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SOCNET  April 2008

SOCNET April 2008

Subject:

Fwd: Critiques of network theory: Critical Realism and Critiques of Contemporary Social Thought

From:

Moses Boudourides <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 1 Apr 2008 18:29:10 +0300

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (337 lines)

***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org *****

Hello,

 This might be of interest to some social networkers.

 Regards,

 --Moses




 ---------- Forwarded message ----------
 From: Drinkall, Pennie <[log in to unmask]>
 Date: Tue, Apr 1, 2008 at 1:19 PM
 Subject: Critiques of network theory: Critical Realism and Critiques
 of Contemporary Social Thought
 To: CeMoRe Lancaster <[log in to unmask]>, CeMoRe
 explosion list <[log in to unmask]>



 Against the Flow: Critical Realism and Critiques of Contemporary Social Thought


 School of Oriental and African Studies, room 116


 Saturday April 5th


 100. 2.00

 John Urry, Prof of Sociology Lancaster University

      "Complexity and Climate Change".

 2.15 3.30

 Jonathan Joseph,

      "A Critique of Networks and Flows"

 Jamie Morgan,

      "The curious agency-structure interactions of financial systems"

 Kathryn Dean,


 "Dangerous liaisons: new objects, new knowledges, or, the problems of
 theorising contemporary capitalism"


 4.00 6.00

 Alan Norrie,

      "Structure, Flow and First Philosophy"

 Nick Hostettler,


 "Dialectical Critical Realism, Marxism and Critiques of Network
 theory: On Continuity and change in the theory and reality of civil
 society."

 Radha de Souza,

      "Imperialism: A World After its Own Image".

 Ivan Horrocks,


 "Revolution, transformation and reinvention: questioning the
 'inevitability' of e-government"


 Significant strands of contemporary social thought affirm a
 post-modern sense of a rupture with traditional social structures and
 theoretical traditions. Notably Castells, Lash, Urry, Giddens,
 Appadurai and Latour. They accord primacy to 'networks' and 'flows' to
 capture the nature of a novel mode of life in which previously
 taken-for-granted distinctions are either being destabilised or have
 been dissolved.


 These forms of theory have are both symptom and cause of the change
 they describe. They emerged as part of the development of post-war
 political, military, economic and cultural institutions to become
 integral to contemporary forms of governmentality, though their
 capacity to manage real change, notably in the climate, is
 questionable. As such they need to be subject to ideology critique.


 Both critical realism and Marxism can inform such critique, locating
 network thinking in the tradition of irrealism and by drawing out the
 continuities with earlier forms of civil society. However, both
 critical realism and Marxism can also develop through such critiques,
 deepening our sense of the historicity of categories and relations of
 modern social formation. Real complexities, for instance, can have
 implications for established conceptions of causality and for our
 relations to the natural environment.


 For further details, including the full set of abstracts, contact
[log in to unmask]




 Abstracts



 John Urry "Complexity and Climate Change".


 This paper examine some major social changes relating to the
 contemporary conditions of life upon earth. It deals especially with
 emergent contradictions that stem from shifts within contemporary
 capitalism, from societies of discipline to societies of control,
 from specialized and differentiated zones of consumption to mobile,
 de-differentiated consumptions of excess, and from low carbon to high
 carbon societies. In focusing upon emergent contradictions I am
 claiming that capitalism is its own 'gravedigger'. The gravedigging is
 being brought about by multiple mobilities, 'excessive' global
 consumption and rising carbon emissions that are destroying the global
 conditions of life upon earth. Marx and Engels wrote how modern
 bourgeois society: 'is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to
 control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his
 spells' (1888: 58). I examine below how contemporary capitalism
 through major emergent contradictions is bringing through climate
 change: 'disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger[ing]
 the existence of bourgeois property'. I argue that examining the array
 of adaptive and co-evolving complex systems involved here is the best
 way of comprehending how 'planet Earth does not generally engage in
 gradual change. It is far cruder and
 nastier' (Fred Pearce).




 Jonathan Joseph "A Critique of Networks and Flows"


 The purpose here is not to question the idea that networks and flows
 exist, but to look at the consequences of overstating their
 significance. This overstatement occurs when their existence is turned
 into the dominant condition of today's society, something expressed in
 such terms as the 'information society' or the 'network society' or
 the 'economy of signs and space'. In other words, information,
 networks, flows, scapes and signs are said to be the dominant features
 of a new type of society distinct from past societies and requiring a
 radical rethinking of how we understanding social life. In this sense
 there is something post-modern about this way of thinking in that
 these societies are said to come after the classical modern type of
 society. But this periodisation tends to avoid such a term and
 describes the break from the past not so much as a rupture with
 modernity as a break from industrial society. Accompanying this is the
 claim to have moved beyond the key features of industrial modernity
 including such things as class, the family, collective
 representations, the nation and the state. Such approaches also
 question traditional ways of theorising these societies, notably class
 analysis, feminism, the focus on sovereignty and power politics, state
 and place and, particularly important for this critique, the idea of
 social structure. The concepts of networks and flows are brought in to
 replace these features of modern society. The consequence of these new
 theories, it will be argued, is not just a failure to adequately
 analyse contemporary society, but actually to contribute to the
 reproduction of dominant power relations. This apparent paradox of a
 theory being at once misleading and yet socially influential will be
 explained through the notion of governmentality, which I deploy here
 as a form of ideology critique.




 Jamie Morgan. "The curious agency-structure interactions of financial systems"


 Financial systems can be seen as curious kinds of agency-structure
 interactions where regulation, the design of financial 'innovations',
 patterned behaviour and the accumulation of events create particular
 opportunities that in turn generate various expectations and
 opportunities to act. These produce contradictory sets of actions and
 unintended consequences (for some that others then prey on) resulting
 in instability. The changes in market liquidity in de-centralised and
 liberalised finance systems is a typical example of this. Capital
 flows are less ephemeral and present-centred than a network flow
 understanding might make them appear.




 Kathryn Dean 'Dangerous liaisons: new objects, new knowledges, or,
 the problems of theorising contemporary capitalism'.


 This paper approaches theories of a postmodern cast as both symptom
 and expression of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. The key concepts
 associated with these theories -- 'reflexivity', 'flows', 'networks'
 'assemblages', 'connectivity' express the 'logic of disintegration'
 which Peter Dews has noted in relation to postructuralist
 philosophies. In doing so, they are attempting to capture the nature
 of a mode of life in which previously taken-for-granted distinctions
 are either under assault or have been dissolved. This empirical
 dissolution of distinctions has been made possible by an
 electronically and technoscientifically enabled neoliberal capitalism
 and it involves the dissolution of apparently clear chains of
 causality. In showing that such chains of causality can be artefacts
 rather than naturally given, Bhaskar's Realist Theory of Science
 opened the path towards understanding causality conventionally rather
 than naturally, or, it implied a political theory of causality
 understood as a specific historico-cultural ordering of human and
 nonhuman life. His Dialectics has implied the misleading nature of
 modern scientific conventions relating to causality. More than this,
 though, Dialectics can be read as a means of theorising the mode of
 causality one which tends to disorder rather than order -- which has
 been emerging from neoliberalism. As such, it is possible that the
 dialectical version of critical realism is not, or need not be, wholly
 in opposition to postmodern theories. As a way of developing this
 thought, the paper will use Bruno Latour's account of the 'modern
 constitution', described by him as nonmodern, as a means of
 understanding the inadequacy of modern accounts of causality and, more
 than this, as a clue to the theoretical distance that has been
 travelled between critical realism and dialectical critical realism.



 Alan Norrie "Flow and First Philosophy"


 One of the main lines of thinking that underlies an emphasis on flow
 at the expense of structure in modern social theory is that which
 proceeds from Nietzsche to theorists in a poststructuralist vein such
 as Deleuze and Hardt and Negri. This paper is an attempt to think
 through the implications of the Nietzschean foundation to such
 thinking through a comparison with the approach to ontology taken by
 dialectical critical realism.

 This comparison is carried out by considering different accounts of
 the Socratic-Platonist foundation of western philosophy. For
 Nietzscheanism, the pre-Socratic Greek world is the place of Dionysus
 and the earliest machinations of the Will to Power, a world of
 becoming rather than being, of process rather than durable atoms, of
 multiplicities rather than units. This generates a sense of flow and
 structurelessness that has come to inform an understanding of modern
 social life and the transformations taking place within it.


 But the pre-Socratic world can be understood to be more complex than
 Nietzscheanism permits, including conceptions of real ontology and
 structure, alongside and related to process, as permitting conceptions
 of material generation and change. These too can be related to the
 present in order to comprehend the modern structuringof flow. The
 paper takes the form of an analysis of three accounts of the relevance
 of the Socratic-Platonic transition in western thought, those of
 Hegel, Nietzsche and Bhaskar, but most emphasis will be given to the
 latter two in this presentation.




 Nick Hostettler "Dialectical Critical Realism, Marxism and
 Critiques of Network theory: Continuity and change in theory and
 reality"


 Network theory argues that contemporary social relations have
 undergone real change, with a transition from the 'traditional' social
 structures of state, bureaucracy, and related economic institutions to
 new administrative and communicative networks. This change is said to
 be so radical such that the concepts of Marxism no longer have
 purchase and that post-Marxist accounts of the new realities are
 required. The talk will argue that critical realist dialectics and
 Marxian accounts of capital are essential for understanding both the
 continuities of capitalist social formation and the genuine novelties
 of contemporary social forms. It will also argue that such an
 understanding depends on the dialectical loosening of the categories
 of Capital.




 Radha de Souza, "Imperialism: A World After its Own Image".


 The prominence of network thinking in social theory was long preceded
 by its development in the post-war institutions US imperialism. This
 talk will trace the historical development of network-thinking in
 military, economic and media institutions. Network thinking became an
 integral part of the self-understanding of the projects to transform
 the Imperial core and came to be understood as universally applicable.
 Imperial projects to institute network thinking beyond the core,
 however, expose the limits of its universalisability, as they entail
 coercive confrontations with substantially different and considerably
 more resistant social forms.




 Ivan Horrocks "Revolution, transformation and reinvention:
 questioning the 'inevitability' of e-government"


 A techno-optimist view which basically sees technology as politically
 neutral and, more often than not, historically inevitable (and is
 therefore highly determinist), allied with claims for a fundamental
 shift in economic and social relations - from terrestrial structures
 and communities of geography to virtual networks and the 'space of
 flows' - has proved symbolically and ideologically crucial to the
 dimension of the information age 'paradigm' that I focus on in this
 paper: 'government for the information age'.


 My objective is to present a techno-sceptic and realist critique which
 argues that far from being revolutionary or inevitable the emergence
 of information age governance follows an institutional and
 organisational logic rooted in previous periods of rapid social and
 technological development. Furthermore, it owes more to the awakening
 - and subsequent political and economic dominance - of neo-liberalism
 than it does to technology. To illustrate my argument I briefly trace
 the development of government for the information age from its roots
 to its current manifestation - e-government. My argument will be that
 far from representing a new form of government for the information
 age, e-government promotes certain forms of consumer and managed
 democracy, advances the control of the policy process by established
 commercial interests and structures economic and social relations
 accordingly.

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