that anticopyright, free software etc practices (though they can be recuperated by capital and should not be idealized or fetishized) nonetheless represent a good base from which to articulate resistance.

In response to your questions on networks and society, the topic is very extensive and I really don't feel able to do justice to it here. I would recommend checking out Manuel Castells again though. He has a bit of a "centrist" attitude (unlike, say Dan Schiller whose "Digital Capitalism" is more critical and worth reading also) but there does seem to be a consensus in the social science field that no one else matches the sheer breadth of material that he incorporates into his work ("The Information Society" trilogy, of which "The Network Society" is the first volume). From comparing the networking of business practices in China, Japan and Korea to comparing the identity-building resistance of the zapatistas, american militias, aum cult, al quaeda; from the analysis of the role of global organized crime, to the restructuring of work, to the break-up of the USSR, to the financial crisis in Japan, etc. etc., he covers a lot of ground. I will briefly quote from his conclusion to the first volume:

"While the networking form of social organization has existed in other times and spaces, the new information technology paradigm provides the material basis for its expansion throughout the entire social structure. Furthermore, I would argue that the networking logic induces a social determination of a higher level than that of the specific social interests expressed throughout the networks: the power of flows takes precedence over the flows of power. Presence or absence in the networks and the dynamics of each network vis-a-vis others are critical sources of domination and change in our society: a society that, therefore, we may properly call the network society, characterized by the pre-eminence of social morphology over social action." (1996, 2000: 500)


I am interested in the theme of networks and power. I have to admit to not having read much
contemporary writing on the subject. Although I just ordered a new book about the history of social
network analysis:
The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of Science, by Linton Freeman -
which looks like it might be interesting. I read his article on the history of visualizing social
networks, http://moreno.ss.uci.edu/freeman.pdf which is a dry and not particularly in-depth look at
the history, although it is good because he credits Jacob Moreno for his influence. Jacob Moreno was
an eccentric psychiatrist from Vienna who developed some very interesting techniques for helping
people explore and improve their own social relations. I guess it is arguable how well, his
techniques worked, but if you are not familiar with him, he is worth reading about. He developed
Group Psychotherapy amongst other things! I would be interested in any recommendations on what to
read about in macro applications of social network theory. I took a quick look at Castell's book I
think it is called "Network Society" and didn't find it very compelling.

I have some questions for the group.
Do people think that we live in a network society?
Does that term have any historical meaning (i.e.Did we once live in a network society, but no longer
do - or vice versa)?
Are networks a useful metaphor for understanding small group relations but fail to provide an
explanation for larger social phenomena?

To come clean, I tend to think that a network is pretty similar to the term a "set of relations."
If it is being used in terms of networks of oppressive power-structures, it basically describes
nepotism. And if it is used to describe networks of resistance - it is used to describe
organizational structures (usually non-heirachical in intent). I don't believe that it is
particularly useful in either case.

Nepotistic Networks:
Today in the USA many good activists say things like "we went to war for Halliburton," or "this war
was because of the close ties between the Bush family and the Saudi's." The idea being that these
networks of the wealthy and powerful are self explanatory motivations for attacking Iraq. Sometimes
the critique is broadened, to what I believe is a more accurate discussion about oil, and
competitive advantage, but those more systemic explanations are being heard less as Kerry's campaign
accelerates, and people don't want to jeopardize his electability with talk of him representing the
same interests. Old Boy networks go beyond the Skull and Bones club alumni. Why isn't my University
of Canterbury (New Zealand) graduate network as powerful a network? It is not enough to just talk
about networks and nepotism - these interpersonal relations also take place in a context of other

Networks of Resistance.
I think I remember Naomi Klein describing the new social movement(s) as being like a swarm of bees.
No one organization or set of people was leading, but we all worked together in some sort of network
of resistance. This she claimed (as I remember what she said) was virtuous because you could attack
any part of the network and other parts would compensate. I think that this idea is very popular
because it doesn't require any politic debate about strategy and tactics. Anything goes, my way of
organizing is a good as yours - in fact we all benefit from a diversity of tactics. But I think
that just like it matters how a mailing list is run, what rules are employed etc, etc, it matters
how we organize our resistance. The types of networks that we form, and the basis upon which
connections are forged and maintained are all very important.

If it isn't obvious already, I think that a 'class society' is a more apt description than 'network
society.' I think I have written enough already, but I look forward to continuing the discussion. I
hope my generalizations are taken as such!


p.s. here are a few projects that I have initiated and/or helped create.
and some school work:

_______________________________________________ empyre forum empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Mathieu O'Neil
Visiting Fellow
Centre for New Media Arts
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
T 61 2 62 60 61 24

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