I have been invited to give a paper at the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes, organized by Medialab-Prado (in Madrid). The meeting will focus on “an analysis of ‘peer-to-peer’ networks and network processes, highlighting the social potentials of cooperative systems and processes based on the structures and dynamics inherent to these types of networks.”
I’ve heard good things about this workshop, and it looks like an interesting selection of papers. My own contribution is titled Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly. The proposal is below.
In theory, P2P networks embody a model of collaboration that spells out the end of monopolies of communication. Like the Inclusiva-net Call for Papers states, P2P exemplifies principles like “equality of power among participants, free cooperation among them, putting into circulation or forming what are considered ‘common goods’, and participation and communication ‘from many to many.'” While all this has been empirically confirmed in isolated cases, we need to question the ‘goodness’ of these premises at a large societal scale.
Even if we are to accept the claim that P2P network architecture engenders publics instead of markets, we should not put aside Kierkergaard’s critique of publics as nihilistic systems intended to facilitate the accumulation of information while postponing action indefinitely. While Kierkergaard was putting down newspaper media, his critique couldn’t be more fitting in the age of Web browsers, RSS aggregators and bitTorrent clients. Another way of putting this is to say that while P2P networks may indeed democratize access to cultural contents, we still need to ask: Whose cultural contents? The whole piracy debate revolves around the fact that the statistical majority of ‘pirates’ are using P2P networks not to disseminate radical countercultural products, but to share the latest Hollywood blockbuster or teen idol musical hit. We need to question how network processes normalize monocultures, and to do so we need to theorize what form of resistance is embodied by existing in the peripheries of networks.
In my work, I argue that digital technosocial networks (DTSNs) function not just as metaphors to describe sociality, but as full templates or models for organizing it. Since in order for something to be relevant or even visible within the network it needs to be rendered as a node, DTSNs are constituted as totalities by what they include as much as by what they exclude. I propose a framework for understanding the epistemological exclusion embedded in the structure and dynamics of DTSNs, and for exploring the ethical questions associated with the nature of the bond between the node and the excluded other. Contrary to its depiction in diagrams, the outside of the network is not empty but inhabited by multitudes that do not conform to the organizing logic of the network. Thus, I put forth a theory for how the peripheries of the network represent an ethical resistance to the network, and I suggest that these peripheries, the only sites from which it is possible to un-think the network episteme, can inform emerging models of identity and sociality.
This is important because we are perhaps entering an age when deviation from social norms will only be possible in the private, non-surveilled space of the paranodal (the space beyond the nodes), away from the templates of the network as model for organizing sociality. Subjectivization, as Rancière argues, happens precisely through a process of disidentification: parts of society disidentify themselves from the whole, and individuals and groups recognize themselves as separate from the mainstream. Thus, to paraphrase Rancière, the paranodal is the part of those who have no part; it is the place where we experience—or at least are free to theorize—what it is like to be outside the network. Articulating this form of disidentification, of imagining and claiming difference even in relation to ‘democratic’ P2P networks, is an important step in the actualization of alternative ways of knowing and acting in the world.