You are here

Network Politics, Political Networks

The first full day at ISEA 2008 starts with a number of parallel paper sessions - and the first paper in one of these sessions is mine (that is, the paper I've co-authored with Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders, Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai). I've posted the slides below, and will try to record the audio as well the audio is up now, too.

The next paper is by Atteqa Malik, who begins with a political rock video from Pakistan that has now been parodied by the Pakistani lawyers' movement (replacing rock musicians with lawyers, etc.). That movement, and other online and offline protests, is in response to the takeover of mainstream Pakistani media during the Musharraf regime, of course - indeed, there has been an explosion of media channels in Pakistan in recent years. One further catalyst for such developments was the 2005 earthquake, which created a strong response from younger generations.

On 3 November 2007 there was a media blackout - all TV and radio channels were shut down, but this did not extend effectively to the Internet, and so protest against this shutdown was reported here in particular. Forms of expression included poetry, online fora and blogs, mailing-lists, (photos of) street graffiti, and Webcasts. The backlash ultimately led to the defeat of Musharraf's allies in the recent Pakistani elections - and the new government has taken a much more hands-off approach to media regulation (at least for now). More political sites (including blogs such as PK Long March) have now popped up - interestingly, not least also supported by the private owners of newspapers who are currently strongly supportive of new forms of public political engagement.

Next up is Nicholas Knouf, whose interest is in a reinterpretation of networks as fluid. He highlights the vast range of uses of the term 'network' in a variety of contexts, and notes the fluidity of networks. He also points to network visualisations with people as 'nodes' and connections between them as 'edges'. But how are such networks instantiated or individuated? When is it individuated, how is access controlled, how do individuals become nodes, and what connections are represented in network graphs? Visualisation necessarily flattens details and often introduces a false sense of stability into the representation.

Networks can be active agents, however, creating particular views of reality. Use that way, they do not fix what already exists, but can open up new possibilities - at the same time, who, what, when, and why to represent remain key questions. Such questions have also been marshalled in the critique of actor-network theory (ANT), of course. A standardised network often involves the private suffering of those who are not involved, due to the uneven distribution of enabling and disenabling effects and the uneven distribution of the ability to switch between networks.

Nicholas and his colleagues have developed a project called Fluid Nexus which enables Bluetooth-based, clandestine mobile communication in the absence of standard network infrastructure - a 'sneaker-net' that is fluid, temporary, and ad hoc (and can exist for example in times of crisis when mainstream networks are shut down). The project builds on the open source Python platform, running on Nokia phones, and Nicholas now plays a demonstration video.

Messages do not pass through centralised networks and are not stored permanently on central servers, protecting such communications more effectively from government surveillance. The system does not require a representation of the network to function; the network is inherently fluid and ad hoc. Nicholas describes this as a question of ontological politics.

Technorati : , , , , , , , , : , , , , , , , ,