Geert Lovink on Wed, 30 May 2007 12:54:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ten Theses on Non-Democratic Electronics (Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter)

[our contribution to Networked Politics, Rosa Luxembuge Fundation, 
Berlin, 3-5 June, 2007]

Ten Theses on Non-Democratic Electronics: Organized Networks Updated

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

1. Welcome to the politics of diversion. There is a growing paradox 
between the real existing looseness, the 'tyranny of structurelessness' 
on the one hand, and desire to organize in familiar structures such as 
the trade union, party and movement on the other. Both options are 
problematic. Activists, especially those from the baby-boom generation, 
do not like to speculate on the potential of networks as they fluctuate 
too much -- an anxiety perhaps fuelled by the instability of their 
pension funds. Networks are known for their unreliability and 
unsustainability. Even though they can scale up in unprecedented ways, 
and have the potential to perform real-time global politics from below, 
they also disintegrate in the same speed. Like Protestant churches and 
Christian sects, leftist political parties and traditional union 
structures can give people a much needed structure to their life. It is 
hard to argue against the healing, therapeutic value that such 
organisations can have on societies and neighbourhoods that are under 
severe pressure of disintegration. What we observe is that these two 
strategies are diverging models. They do not compete, but they do not 
necessarily overlap either.

2. Uphold the synthesis. Think Global, Act Local. It sounds obvious, 
and so it should be. But what is to be done in a situation of growing 
gaps, ruptures and tensions? It is naïve to think that old trade union 
bosses are likely to give up their positions, in the same way as 
political parties will not risk their institutional commitments for 
some digital hipsters. The question then becomes how to arrange 
temporary coalitions, being well aware of the diverging interests and 
cultures. We see this happening in unique ways amongst activist 
bloggers and, for instance, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Instead of 
'managing' disruptive technologies, it should be also taken into 
consideration to radically take sides with the new generations and join 
the disruption. It is high time for radical politics to take the 
driver's seat and suppress the compulsive response to point at 
'damaging consequences'. Let's get rid of moral pedagogies and shape 
the social change we envision.

3. Applied scalability is the new technics. How to crack the mystery of 
scalability and transformation of issues into a critical proliferation 
of protest with revolutionary potential? With the tendency of networks 
to regress into ghettoes of self-affirmation (the multitudes are all 
men), we can say that in many ways networks have yet to engage 'the 
political'. The coalition building that attends the process of 
trans-scalar movement will by design create an immanent relation 
between networks and the political. Moreover, it will greatly 
facilitate the theoretical and analytical understanding of networks. 
Tension precipitates the will to utterance, to express and to act. And 
it is time for networks to go to work.

4. Dream up Indymedia 2.0. No more Wikipedia neutrality. Where are the 
social networking sites for activists? The Internet flagship of the 
'other globalization movement', Indymedia, has not changed since its 
inception in late 1999. Of course the website has grown -- there are now 
editions in dozens of languages, with a variety of local and national 
nodes that we rarely see on the Net. But the conceptual basics are 
still the same. The problems have been identified a long time ago: 
there is an ongoing confusion between the alternative news agent model, 
the practical community organization level and strategic debates. All 
too often Indymedia is used as an 'alternative CNN'. There is nothing 
wrong with that, except that the nature of the corporate news industry 
itself is changing.

5. The revolution will be participatory or she will not be. It there is 
no desire addressed, not much will happen. YouTube and MySpace are 
fueled with no shortage of desire. Rightly or not, they are considered 
the apogee of participatory media. But they are hardly hotbeds of media 
activism. Linux geeks -- leave the ecosphere of servicing free software 
cartels. The abbreviation policy, from G8 to WTO, has failed, precisely 
because abstract complex arrangements within global capitalism do not 
translate well into the messy everyday. By contrast, the NGO movements, 
at their best (we won't go into a catalogue of failures here), have 
proven the efficacy of situated networks. The problem of trans-scalar 
movement, however, remains. This was made clear in the 
multi-stakeholder governance model adopted by government, business and 
civil society organizations throughout the UN's World Summit on the 
Information Society (2003-2005). Here we saw a few civil society 
organizations find a seat at the negotiating table, but it didn't 
amount to much more than a temporary gestural economy. As civil society 
participants scaled the ladder of political/discursive legitimacy, the 
logic of their networks began to fade away. This is the problematic we 
speak of between seemingly structureless networks and structured 
organizations. The obsession with democracy provides another register 
of this social-technical condition.

6. The borders of networks comprise the ''non-democratic" element of 
democracy' (Balibar/Mezzadra). This insight is particularly helpful 
when thinking 'the political' of networks, since it signals the fact 
that networks are not by default open, horizontal and global. This is 
the mistake of much of the discourse on networks. There is no politics 
of networks if there are no borders of networks. Instead of forcing 
'democracy' onto networks, either through policing or installed 
software, we should investigate its nature. This does not mean that we 
have to openly support 'benevolent dictatorships' or enlightened 
totalitarian rule. Usually networks thrive on small-scale informality, 
particularly in the early existence of their social-technical 

7. The borders of networks are the spacings of politics. As networks 
undergo the transversal process of scalar transformation, the borders 
of networks are revealed as both limits and possibilities. Whereas in 
Organized Networks 1 we emphasized what happened to the 'inside' of a 
network, we will look here at what happens at the edges. In the process 
of growth the kernel of a network crystallizes a high energy. After 
some months or, for the lucky ones, a few years, there is longer an 
inside of networks, only the ruins of the border. This is an enormous 
challenge for networks -- how to engage the border as the condition of 
transformation and renewal?

8. There are no citizens of the media. Find and replace the citizen 
with users. Users have rights too. The user is not a non-historical 
category but rather a system-specific actor that holds no relationship 
to modernity's institutions and their corresponding discourse on 
rights. What is needed, then, is total reengineering of user-rights 
within the logic of networks. As much as 'citizen journalists', liberal 
democratic governments, big media and global institutions are endlessly 
effusive about their democratic credentials, organized networks are 
equally insistent in maintaining a 'non-democratic' politics. A 
politics without representation -- since how do networks represent 
anything? -- and instead a non-representational politics of relations. 
Non-democratic does not mean anti-democratic or elitist. It has proven 
of strategic importance to loosen ties between 'democracy' and 'the 
media'. Let's remember that the citizen journalist is always tied to 
the media organs of the nation-state. Networks are not nations. In 
times of an abundance of channels, platforms and networks, it is no 
longer necessary to claim 'access'. The democratization of the media 
has come to an end. People are tired of reading the same old critique 
of NYT, CNN and other news outlets that are so obviously Western and 
neo-liberal biased. It is time to concentrate our efforts on the 
politics of filtering. What information do we want to read and pass on? 
What happens when you find out that I am filtering you out? Do we only 
link to 'friends'? And what to make of this obsessive compulsion to 
collect 'friends'? Would it be alright if we replaced friends with 
comrades? What could object against the tendency to build social 
networks? Wasn't this what so many activists dreamt of?

9. Governance requires protocols of dissensus. The governance of 
networks is most clearly brought into question at the borders of 
networks. Control is the issue here. Borders function to at once 
regulate entry, but they also invite secret societies to infiltrate by 
other means. The contest between these two dynamics can be understood 
as the battle between governmental regimes and non-governmental 
desires. We do not have to decide here as we have split agendas: we 
long for order in times of chaos and simultaneously overload and dream 
of free information streams. This brings us to the related issue of 
sustainability. If the borders of networks consist of governmental and 
non-governmental elements (administration vs. inspired sabotage and the 
will to infiltrate), then we can also say that the borders of networks 
highlight their inherent fragility. How can this be turned into a 
strength for the future of networks? There are always overlaps of 
identity and social structures.

10. Design your education. At the current conjuncture we find 
inspiration in the proliferation of education-centred networks, of 
non-aligned initiatives, of militant research. Education, of course, 
has always been about the cultivation of minds and bodies in order 
supply capital with its required labour-power. Organized networks have 
a crucial role to play in the refusal of subjugating labour and life to 
the mind-numbing and life-depleting demands of post-Fordist capital. 
And it is through these 'edu-networks' that we see some of the most 
inspiring activities of new institutional invention. This, we believe, 
is where energies can be directed that engage in practices of creative 
collaboration. What we need is a conceptual push and a subsequent 'art 
of translation' in order to migrate critical concepts from one context 
to the next. It is time to reclaim an avant-garde position and not 
leave the further development of such vital techno-social tools to the 
neo-liberal corporate sector. What we say here about new media and the 
Internet can also be transposed to other sectors of education and 
research. Over the next decade, half of the world's population will use 
a mobile phone and two billion the Internet. How are we going to use 
this potential?


Author bios
Geert Lovink is a Dutch-Australian media theorist and critic and 
Founding Director of the Institute of Network Cultures, HvA. He 
recently published the books Dark Fiber (MIT Press, 2002), Uncanny 
Networks (MIT Press, 2002) and My First Recession (NAi Publishers, 
2003). In 2005-2006 he was a fellow at the Berlin Institute for 
Advanced Study, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, where he finished his 
third volume on critical Internet culture, Zero Comments (Routledge, 

Australian media theorist Ned Rossiter is a Senior Lecturer in Media 
Studies (Digital Media), Centre for Media Research, University of 
Ulster, Northern Ireland and an Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre for 
Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is the 
author of Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New 
Institutions (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2006).

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