Sunday, February 27, 2005

Rusesabagina and Network Externality

We walked two blocks over to the Westcott Movie House last evening to catch an 8 p.m. showing of Hotel Rwanda.  The Westcott is a single-show, old-style theater with only mildly graded seating so part of the view includes half-head silhouettes from the people one row up. Westcott picks up a few arts-cinema runs, shows them once each weekday and twice on weekends. 

Hotel Rwanda is full of events and scenarios suited to our developing vocabulary of networkacy, especially related to crisis and adaptation.  I'll keep it brief, considering that some folks probably haven't seen the film.  Because it's based on the Hutu-Tutsi clashes in Rwanda during the early '90s, the tragic premise of mass genocide is, perhaps, familiar enough for these connections to seem plausible.

Very much a connector, Paul Rusesabagina--the lead character played by Don Cheadle--navigates a series of variously constituted networks--from failed communications channels to unconvinced or indifferent international political structures and their agents.  So while I don't want to reduce network theory to a simple device for analysis and critique, I was struck--throughout the film--by the application of many of the notions Watts works through in Six Degrees. In one scene, for example, Rusesabagina urges the refugees to exercise their connections, shame their ties (weak or strong) into action. What of it? Enough visas to help some of the families. I wonder if we could call this some sort of rhetorical externality, a slight variation on information externalities (211).  I guess this could be read as a grand leap, so I only want to suggest one other connection. Watts says, "From a scientific point of view, therefore, if we want to understand what might happen in the future, it is critical to consider not only what happened but also what could have happened" (245, emphasis in original). In terms of Hotel Rwanda and the complexity of networked roles moderated by Rusesabagina, we might agree that just one of the compelling dimensions of network studies involves sorting through the "could have happened" questions.  And it reminds me, too, of Milgram's research on agency in "dispensing brutality" (131), which, through his Obedience to Authority research, sought to come to terms with Adolph Eichmann's part in genocidal crimes.

Cross-posted to Network(ed) Rhetorics.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 27, 2005 11:58 AM to Networks