New Network Theory: The Tyranny of Nodes

Ulises A. Mejias presented a very interesting talk at the New Network Theory conference in June. The talk, The Tyranny of Nodes: Towards a Critique of Social Network Theory. Here are the questions informing his talk:

  • what does “nearness” (or what I call social relevancy) feel like when mediated by the network?
  • how is subjectivity shaped by the network?
  • to what extent are we able to influence the architectures of social participation of the network?
  • what are the blind spots in networks, and what do these blind spots signify?

Mejais introduces the notion of ‘nodocentrism’:

  • nodocentrism is the belief that only nodes deserve to be mapped, explained or accounted for
  • in essence, nodocentrism is a reductionism that eliminates everything but the reality of the node
  • a critique of nodocentrism is not an argument against networks per se (the metaphor is useful), but against the use of the network as an exclusionary model for organizing the social world

Nodocentrism explains exactly what it is like living amongst social networking sites now. You have to move from new site (node) to new site to make sure you’re part of the nodosystem. If you’re not part of a node, you’re nothing. But then there is the chance for subversion, the ‘paranodal’:

  • what is the paranodal? the space between nodes; that space is not dead, but very much alive  

  • to use Rancière’s terminology, the paranodal is “the part of those who have no part;” it is the place where we experience what it is to be outside the network, while still being related to it

This paranodal is eloquently evidenced in Eric Rice’s (aka spin) call for a PodcampXL. Here are his rules (?) for the paranodal PodcampXL:

1 PodcampXLs can not exist in any place where there is currently a traditional or major podcamp. No SF, no Boston, no LA, no NYC, etc.
2 You can only drive or walk or transit to a PodcampXL– no flying from across the country. No lunchboxed imports. No Scobles flying in to Little Rock, Arkansas. Not allowed.
3 Try to accomplish some real, dirty, uncomfortable work– as it relates to your podcast or your community. Go find stories, go find people, go to the places that you might never go (yeah, be safe, duh). Go find people.
4 Don’t photograph other podcasters.
5 Don’t interview other podcasters.
6 Recreation and partying happens *after* the work is done, at the very very end.
7 Give respect to those that are perfectly happy with consuming only– ‘Listeners’ in the most passive form.
8 Reach out to local media makers, even if they don’t *call themselves* media makers (I’ll explain how later in this post)
9 There is no single definition for this Thing We Do. Change it based on who you talk to. If someone listens to Talk Radio, then yeah ‘kinda like that’. Take a hatchet to the buzzwords. And remember, there are still 100 million iPods and a million iPhones out there. You might hear things you don’t like. That’s part of the game.
10 …open for your rule…

Indeed, ‘BarCamps‘ were originally introduced to acknowledge the paranodal: they are unconferences that try and emulate the activity of conference hallways. But it is hard to keep the paranodal being a paranode when it becomes a node in itself. At the end his talk, Mejias said that we need to ensure there are no obstructions to the paranodal. I like his ideas and, as you can see, there are plenty of applications/manifestations for his concepts.

Check out a great introduction/overview of the talk.

Check out the slides and audio of the talk .