Mapping responsibilities for a systemic crisis in a network society

3 11 2011

In order to keep grips on social complexity and thus to have capacities for political action, it is still necessary to find the appropriate tools. In an article published in 2009 (“Knowledge and praxis of networks as a political project”, Twenty-First Century Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, available here for a pdf version of the text), I showed the potential power of the network concept and I proposed to use it more effectively. The challenge is not only to be able to follow the evolution of the world. The challenge, especially in the context of recent months, is also to get out of a situation of “organized irresponsibility”, to use Ulrich Beck’s words: a situation related to the development of what he calls the “risk society” and that would result in the difficulty to find and analyze the origins of often multiple and intertwined risks produced by the industrial system with the advent of modernity (see Gegengifte. Die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit, Suhrkamp, 1988, translated into English under the title Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk, Polity Press, 1995, and especially the third chapter “Industrial Fatalism: Organized Irresponsibility”).

Making this type of observation is useful, but it would be unproductive to stop there. Tracing and following the vast networks of the contemporary economic system would precisely allow a better understanding of causal pathways, and consequently avoid dissolving responsibilities or making them ascribable where they should not. This could give the basis for differentiating degrees of responsibility, that is to help see if such groups or types of actors have a greater responsibility than others. Rethinking the understanding of social phenomena by finding the networks that make their frame would be another way of looking at political action and of initiating it.




3 responses

3 11 2011

I wonder if this « obfuscation » of causal paths and thus of nodes of responsibility is
1) systemic, ie intrinsic to the network once it attains a certain level of complexity or, on a more Althusserian note, inevitable in any social network given the inevitability of ideology in its practico-social functions (simplification, binary oppositions, imaginary constitution of « responsible » subjects)
2) tied to a particular vision of and management of networks, eg the argument of Zizek that capitalism is not necessarily tied to its liberal form where causality is veiled behind complexity and that an authoritarian form of capitalism is conceivable where causality could be more transparent without permitting a degree of resistance capable of destabilising the system?

(Note: please forgive the discursive format of this comment, which is in fact one long question)

3 11 2011

Two big questions. I will try to elaborate on them later.

3 11 2011

Thanks, I will be looking forward to your elaborations.
I have a third question:
in your initial statement you talk about social complexity, knowledge and praxis of networks, political intervention inside a risk society. But then you limit the problem to networks of the economic system. I think that the Deleuzian (and Latourian) objection is that the network is tied to the heterogeneity of its elements, and cannot be limited to one domain (here, the economy), but must involve psychic, social, technological, cultural and non-human elements if it is to be developped at the complexity necessary to engage with our real problems.
I am thinking of the example of global warming and Timothy Morton’s « theorisation » in terms of hyperobjects. I use the inverted commas as I think that this term is more a gesture at the scale and complexity of certain problems than a true conceptualisation of them. I think that this case shows that the determination of « degrees of responsibility », while being important and necessary, is probably not a sufficient preparation for effective intervention.
Also, when at the end you talk about finding the networks that make the frame of social phenomena, do you mean just the structural frame or do you include the epistemological frame?

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