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The new power politics of Informationalism August 2, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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In the original conception of Castells “space of flows”,  nodes in the network were valuable simply in virtue of the connections between them. Personaly, I think this is a better more orthogonal model than what was developed later. By introducing the dualism between the space of flows, and the space of places, I think his idea was weakened by introducing unnecesary elements. What makes a place a place is simply it’s relation(s) to other places, and the network of relations within that place; nothing more. In my own personal metaphysics, I prefer to give relations primacy as well (although I think I’m a bit more extreme in this than Castells), becuase if you do this, you don’t need “objects” (in the sense of things that can be decontextualized and have existence independant of any relation to anything else).  The relational network can be viewed as terminating at some set of medadic, 0-arity relations, or extending forever. If you suppose objects to exist however, you need relations AND objects. By occhams razor, the simplest theory should be prefered.

Imagine it this way; if you have two different places that have largely the same internal organization, then they both should function the same if they were to occupy the same nodal place in the overall network. This would mean that the organization of a place is what makes it that place, not that it ocupies a certain location in physical space (and positions in physical space are simply defined in terms of relations to other positions in the same physical space, which brings us full circle). Organization is simply another word for “set of relations”, so I believe he could have reduced his “space of places” concept to “space of flows” since, as I have shown, a place IS it’s set of flows. 

However, simply because you might have two “places” with the same (or sufficiently similar) internal  organization, this does not mean that they will stay the same, or even occupy the same position (which is impossible) in the overall network of flows. This is because the containing network may not have a large enough “niche” to allow similar connections to develop to both. This of course depends on the topology of the network, which I find it surprising that Castells didn’t discuss (or maybe he did, but Bell did not see fit to mention this… which in my mind would be a huge oversite). The only mentions given to the topology of “networked society” (or other networks such as the “space of flows”) simply indicated that the network was “non-heirarchical” and “horizontal”. Maybe this is simply because the main focus of the network metaphor here is that of power relations.

In my mind power relations as a binary division between controller/controled is too simple. Especialy when talking about networks! If this were the true picture, we would only have a set of disjoint networks containing only a single hop… which is clearly false… Even saying that  a network is “heirarchical” gives you more information. In this case you at least know that you are dealing with a DAG (directed acyclic graph. aka “tree”), and all dags have the same operational characteristics (in asymptotic complexity at least).

However, saying that the graph is “non-heirarchical” and “horizontal” only tells you that you are dealing with a non-tree, that is not directed (I’m interpreting horizontal as meaning bi-lateral/bi-directional here). There are several kinds of topology that could fit this characterization. You could have a line, a bus, a ring, a star,  a complete graph, or some kind of a mesh topology. A mesh topology could be irregular or have regularity such as a hypercube. All of these topologies have very different operational charachteristics, which would be handy to know if we are to truly understand “networked society”.

Getting back to power relations. Even in a heirarchical power structure, we do not have a strict ordering of the set. There are some members that would be at the same level of power, so it is unclear what power relation, if any, would operate between them. Although I suppose if you are simply talking about class relations, this does not matter. This does however, become a true problem if we allow cycles in the network topology. In this case you would have something similar to “rock paper siscors”. If we reduce all power relations down to economic relations, we might not ever have to worry about cycles, since economic relations don’t have cycles and are strictly ordered. That is, if A is more economicaly powerfull than B, and B is more economicaly powerfull than C, it is impossible for C to be more economicaly powerfull than A.

If the shift to “informationalism” represents a paradigm shift as Castells suggests, then I don’t see as much reason to believe that the same basis of power is relevant (otherwise, how would it be a paradigm shift?). Loosely translated, a paradigm shift is when different things become important, which can be the outcome of a simple change in viewpoint. If different things become important, then there is  the possibility for not only different orderings, but different types of orderings.

 If, as the term suggests, information is more important under the paradigm of “informationalism”, then we would expect that orderings of social power networks would be based on the ordering properties of information. However, information, I will argue is different from economics, since quantity isn’t necesarily what matters. With information, importance is defined in terms of “what you know”, “who you know”, and of course “how much you know”. To my limited understanding, this seems very different from economics, which is focused mainly on “how much”. So if information were to become the new basis of power, then network topologies of power relations at least should be much more complex, since there are 3 different ordering criteria, which probably only define partial orderings at best.  

Well, I’m hungry, so that’s all I’m writing for now.

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