Politics Web 2.0 Conference

Here is the abstract for an upcoming talk at the Politics: Web 2.0: An International Conference organized by the New Political Communication Unit, Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London. The conference is April 17 & 18.

Social Networks and the Politics of Nodocentrism
Ulises A. Mejias

As social networks are actualized by information and communication technologies (ICTs), they cease to function as mere metaphors and become templates for organizing sociality. Networks –as assemblages of people, technology and social norms– arrange subjects into structures and define the parameters for their interaction, thus actively shaping their social realities. But what does the social network include, and what is left out? What are the politics of the network as episteme? By definition, social networks are not anti-social, but they manifest a bias (which I term “nodocentrism”) against engaging anything that is not part of the network. Nodocentrism embodies a politics of exclusion, since in order for something to be relevant or even visible within the network it needs to be rendered as a node. For nodes, what is outside the network diminishes in social value. Using the framework of nodocentrism, I explore the politics of the social network through its stages of growth (creating new nodes through assimilation), preferential attachment (favoring rich nodes), hyperinflation (widening of the inequality between nodes), capitalization (converting inequality into gain for a few and loss for the rest) and segregation (purging of unwanted nodes from the network). I end by proposing the concept of the “paranodal,” the expanse between nodes, as the only possible site from which to un-think the logic of nodocentrism. Paranodality can provide the subject with the political context for disidentifying from the network, offering a site for the critical assessment of networked sociality.

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  1. Certainly every inclusion is an exclusion. This is by now so tautological as to be trivial, and yet it is my own mantra and keeps me reflective (thank you, Adorno).

    Meanwhile, there is no network, only networks. Moreover, there is no real, only reals.
    Network nodes (and relations) are a function of one’s perspective, and it is the choice of perspective and not an imagined “reality” of the network that performs the including and excluding.

    The saving grace, if the emerging system of panarchy can be said to have one, lies in the fact that overlapping, interpenetrated, networks of perspectives that interrupt, challenge, support, and dialogue with each other, provide grounds for hope that no single schema of inclusion and exclusion will prevail.

    In other words, everyone and everything can be included in something, and not excluded from everything.

    I’d be delighted if you could come discuss this more on http://www.panarchy.com


  2. Thanks for your comment, Paul.

    I disagree that nodal relations are entirely a function of one’s perspective. Not to get all technological deterministic on you, but I do believe technosocial networks have properties (or affordances) that shape the perspective of nodes. To see it simply as a matter of choice seems simplistic, and dangerous. While the triviality of “every inclusion is an exclusion” might have been replaced by the optimistic mantra of “everyone and everything can be included in something, and not excluded from everything,” the politics of that inclusion are still worth questioning.

    In theory, the openness of networks would mean that, as you suggest, no single schema of inclusion and exclusion would prevail, and everyone would get a chance to be included in something. I am interested, however, in what happens when certain schemas are pushed virally within the network. I do believe that, as what has happened with other media, corporate interests will have a disproportionate power in imposing their schemas for inclusion/exclusion upon the majority (notwithstanding pockets of “insurrection”).

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