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

19-Jan-11

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…

‘Design criteria future, love it or leave it’

10-Jul-10

Where is the designer when design becomes automated by algorithms? Will the next generation of designers come from the digital sweatshops piling up across Asia? Is there an equivalent to attention deficit disorder that defines contemporary design cultures? The impulse is to answer these last two questions in the affirmative and the implication of the first is that a programmed decisionism blows disciplinary borders into oblivion. Web-generated design slogans provide an index of incoherence that signals the future-present of design disciplines: ‘Design criteria future, love it or leave it’. ‘Keep going well, keep going quality design control’. There’s a semblance of sense here, but not much more. The disarray of design grammar is at once refreshing and without foundation. The aesthetics of connection across time and space no longer institutes the history of design as we know it, no matter what national culture you wish to identify. Tomorrow’s designers have no sense of continuum. Their style is driven by affective desires and economic urgencies – two conflicting forces that hold their own distinct brutalities, but without guarantees for design futures. Since the academies are so questionable, the serious designer might fairly ask ‘where to then’? Eclecticism is rarely without interest and populates the streets with great abundance across the world. Translation is the key to post-disciplinary design.

Published in Geert Lovink and Mieke Gerritzen (eds) Everyone is a Designer in the Age of Social Media, Amsterdam: BIS Publishers, 2010, pp. 97-99.

From IT Factory to Electronic Markets: Speculations on Circuits, Regions, Labour

13-Jun-10

[Published in Transit Labour: Circuits, Regions, Borders, Digest no. 1, July 2010]

In programming field trip visits to two seemingly incongruous settings – an IT facility on the outskirts of Shanghai and Baoshan market for electronic waste, second hand products and fake gadgets  – we see how both regions and social mobilization are configured as singularities within a larger constellation of relations. Following earlier waves of manufacturing across East Asia where ‘Made in Japan’ and, later, ‘Made in Taiwan’ became synonymous with a range of electronic commodities and attendant mythologies of techno-cultural dystopias, over the last two decades China has become renowned as the planet’s epicentre for electronic manufacturing. When purchased, one of the primary attractions of an electronic commodity is how clean it seems. The lovely smooth surfaces coated in buffed plastics or complex metal composites provide a suitable black box of mystery for their interior circuits and generation of values that betray the toxic conditions of production and their effects on worker’s health and the environment. Such is the fantastic power of the commodity-form to abstract itself from the experience of labour and life. More…

Still Waiting, Still Moving: On Labour, Logistics and Maritime Industries

31-Mar-10

Abstract: This essay considers how periods, often prolonged, of stasis underscore the passage of people and things in the maritime industries. Examining the role of logistics as a biopolitical technology central to managing the movement of labour and commodities, this essay examines those subjects, times and spaces in the maritime industries that refuse capture and stasis. By stressing the role of logistics within post-Fordist labour regimes of flexibility and transnational relation, the essay argues that this managerial science is strangely out of time, signalling the future-present of labour conditions and state sovereignty. Particular attention is paid to the use of ‘flags of convenience’ in shipping registration and their marking of vessels as sites of extra-juridical governance where cargo, software and labour power move in and out of the logic of territoriality. Broadly speaking, the essay investigates how logistic methods of governance, measure and management come to bear upon contemporary forms of labour and mobility.

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, ‘Still Waiting, Still Moving: On Labour, Logistics and Maritime Industries‘, in David Bissell and Gillian Fuller (eds) Stillness in a Mobile World, London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2010.

The Informational University, the Uneven Distribution of Expertise and the Racialization of Labour

27-Dec-09

In his book Nice Work If You Can Get It, Andrew Ross opens the final chapter on ‘The Rise of the Global University’ with the following assessment: ‘Higher education has not been immune to the impact of economic globalization. Indeed, its institutions are now on the brink of channeling some of the most dynamic, and therefore destabilizing, tendencies of neoliberal marketization’.1 Arguably, one of the central reasons higher education embodies the intensity of transformations wrought by neoliberalism has to do with ways in which post-Fordist labour is ‘multiplied and divided’.2 More…

  1. Andrew Ross, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, New York: New York University Press, 2009, p. 189.
  2. See Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, ‘Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor’, transversal (2008), http://eipcp.net/transversal/0608/mezzadraneilson/en

Urgent Aphorisms: Notes on Organized Networks for the Connected Multitudes

22-Oct-09

[Forthcoming in Mark Deuze (ed.) Managing Media Work, Sage, 2010]

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (The OrgMen)

Four Stages of Web 2.0 Culture: Use. Modify. Distribute. Ignore. – Johan Sjerpstra

In between the blog posting and the tweet there is the aphorism, a centuries old literary form that should do well amongst creative media workers. Zipped knowledge of the 21st century.

*

Already for 18th century German experimental physicist and man of letters, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, there was an impossibility for knowledge to capture the totality of things. ‘It is a question in arts and sciences whether a best is possible beyond which our understanding cannot go’ (Lichtenberg). The answer to Twittermania is not the thousand page magnum opus. Today, in a techno-culture where the link never ends, there is a need to give pause to thought. This is the work of the aphorism. Karl Kraus: ‘An aphorism doesn’t have to be true. The aphorism should outstrip the truth, surpassing it in one sentence’. This text is dedicated to the creative workers, migrants, vagabonds, activists, intellectuals of this world: Abandon the state, create multiple expressive forms, engage in transborder relations (affective, intellectual, social, political), invent new institutional forms! More…

Translating the Indifference of Communication: Electronic Waste, Migrant Labour and the Informational Sovereignty of Logistics in China

30-Sep-09

[Published in International Review of Information Ethics 11 (2009)]

‘As long as there are people on this planet, the waste industries will never die. So we’re not worried about the future of the industry’.
– Owner of a small e-waste processing business in Ningbo, China.

This essay is interested in the relationship between electronic waste and emergent regimes of labour control operative within the global logistics industry, the task of which is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. Central to logistics is the question and scope of governance – both of labouring subjects and the treatment of objects or things. The relation between labour and electronic waste constitutes a milieu (environment) and population (of human and technological life) whose communication comprises a unique multi-scalar space that severely tests techno-systems of governance. In registering the contingency of governance – its capacity for failure or oversight – this essay signals the uncertainty that underpins the technics of control special to logistics.1 At stake is the connection between the milieu and the labour of human life.2 More…

  1. A parallel can be found here with Schumpeter’s logic of ‘creative destruction’, where failure becomes the source of renewal in the reproduction of capital. The prospects for a politics of refusal within such a system become extremely depressing in so far as it is unlikely to do much more than reinforce the power of the hegemon. Such a scenario returns us, yet again, to the core question: what is politics?
  2. See Georges Canguilhem, Knowledge of Life, trans. Stefanos Geroulanos and Daniela Ginsburg, New York: Fordham University Press, 2008. See also Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, trans. David Macey, London: Allen Lane, 2003 and Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, edited by Michel Senellart, trans. by Graham Burchell, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Winter Camp 09: From Weak Ties to Organized Networks – Ideas, Reports, Critiques

14-Aug-09

By Gabriella Coleman, Geert Lovink, Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Winter Camp 09 Visions
Wherever we look, there is a Will to Network. In most areas of the (post-)industrial world, networks are becoming a ubiquitous feature – of life, work and play. If they can – and are allowed to – teenagers spend hours texting, blogging, dating, chatting, twittering and social networking. In fact, the network addiction transcends age and cultural barriers, with business men and women hooked to their CrackBerries (Presidents too!) and older folks texting away on buses. Garbage men in the Chinese city of Ningbo check out commodity prices of waste copper from their mobiles each morning. Activists organize transnational campaigns online. Web 2.0 companies profit from the free labor and attention provided by the networks of users. More…

Organized Networks: Questions of Politics, Translation and Time

13-Aug-09

1. In this talk I would like to address the question of time and translation as they relate to the political concept of organized networks. The Blue House project, in as much as I understand it, is an experiment in sociality, politics and culture which subsist in the space of an urban intervention. Always temporary, such spaces are shadowed by the certainty of termination. The clarity such knowledge provides is frequently the condition of singularity and intensity for such urban laboratories. No matter how formal or informal experimental platforms may be, their imminent decline provokes the question of sustainability, which for me is a question of time and energy. How to find continuity within social-technical formations that are, by default, unstable, often fragmented, and more than likely short-term? The logic of multiplication and movement is key to addressing the question of sustainability for network cultures.

2. Urbanism shares with the social-technical system of networks a bias towards space. The material property of spatially distributed social-technical relations that are forever being remade through the logic of connection and speed provides sufficient grounds for distraction from the problem of time understood as the experiential condition of duration. This was the analysis of Canadian communications theorist and political economist Harold Innis, whose writings in the late 1940s and early fifties sought to address the rise and decline of ancient civilizations due to the spatial or temporal bias of their communications media and transport systems.

3. In Out of the Blue, we find ourselves in a similar situation, where the logic of the experiment is organized as a program on urban space in which the ephemerality and contingency of time underscores the dimension of experience. Within such conditions, what constitutes the work of politics? As I have written elsewhere with Brett Neilson on the occasion of an experiential experiment which took place in September 2005 at Naushki train station that marks the border between Russia and Mongolia:

‘Action, in these circumstances, is predicated on not knowing, of being uncertain about what is to follow. Organization becomes structurally unhinged from any causal temporality. Indeed, it is precisely this ‘not knowing’ that serves as the precondition of experiencing action as that which can only ever be temporally present. Here we get a suggestion that the time of the present has multiple registers and dimensions. It is within this temporal cartography that action is without reaction’.

4. How, though, to reconcile this idea of a kind of autonomous, spontaneous expression with the problematic of sustainability, which is usually understood as continuity over time? Here, I find, lies one of the central questions of organization as it relates to the culture of networks. I will spend the rest of this talk elaborating some of the core features of organization, network cultures, politics and the social practice of translation. My hope is that in doing so, aspects of both The Blue House and Out of the Blue might be illuminated in ways that open up the possibility of sustainability understood as the translation of resonance across time and space. Such a proposition does not assume time as continuity, but rather continuity through discontinuity and multiplication that marks the culture of networks. I will return to this idea at the end of my talk, and just say for now that the distributive, social capacity of networks is key to their sustainability over time.

[read rest of paper below]

Organized Networks: Questions of Politics, Translation and Time’ [Keynote Address], Out of the Blue: Instant Urbanism, Hospitality and History, The Blue House, Amsterdam, 3-8 August.

Organizing Networks: Notes on Collaborative Constitution, Translation, and the Work of Organization

16-Jun-09

Abstract
The return of political ontology and its critique of representation contribute to a retrieval of the antagonistic registers of “the political.” A corresponding interest in processes of collaborative constitution has explored alternative modalities of the (conflictual) production of (political) subjectivity. Because such efforts necessarily attend to the status of a principle of the actionable, this essay suggests that the question of a “beyond” as it relates to a politics of the actionable calls for a conceptual elaboration of “organized networks.” The essay argues that a broader analytical perspective is opened by reengaging the practice of translation.

Keywords: organization, networks, non-representational politics, collaboration, translation

Zehle, Soenke and Rossiter, Ned. ‘Organizing Networks: Notes on Collaborative Constitution, Translation, and the Work of Organization’, Cultural Politics 5.2 (2009): 237-264.

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