Political Networks against the State

I’m at Meshforum, just heard Jon Lebkowsky and Zack Rosen speak on the “Art of Networks.” Both discuss the Howard Dean campaign, which used social networking famously and to infamous ends. In Deanspace, everyone hears you scream….

A member of the audience points out the fact that a social network is a hierarchical network turned upside down. I’m reminded of a pyramid on its head. The point is well taken, and Shannon Clark, our fearless organizer, steers us in the direction I hope we catch later today: mapping networks, network relations theory, topologies and so on. In the meantime, however, some distinctions about networks, be they p2p or hierarchical… What characterizes the action and activity of a network is less is structural organization and type and more its system. Social systems, systems involving communication among people (subjects), in which relationships invoke normative claims, bind actors, have meanings, use linguistic mediation, etc., these networks produce their culture, knowledge, power, and social organization differently than organizations based on the increase and accumulation of capital. This really is a critical distinction.

Clastres, and I haven’t read him in, oh, 15 years, so this may be a politically incorrect reference, wrote a fabulous book on the political arrangements of “archaic” societies. His argument: that their social order was designed to prevent the emergence of a political power localized in a sovereign leader. (Agamben comes to mind also.) Political power is much more complex, and its production or reproduction much more involved, than its mode of network…

“That force without which the Savages would never surrender their leisure, that force which destroys society insofar as it is primitive society, is the power to compel; it is the power of coercion; it is political power.” Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State

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