Frames-as-Assemblages – Full conference paper

I’ve eventually found time to finish writing and editing a full version of the conference paper I presented at the Caught in the Frame conference at the University of Leicester last month.

You can see the presentation that accompanies this paper in the post below, but this fuller paper give a more detailed overview of the context in which I’m seeking to develop the notion of frames-as-assemblages. It also draws attention to a number of specific features within assemblages that might offer potentially powerful routes for analysing mediated communications in networked environments.

The Network is dead, long live the network

The Network is dead, long live the Network

We’re all talking about networks nowadays. Like the internet unleashed a realisation that our lives are, in fact, a lot more interconnected and complex than we used to imagine.

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But what exactly do we mean when talk about networks? And how can we make better use of them in planning and managing the complexity around us?

I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking around the subject for my PhD of late (it’s going well, thanks!) and thought Id share some of my meandering thoughts.

If you’ve read my blog previously – or seen me present – will know that I’ve mentioned  Manuel Castells a few times before.

Castells gave us the term ‘Network Society’ in his series of seminal studies of the ways in which the network form has become the basic unit of organisation in our post-industrialist world:

“Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operations and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power and culture.” 

In later work Castells also looked at how power – as communication power – is shaped by networks.

But despite Castells’ legacy, the more I read and thought about and experienced networks I couldn’t help find Castells’ work – although compelling – unsatisfying.

For example, trying to get my head around how networks produce qualitative differences characterised as complexity  I found that Castells’ logical or structural analyses that address quantitative differences, for example, the increased connectivity of network making more things happen and faster couldn’t adequately account for the full range of networked phenomena we experience on a day-to-day basis.

Thinking about this I decided that the problem might lie with Castells interpretation of networks from the perspective of technological evolution, that is: as telecommunications networks.

While this enables us to view different elements of our world as being networked, it locks us into thinking of networks as point-to-point systems of communication or organisation. Castells applies this analysis to social groups, businesses, political campaigns, etc.

But what about if we consider that rather than the Network Society arising thanks to newly empowering technology – whether the telegraph or the smartphone – networks, in fact, constitute our existence at a much deeper level as well as manifesting how we live or experience our lives.

This perspective comes to the fore perhaps most vividly in the work of Gilles Deleuze (and also his work with Felix Guattari) who gives us a different interpretation of network: as a rhizome.

Firstly, (and without getting too deep into Deleuze’s philosophy!) we need to unpick the idea of the rhizome which is actually a sort of metaphor (or ‘image of thought’ in Deleuze’s lexicon) to account for Deleuze’s broader philosophy of difference or multiplicities.

Rhizomes, then, are a type of networks constituted as “a series of productive connections with no centre or foundation” (Colebrook 2002, 156).

What this means is we have a way of interpreting networks as a potential form for endlessly connecting things in the world in a way that produces complexity.

Another theorist that has adopted rhizomatic networks, Bruno Latour, complains that Castell’s dominance in network thinking has led to a situation whereby the concept of the network unproblematically accounts for the transformation of things (information mainly) without “deformation”. On the contrary, the rhizomatic network that Deleuze and Latour discuss bring about “transformations” that problematise the point-to-point linearity of telecommunication networks.

So Deleuzian networks are systems of emergence with unknowable outcomes – or at least engender a complexity which makes knowing or predicting outcomes difficult. As such, they connect people and things to one another in ways that ensure an always open and endless flow of possibilities.

In short, I reckon you could summarise the difference by saying:

  • Castellian networks connect and organise
  • Deleuzian networks produce and disorganise

As vague and abstract as this might sound I believe it gets us closer to a better understanding of the potential for networks to account for the world around us – both as we exist within it as well as how it organises our lives.

I’ll hopefully follow this post up with a more applied look at rhizomatic networks and their relation to assemblages, something Anthony Mayfield and Dan McQuillan have already started to explore.

[Image courtesy of Sevensixfive on Flickr ]

Networks, roots and relationships: a sign

Returning to work after the Xmas/new year break I found a surprise on my desk.

Someone from Brazil – still unsure who – had sent me a gift package from the fabulous sustainable and eco-friendly skin and bodycare people, Natura.

Aside from some lovely natural cosmetics the package also included this insert with an inspiring inscription which I wanted to share:

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It’s also a very presceint inscription as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and writing about networks – including the organic variety – of late. I’ll take this gift as a sign to share my thinking.

NHS innovation through digital networks

I’ve been deeply busy of late and have a wealth of reading and blogging to catch-up on.

My first post, however, has to be this simply inspiring presentation from Dan McQuillan:

NHS innovation diffusion – from Deleuze & Guattari to Digital Movements

Dan is possibly the only person able to invoke Deleuze & Guatari and not only get away with it, but make it absolutely appropriate and insightful.

Beautiful stuff and serendipitously linked to some other thnking I;ve been doing of late regarding networked social movements.

 

MyDavidCameron: some post event analyses

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With the buzz about the remixed Conservative Party election posters and Clifford Singer’s MyDavidCameron website a few days old I thought I’d reflect on the debate and offer up some analysis about what might be going on here and what it means for political parties ahead of the election.

But before I can do that I need to jump back to September last year when I discussed Manuel Castell’s theory of networked power and suggested how it could be applied to the UK’s political blogosphere.

In a nutshell, Castells argues that power in networks is fundamentally about the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This can be achieved by one of two ways:

  1. the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network (largely by setting and controlling the way we perceive issues and information)
  2. the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources (i.e. identifying like-minded networks with which you can work to challenge the dominant program)

Castells calls actors in the first mechanism ‘programmers’ and those in the second mechanism, ‘switchers’.

I argued that Conservative and right-wing blogs were successful because they had programmed the UK’s political network by a) adapting early and b) creating a broad anti-government debate which resonated with the media and wider public.

This meant that left and liberal bloggers had to find common issues and threads with each other and the public with which to try and switch the dominant power in the network away from anti-government/right-wing debate.

So what does this tell us about the MyDavidCameron success? Firstly, I think it supports my original hypothesis. That is, Labour have identified a wider – albeit smaller – network outside of the UK political blogosphere with a shared value (mocking David Cameron/the Conservatives and graphic design).

They are then co-opting this network, forming a strategic partnership but letting the idea and content go where it goes, as opposed to trying to centrally plan and control what happens with the David Cameron imagery.

In my opinion, a political party having the foresight and ability to spot an opportunity like this and use it to help try to ‘switch’ the dominant discourse in the political blogosphere is smart.

Yes, there may be those that say: “well, who wouldn’t jump on an opportunity if it arose?” But I’d argue that the traditional approach to this kind of online meme would be to try and own it: take it in-house.*

I think Labour have deliberately avoided doing this, having learnt the lesson from last summer’s #Welovethenhs grassroot campaign that which Labour co-opted, arguably tried to centralise and quickly destroyed the value in the network. Compare how they're currently using a Labour Party version of MyDavidCameron (i.e. becoming another node in the network) versus their mini-campaign site for #Welovethenhs which argubly tries to own the decentralised campaign network.

But thinking logically about the MyDavidCameron campaign: would Labour seeking to ‘own’ the network really kill it in the same way that it killed #Welovethenhs?

I’m not so sure for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, the #Welovethenhs campaign was not a pro-government campaign; nor was it an anti-tory campaign. It was a pro-public healthcare system campaign. It’s an issue that traditionally has a shared value for with liberal/left networks but not solely. Labour arguably killed this campaign as it tried to go further than switching and instead reprogram the networks’ values as pro-government/pro-Labour.
  2. Secondly, network alignment based on shared opposition to David Cameron and/or the Conservatives is one thing, but the reality is that only Labour can defeat the Conservatives at an election. Therefore, Labour trying to reprogram the goal of the networks driving the MyDavidCameron campaign to be pro-Labour is actually a smart move.

What this says to me is that now we’re entering the run up to an election, the political discourse is no longer split broadly between anti-government/right-wing ideology and pro-Government goals (that were largely indistinguishable form Labour policy).

Instead, Labour is starting to reprogram the UK’s political networks through creating a discourse of Conservatives vs Labour. It’s early days and the Conservatives still have the upper hand but I’d argue that the MyDavidCameron campaign plus the recent emergence of distinct left and Labour-aligned voices is starting to re-balance the pro-right-wing goals of the UK’s political networks.

Footnote:
* What this reveals is Labour’s ability to switch between a traditional command and control political party and a node in a fluid, participative network. Something Andrew Chadwick has defined as “organisational hybridity” – the internet driven phenomena that enables organisations and institutions to switch between being member-led hierarchical institutions, single-issue campaign groups or temporary, loosely joined networks of like-minded individuals. I believe this is what political parties of the future will look like: political parties in all but name, But that’s something for another post.