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---------- 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
"A Critique of Networks and Flows"
"The curious agency-structure interactions of financial systems"
"Dangerous liaisons: new objects, new knowledges, or, the problems of
theorising contemporary capitalism"
4.00 – 6.00
"Structure, Flow and First Philosophy"
"Dialectical Critical Realism, Marxism and Critiques of Network
theory: On Continuity and change in the theory and reality of civil
Radha de Souza,
"Imperialism: A World After its Own Image".
"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
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]
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
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
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
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