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Dirt Research


‘Dirt is the stuff that makes a system jump’.
Born, Furján, Jencks, 2012

The phrase ‘dirt research’ described the ‘direct’ method by which Canadian political economist and communications theorist Harold A. Innis (1894-1952) collected material for his research on economic history in Canada. The result of extensive travels across Canada, where he gathered oral testimonies on the staples industries (fur trade, cod fisheries) and transport systems (rivers, railways) combined with exhaustive archival research, Innis’ method of dirt research sought to establish a ‘general organizing principle’ by which patterns of economic and social development could be understood ‘beyond the basic data’.1 More…

  1. John Watson, Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008, 123.

Acts of Translation: Organizing Networks as Algorithmic Technologies of the Common


By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Exodus from the General Intellect

Defined by the informatization of life and labor, the networked condition is characterized by the comprehensive connection of users to circuits of capital via predominantly corporate communication and information infrastructures. The economic value of these engines of entry into a world of communicative commerce is largely determined by the very acts of communication they elicit, structure and sustain. And as the proliferation of proprietary mobile devices separates a new generation of users from previous, more localized generations of personal computing, the corresponding establishment of cloud computing as the primary infrastructural paradigm of storage and service delivery aimed at efficient data-mining establishes a new techno-centralism that should give the evangelists of decentralization-as-democratization pause for thought. At stake is, once again, the ‘authority to act’ and with it the question of action itself.1 More…

  1. For an example of such a gloomy extrapolation of contemporary trends, see Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. Needless to say, such an explicit exaggeration of contemporary trends is not meant to obscure the many creative uses to which such infrastructures have been put, or deny that corporate and military infrastructures can also provide public goods, but to counter the unbearable evangelism of decentralization-as-democratization. As Benkler notes: ‘For the first time since the industrial revolution, the most important inputs into the core economic activities of the most advanced economies are widely distributed in the population. Creativity and innovation are directly tied to the radical decentralization of the practical capability to act, on the one hand, and of the authority to act, on the other. The critical policy questions of the networked environment revolve round the battles between the decentralization of technology and the push of policy to moderate that decentralization by limiting the distribution of authority to act’. Yochai Benkler, ‘For the First Time Since the Industrial Revolution’, in Richard N. Katz (ed.), The Tower and The Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing, Boulder, CO.: EduCause, 2008, 52, On the transformation of action, see the discussion on Arendt and Lazzarato in Soenke Zehle and Ned Rossiter, ‘Organizing Networks: Notes on Collaborative Constitution, Translation and the Work of Organization’, Cultural Politics 5.2: 2009: 237-264.

The Logistical City: Software, Infrastructure, Labour


The logistical city is a city of peripheries. These peripheries are occupied by intermodal transport terminals, warehouses, IT infrastructure, container parks and shipping ports.1 The interconnection of peripheries on a transnational scale comprises a special kind of globality, one in which the complex network of distribution systems – roads, rail, shipping, aviation – makes concrete the otherwise mysterious abstractions of capitalist operations. Yet for all this materiality, the logistical city goes largely unnoticed in the metropolitan imaginary precisely because the margins of cities tend to be overlooked and made invisible by more spectacular elements – magisterial feats of architecture, harbour views, cultural festivals and so forth. We long ago resigned ourselves to not needing to know how things work or where things come from. And we are in no rush for a reminder. The logistical city ticks along in the background as we get on with our busy daily lives. More…

  1. Such logistical facilities do not stand isolated, of course, but are interspersed with suburbs, green belts, roads, railways, water systems and barren land.

Materialities of Software: Logistics, Labour, Infrastructure


By and large the digital humanities has been notable for its adherence to traditional research objects and rehashing of old methods. There is a concept-free zeal about the capacity for digital methods to verify some kind of hitherto unobtainable empirical truth. Historical literary texts are digitized to revise assumed economic patterns and social forces. Geographers scan topographic maps to produce information layers and digital elevations that reveal new frontiers for research. Google earth is traversed to uncover obscure archaeological curiosities in a dirt free manner. Even cutting edge research in the field of digital media cultures tends to transpose established humanities and social science methods to conduct ethnographies of Facebook, complex visualisations of networks and content analyses of the Twittersphere. More…

“Seriality for All”: The Role of Protocols and Standards in Critical Theory


By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

Recommended music track to play while reading this:

Tomorrow the world. ‘Whoever sets the standard has the power’. Strangely enough, this view has few disciples. If we talk about power, and dare to think that we can take over and be in charge, we rarely take Voltaire’s advice to focus all our attention on victory and instead indulge ourselves in self-criticism over how time and again we fail. Mention the word power and we will almost intuitively think of the political class and our revulsion for this profession. We prefer to believe media-savvy opinion makers control the political agenda. It is tempting to think that content, and not form, determines our lives. Those of us who publicly discuss protocols are easily dismissed as cynical techno-determinists or boring bureaucrats. The standard height of a computer table is 72 cm. But who gets bothered about that? Isn’t it the quality of the work that comes out of the computer on that very table which counts? An easy-on-the-eye font for a novel is nice enough, but what really counts is the writer’s gift to entertain us. More…

The Logistical City


By Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter

Boarding Gate C10, Suvarnabhumi Airport: midnight approaches at the end of the concourse, beyond the malls and gates collecting passengers for Singapore and Hong Kong. A long line of young Indian men wait to weigh their hand luggage before boarding the Kolkata flight. These are kuruvis, low-level ‘hand-carriers’ employed by shadowy bosses to transport consumer goods like electronics and garments between Thailand and India. Not surprisingly their pre-weighed luggage comes in exactly at the maximum weight allowance. But it is also carefully apportioned according to value, each carrier transporting just enough to stay under the Rs 5 Lakh limit that attracts prosecution for smuggling electronic goods into India. When the laden flight docks in Kolkata, the baggage hall is resplendent with commodities: plasma televisions, hi-fi systems, musical keyboards, not to mention the iPods, mobile phones, digital cameras and computer circuit boards stowed in makeshift bundles of shabby cloth. This is a full-scale logistical operation – a single link in the many networks of formal and informal labour that distribute consumer goods manufactured in China to markets around the globe. More…

Logistics, Labour and New Regimes of Knowledge Production


With the rise of ubiquitous computing and the informatization of labour and life, it’s clear that the current conjuncture is defined by the networked condition. No matter what social milieu, geocultural situation or mode of production the individual today is always connected to circuits of capital. This is no more evident than in the banality of users logged-on to the Internet with their mobile phones and laptops. Always clicking, moving from one site to the next, the distracted mind of the user multiplies the money for the monopoly providers of idle curiosity. Google, Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Tudou, YouTube, Twitter. Such engines of entry into the ‘experience economy’ of social networks can certainly be diagnosed with a political economy of data-mining and the aggregation of taste. But one wonders what the implications are here for the production of knowledge when users engage in the social production of value and network corporations devise new business models for the extraction of rent from the work of the common.1 What sort of effects does this networked condition have on institutional settings associated with knowledge production? And what kind of social-technical relations emerge to comprise new diagrams of the political? This essay addresses these questions with reference to the global logistics industries that govern the movement of people, finance and things. More…

  1. See, respectively, Tiziana Terranova, ‘Another Life: the Nature of Political Economy in Foucault’s Genealogy of Biopolitics’, Theory, Culture & Society 26.6 (2009): 234-262 and Matteo Pasquinelli, ‘Google’s PageRank Algorithm: A Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the Common Intellect’, in Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder (eds), Deep Search, London: Transaction Publishers, 2009.

In Praise of Concept Production: Formats, Schools and Non-Representational Media Studies


By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

‘What does it reverse or flip into when pushed to the limits of its potential?’
Marshall McLuhan, Laws of Media, 1988

‘I have seen the future – and it’s not visual’.
Johan Sjerpstra

During the first decade of the 21st century the academic discipline of media studies failed to develop a compelling agenda. Media turned out to be empty containers, individualizing people rather than imagining collective agendas. The growth of ‘media’ could lead to its ultimate implosion. If ‘media’ have gone digital and become the network glue between devices, there is a danger of defining the boundaries of media studies purely for the sake of the discipline itself. Media studies then becomes self-referential, defined solely in terms of its self-defense against predatory competitors. More…

From Flows of Culture to the Circuits of Logistics: Borders, Regions, Labour in Transit


By Brett Neilson, Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

When jurisdiction can no longer be aligned with territory and governance does not necessarily assume liberalism, there is a need to rethink the relations between labour, mobility and space. Bringing together researchers from different parts of the world to discuss and pursue various paths of investigation and collaboration, the Shanghai Transit Labour Research Platform moved between online and offline worlds. Sometimes sequestered in seminar spaces and at other times negotiating the city and the regulatory environment, the participants drifted toward a collective enunciation. We could say this was about the production of new kinds of labouring subjectivities that build connections between domains which are at once becoming more irreconcilable and more indistinct: life and work, public and private, political and economic, natural and cultural. More…

Understanding Cartopolitics: The Logic of Networks, from Visualization to Organization


By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

To organize is not to give structure to weakness. It is above all to form bonds – bonds that are by no means neutral – terrible bonds. The degree of organization is measured by the intensity of sharing – material and spiritual.
The Invisible Committee

There has long been a relation between aesthetics, culture and systems of knowledge. The rise of the network society has not been exempt from this, with a vast range of efforts seeking to represent any manner of networks: activist movements, migration patterns, corporate monopolies, stock-market flows, neurological systems, to say nothing of the proliferation of social network cultures. Some of these representations can be very sophisticated analytical tools and aesthetically fascinating. Bureau d’études comes to mind, but also Lev Manovich’s cultural analytics. We get a mighty, and humble, feeling of planetary overview. Ask the kosmonauts. Yet there is a danger emerging: politics runs the risk of being displaced by aesthetics. Walter Benjamin already warned of this in the 1930s and the aestheticization of politics has been a traumatic signal of social decline ever since. This is the problem of representation as such. Whereas visualization tools make it easy to create interactive maps, the question we ask here comes from inside the (visualized) networks themselves: it might be handy for researchers to be able to navigate through these data sets, but what’s the point of this for the actors themselves? The empowering aspects, outside the safe walls of universities and NGOs, are often unclear. Do the conceptual insights of a cartographic overview lead to critical practices, as its promoters claim? What can you do if you are networked yet resist being mapped? We need to know more about the ever-present Will to Visualize. More…

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Organized Networks by Ned Rossiter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at The plaintxtBlog theme, © 2006–2008 Scott Allan Wallick, is licensed under the GNU General Public License.