Review: “Organized Networks”

On: September 16, 2007
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About Tjerk Timan
During the last couple of years, I have been involved in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven, both on the theoretical as well as the physical/practical side, always working on the boarder between the digital and physical. After an internship at Mediamatic, I wanted to get more involved in the digital side of new media. Currently, I am investigating the complex realm of new media [at] the master course New Media, UvA. With a thesis focus now on ‘objects that blog’ within the context of an internet of things, the challenge is to investigate the agency and influence of things. Especially when these things, being digital or physical, are capable of sharing, posting, editing, deleting content. And on who’s account? Within that same line of thought, the digital is often taking itself for granted maybe too much, where often the step towards WHO and HOW data is manipulated is left out of the loop. Taking these things back into the (design) loop is one of my missions, with the statement in mind that the way content is created and consumed has at least as much importance as the technology driving it. Furthermore, I am currently active within the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. Also, I do some occasional freelance work, where disciplines differ from web-design to workshops to product design.



In ‘organized networks”, Australian media theorist Ned Rossiter states the urgency for new institutional forms, while ‘the uncertainties of labour and life within network societies and informational economies have all too clearly exposed the limits of prevailing institutional systems and structures’ [Rossiter].

During the past 15-20 years, (western) institutions have experienced profound difficulties in adapting to a non-representational democracy. The translation of institutional democracy into a social-technical form of the Internet has proven to constitute a large amount of problems.
Not stating that the Net is democratic by nature, there is a ‘non-state public sphere’, where ‘ cooperation, sharing, common resources, knowledge, customs, experiences and habits make possible a non-representative democracy that no longer submits to the myths and rituals of sovereignty’ [Virno].
In this non-state public sphere, immaterial labour and moreover, disorganized labour has emerged. Unlike the statement of Hardt and Negri, that due to this ‘transnational’ sphere the influence of the nation-state is diminishing, Rossiter states that national institutions (the state) still has an ‘enormous influence on regulating the movement of people and things’ [rossiter]. The problem is that ‘the state’ is doing this via the old, institutional ways, failing to adept adequately to the new ‘grammar’ of labour and capitol; that of the informational networked age.

In trying to analyze this situation, Rossiter first asks the very important question
“ whose democracy?” In a post-national situation of free- flow of politics and money, the question raises who is representing and who are the represented. Where in liberal democracy the model consists of citizens and elected representatives, this model does not function in a time where the citizen- representative model is replaced by a consumer-client model in a context of constant privatization of commodities and state-affairs (nation/state as corporation).
The problem of mapping the old principles of democracy onto a network is that these principles are co –emergent with the state form. A network is not a state, and behaves via very different principles.

The multi-stakeholderism model
An attempt at closing the gap of mapping democracy onto network culture is called multistakeholderism:
‘The principle of Multistakeholderism is a new and innovative concept for global diplomacy o the 21st century. While the concept as such is still vague and undefined, non-governmental stakeholders from the private sector an civil society are becoming step-by-step an integral part of policy making in the information age’ and ‘ … a triangular relationship between governments, private sector and civil society that will be organized in the form of networks around concrete issues” [Kleinwachter]
Rossiter comments that this celebrational utopia of networks leaves out the politics of these institutions, Moreover, the complexity of such networks (local vs global ngo’s ect.) and their form of communication will stand in the way of these networks.

Another problem addressed is the infrastructure of networks and the ‘networkability’ (being able to participate in the network culture). This creates instability within possible networks. Where western societies are transforming towards a networked society, Third world countries, are leapfrogging to participate in this society, whilst not having undergone the step of a liberal democracy first. Via IP (intellectual property), this possible new network culture remains hierarchical, thus vertical, instead of the augmented horizontal network. As a good example, NGO’s are mentioned in their constant goal to achieve ‘horizantal aid to developing countries, but can only do so by colonial models of ‘vertical’ communication
Building on these problems, Rossiter further argues that ‘the question of scale is a central condition in the obtainment and redefinition of democracy’, where the meaning of ‘citizenship’ in a global framework has to be analyzed.

Creative Industries
In part two of the book, the emphasis lays on the role of creative industries and its struggles by exploiting creative labour through IP on the one hand, and being able to be self-organized (so, without institutions) in the form of networks on the other.
In order to solve this impasse, a constitutional ‘outside’ is needed. By projecting “immanent critique’ from either in- or outside, new possibilities (for networks) evolve. “ the outside is always an opening on to a future [Deleuze].

In research approaches towards the creative industry and new media, there is a distinction between processual media empirics and new media empirics, where the former involves analyzing and being part of movements and modulation, and the latter is concerned with stabilizing the object of study.
Taking the first approach, in a series of interviews, Rossiter asks ‘practitioners” of creative labour about their view on creative industry and IP. Hereby, he concludes that most ‘create laborers’ are not really concerned about IP as their main source of income. Hence, it is to be concluded that the creative industry still works in a vertical hierarchy, based on ‘old models’ of labour. Also, attempts to transform union culture in creative industries seem to fail, due to the difficulty of transforming union values in the political form of organized networks.
In further chapters, Rossiter stresses that proccesual critique and research is integral to media theory. Process involves modes of experimentation as far as techniques of research and critique go.

Concluding, the book focuses on he need for organized networks to create new institutional forms, not as an end-goal, but more as an evolution of (non-representational) democracy. The vast amount of (possible) new forms of institution calls for a better understanding of the composition of media used by these institutions and their socio-technical relations. In order to achieve this, there has to be an
‘intellect, passion and commitment to invent’ [Rossiter]. If curiosity, instinct and guts combine to transfer networks, capital and money to places invisible (the outside), then new ground is surfaced for potential new institutions.

While reading this book, I could not help feel that the topics described do not let themselves be described that easily. By analyzing complex network structures in combination with philosophy as well as political theory makes it difficult to see the bigger picture of the book. It is, though, important to read, because valuable insight is given (by use of some good case studies) of the range and multitude of problems that occur when facing new forms of democracy and labour. What is our society going to look like? It also is clearly stresses that, in order to get a grip on the complex and non-transparent network society, organized networks are needed in order to create new and adequate institutions, that can deal with the new media landscape.


“Organized Networks, media theory, creative labour, new institutions” Ned Rossiter
Institute of network cultures, NAi publishers

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