Saturday, October 27, 2007

Network Typology

There are other typologies. There will be more. I may have glanced a few of them casually (i.e., lightly & forgetfully), but I have not gathered them together as part of any concentrated, focused effort or project. What I am trying to work through here is hit and miss. I think hit more than miss; if you think miss more than hit, tell me why, will you?

"Network" gets to be a God term. Invoked at every turn, it lugs around a fleet of connotations, some of them especially burdensome for the sluggishness they assign to the term. Consider my least favorite: network as a verb for professional hobnobbing (business attire preferred). Here is network in its commonplace form. Networking is schmoozing, clinking glasses, play-acting, pretending to pay attention, death-by-boredom conversation, etc. This mythology of network is bad for network studies and bad for the complex-ion of networks. Unfortunately we begin with this term, but it is a loose, pre-emptive reference (an I like the sound of networks, but who knows what's been said about them). I don't have any misgivings about the phenomenon of professional and organizational networks, complex systems, making one's way, etc. (see Burt, right?, also Weick). My itch is with the verb network for the way it implies the gaming of advantageous associations (this plays with Modern rules and roles, not subjectivities). It reminds me of the mass media references to "rhetoric" as only the most deliberately misleading and propagandistic political discourses, where "mere," "dirty-rotten," and "icky" are implied.

I said there would be a typology. I'm getting to it. There are five terms, but I think there need to be more. And like the dramatisms and the stases, there are two- and three-term ratios among them, depending on the network in consideration, the methodology, and so on. I will try to give explanations or examples, but I don't know yet whether I have them lined up for each one--the network -eses.

Mathesis/Mathetic: Schematic/mechanistic. Quantification and metrology. We find this in Social Network Analysis (SNA) and mathematical sociology. Mathesis as learning produces a rupture that causes confusion (or some other sort of fusion) between this and noesis.

Aethesis/Aesthetic: Evaluative/artistic. Distributed artistic production, collaborative design, and collectively curated and circulated works. We find this in distributed aesthetics and Saper's Networked Art. Saper keys on Barthes' receivables for networked art; it is also a useful alternative to readerly/writerly for aesthetic networks and their "enigmatic" experimentation.

Poiesis/Poetic: Rhetorical/productive*. I am tempted to align this with new media, but these more generally organize around rhetorical practices (invention, circulation). Poetic networks are more self-consciously rhetorical than the other types (but I can't think of any reason why this should always be so). In network studies, poetic networks are behind in the horse race. I mean that these other four network -eses seem to me more common. This will change because of the growing convergence of network studies with rhetoric and composition.

Noesis/Noetic: Rhetorical/epistemic*. Contemporary network studies has emerged with these last two types, primarily. Knowledge as networked (slime molds and emergence, semantic networks, etc.). I am tempted to call this the broadest category. How what is known/knowable can be traced; knowing as connective. This type (though not exclusively) guides many of the networkists: Barabasi, Watts, Ball, Buchanan.

Graphesis/Graphetic: Presentational/visual. Also rhetorical, this one is introduced by Johanna Drucker, even if she doesn't write explicitly of networks. It is the wedge (or bridge?) between aesthesis and mathesis where visual presentation motivates the approach. Many approaches to networks involve graphesis; those that do not instead rely on narrative and databasic modes of presentation (of course these have a visual quality, but they are more discursive than presentational).

*I have started to think of these as identifiably rhetorical, but this does not mean that the others are arhetorical. I was thinking here of primary characterizations, not exclusive, inflexible ones.

I also want to say something about how network substitutes for community. Community is easily falsified (named but not identified beyond the act of naming). We have a community here in our graduate program, let's say (this has been said before, it's just one example that comes to mind). But what is the network? To know this, we must granularize the community. Flatten it out (Latourian-style, an actor-network) so that we can put a finger on the ties. Who is working with whom? Who has had courses with whom? Who has regular conversations with whom? A community turned network answers a different set of questions (even if you never ask them) because the paths are lighted (or otherwise shone) and, consequently, patterned. This might sound like a wild runaround. It's not. I only mean that I prefer "network" to "community." Community is more elusive, more capacious. I don't find the concept all that helpful (no, it conceals more than it reveals). Too often when it is muttered I am surprised to learn that I belong to anything promoted as so grandiose, well-understood, and inclusive (such a thin gravy as to never have realized it was there). On the other hand, I can sense a network, put a finger on it, tie it for oneself (a community, I ca-knot).

I put this together because I want something with more explanatory power than what I have found in work I would describe as network studies. What happens when we attempt a quantitative project (bean-counting) but attempt it in service of other network aspects--not mathesis alone. This is tremendously important to my work. I need to be able to explain these ratios because, even while distant reading toward disciplinary "network sense" is, on the first floor, mathematically invested, it is not ultimately mechanical, structural, or schematic. It is, instead (and by my modest insistence) contorted (Latour would say "acrobatically") into poiesis--into the making and doing, into a heuristic that ought to mobilize.

What? That's all? No. I said I thought there should be more categories in this tentative, provisional typology based on network -eses. I don't know what to do with Benkler because I haven't been careful about reading Wealth, yet. I don't know where infrastructural networks fit in (the wires, routers, and such). Material and geospatial networks? Latour helps me (with 'hybrids' and 'all points local') think of these two as either noetic or poetic. But this can be another cause for the wheels to fall off at anything above Earth Wide Miles per hour.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at October 27, 2007 9:50 PM to Networks