Skip to content

‘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…

‘Design criteria future, love it or leave it’


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


[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


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


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),
Creative Commons License
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.