Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Matter of Associations

Joost van Loon explores the 'stuff' of networking.

Last week, I attended a conference in Leicester entitled The State of Things: Towards Political Economy of Artifice and Artefacts, organized by the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy (CPPE), which is situated within the School of Management at the University of Leicester. It was a really interesting conference with a wide diversity of papers and topics. One of the most unique aspects of it was that it turned out to be meeting point between more traditional political economy, Autonomous Marxism, and Actor Network Theory. This produced a fascinating exchange of ideas which hopefully will continue in the near future.

Emma Hemmingway and myself also wrote a short paper for this conference in which we asked the basic question: what is the “stuff” of networking. Below is a small passage from that paper.

Clicking is not networking. This is the hard lesson anyone familiarizing themselves with Actor Network Theory has to learn before being able to move on. In fact, Latour has been accredited as having said that ‘the hyperlink destroyed the network’. In a world where the Internet rules supreme, this sounds ludicrous. The hyperlink, it is generally believed, is the ultimate vehicle for building networks. Facebook is a prime example of this. By a few simple clicks, friends can be added to create an ever expanding database of connected web pages. The hyperlink has made networks easy, fast and instantly retrievable.

However, there is a price to pay. Taking the work out of the network, leaves us with just a net. The net catches and traps, but it does not live. Friends on Facebook are not differentiated; if everyone is a friend, then no-one is. The click destroys the gift. For Mauss, the gift is the inauguration of ‘association’; for Derrida, the gift creates an event. It is not hard to see that one of the key problems of Facebook is that it is extremely uneventful.

What makes the hyperlinked net uneventful is that it functions as an intermediary; a simple device for moving information from A to B without adding or changing anything to the mater that is being moved. There are no matters of concern as far as intermediaries are concerned, only matters of fact. That is, intermediaries do not engender gifts; instead they merely ‘take for granted’. As we are interested in the ‘state of things’, the objection to intermediaries is obvious. Intermediaries make things disappear; devalue them, erode them of significance. Intermediaries do not invest and do not commit anything.
(photo credit: luc legay. Permissions.)

1 comment:

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