ANT/Gramsci, pt. 6: Networks, nodes, relations, alliances

by CarlD

Because of the way the blog medium arose out of the interactive affordances of the internet, each blog, post and comment creates a node in a possible network of relations and alliances. Or they can just sit there doing nothing but taking up space.

Whether networks actually come of blogs depends to some degree on their content, and to a large degree on the work of authors and readers to create, maintain, intensify and extend links to other nodes. One of the first things I figured out is if I didn’t want to be just another odd online hermit muttering alone in my own cave, I’d have to go out and drum up business by finding other blogs with dimensions of affinity and making comments suggesting connections. (This can be a pleasure in its own right, of course.) Sometimes folks follow the trail of breadcrumbs and sometimes they don’t, sometimes they like what they find at the end and sometimes not. Over time, though, there tends to be an accumulation of readership and participation.

Good luck with that.

To shift metaphor, a blog is a bit like a gravitic mass. If it just sits in one place its pull is limited to the stuff that happens to wander by from the depths of outer space. But if it gets on a trajectory and visits other star systems it has a better chance of encountering capturable bodies, ranging from close orbiters to eccentric comet flybys; or even to get caught itself in a multi-gravitic system, like a group blog or a stable multiblog network. So anyway, dynamic motion and a certain weight of presence are important; connections don’t just happen because we’re nice people and our moms like us.

(For some reason Moby seems to think being made of stars helps ya get hot babes.) Btw, from the standpoint of this analysis the current series of posts has been a fail, attracting very little traffic or commentary [thanks to you who did!] and no links. So far Dead Voles has had its biggest days with posts that can be interpreted as gossip. This too is community-building, albeit negatively. Rather than moaning about this the next step might be to reflect on what it is about that communicative mode that attracts attention and participation so well, then find a way to inflect the dynamic for good purposes.

As I’ve already mentioned, the blog medium is not well-suited to enforcing orthodoxy, but it can work well to assemble alliances of affinity. It’s a good way to find and hook up with people who share interests and agendas. This is both a strength and a weakness. Communities’ tendency to create and maintain narrow, exclusionary biases can just be amplified and propagated. But if the community affinities remain open to negotiation and revision there’s an opportunity for the whole to become emergently more than the sum of the parts. I’m afraid I’m not saying much more than the creation myth of Web 2.0 here….

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9 Responses to “ANT/Gramsci, pt. 6: Networks, nodes, relations, alliances”

  1. Carl: “So far Dead Voles has had its biggest days with posts that can be interpreted as gossip. This too is community-building, albeit negatively. Rather than moaning about this the next step might be to reflect on what it is about that communicative mode that attracts attention and participation so well, then find a way to inflect the dynamic for good purposes.”

    Kvond: While gossip in terms of opposition does seem to be a “negative” enterprise, what it usually is is an excersize in the sharing and working out of values. Gossip, insofar as a fast clean exchange of views, is an act of consolidation. When one turns away from what one is consolidating AGAINST, a grip on the positive agreement can be reached.

  2. I think that’s right, Kvond, but there’s a tendency for gossipers to lose interest at exactly the point when that turning away occurs. So how to ease into the further project without losing the crew?

  3. What exactly would you like the crew to be together on? Do you want them to all sit around and say how much alike they are? I’m not quite seeing the Ideal towards which you push? Let’s just say that Levi Bryant is the boogieman that in some value sense gets everyone on the same page in a value sense (just picking out a typical gossip target), or Graham or whomever. Bryant exhibits values which stand in contrast to what joins “us” (whaever us is). Now, take the exemplification away, without the stimulus what would you like the “us” to be doing? Generally the point is that in some sense Levi’s blogging practice touches our blogging practices at a value level. Once you remove the “blogging” aspect of it, the context, you remove much of the substance of the investment. When people post private email communication, like Harman did, the imagined community reacts. When people bully other bloggists as Levi has, or when bloggers are vampirized ala mode the evil trinity, “something” is at stake.

    I’m not really sure how to take these investments and even imagine them being expanded towards something outside the sphere of blogging itself. At most it would seem that “Hey, let’s all meet at the next Zizek lecture!” or “Let’s all do an on-line reading group of Gramsci’s Notebooks” is the most one would hope for in an organized sense, which isn’t to say that some other force, outside of blogging, might make use of the entire blogging network for the speed and spread of its message.

    Blogs and blogging seems like mostly an inert network whose connections are far wider than the meager personal use and pleasure they are put to, the six-degrees of separation test probably is huge. But the very inert, personal investment nature of the network seems to make it an unlikely SOURCE for social action or consciousness change. An adjunct medium perhaps, but not a source.

  4. Carl, I don’t think of Dead Voles as ever disseminating gossip. Your idea about “alliances of affinity” is closer to how I think about the blog networks. Your attentiveness to those networks is good and not universal, I think. Some group blogs (especially theory blogs) get a little self-referential and precious, so that there’s no added value to reading them, let alone commenting there.

  5. Thank you, Undine. I was thinking at the conference about how those self-referential and precious closed networks work – Rethinking Marxism is itself one of them – and decided it had to do with achieving a relatively stable critical mass and turning inward. And that might be ok, if there’s a focused purpose that’s being served (perhaps even just reproduction) at that scale. But I think the trick with network-building as a form of activism, even if it’s just teaching and learning, is to keep making new links.

  6. Kvond, mostly I think you’re right. First, I’ll say that I’m not personally pushing toward an Ideal in any grand sense. I’d like us to be more mindfully connected with each other, but I also see pragmatic limits to that. I think the little corner of the blogosphere you and I share does work the way you say, with investments and motivations that are pretty medium-specific and hard to generalize. Other zones of the blogosphere (click some of my links you wouldn’t normally) are productive of less immediately self-referential values, but even there I’d agree that the medium as a whole has its limits.

    So. Being connected is to me a value in itself, but it’s also a means to many ends. Not the means, a means. The blog medium is very good at enabling connection (much better than, say, an academic monograph or conference), but also and in part for that very reason vulnerable to the trivialization of the resulting connections. I think that people who want to get something done that requires connections would do well to be attentive to the affordances of the medium, aware of its dangers, and moderate in their expectations.

  7. Well, through different nodes I got to your blog, and I share much of your interests and concerns. For what is worth, I’m adding you to my blog’s blogroll 🙂 Yay for networking.

  8. Ciao, Fabio, thanks for connecting us up and for the great emergence cartoon at hyper tiling. I hope you’ll delay here often.

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