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Organized Networks: Questions of Politics, Translation and Time

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.

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