Alice Verheij – The influence of informal networks on social care in the internet age
New Network Theory reader
Florian Cramer – “Text” and “Network”, Reconsidered [txt]
Olga Goriunova – Towards a new critique of network cultures: creativity, autonomy and late capitalism in the constitution of cultural forms on the Internet [txt]
“Text” and “Network”, Reconsidered
The close affiliation of networks and texts does not begin with telegraphy or the Internet. It already lies in the very notion of text, since the Latin word “textus” literally means “the web”. And just like perceptions of the web tend be paranoid, as we know from Hollywood, “text” has triggered exuberant imagination. Written in 1941 and playing in the First World War, Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Garden of the Forking Path” tells of a Chinese German spy who murders a British sinologist named Stephen Albert for seemingly no good reason. His hidden intention is to convey the location of a British artillery park, a French city called Albert, to the German secret service reading British newspapers, their crime section included. The murder, in other words, solely serves the inscription of the word “Albert”, as if it were a combination of land art and body shock art, or a dark pun on Saussure’s theory of the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign.
As typically for Borges’ fiction, the compact linearity – or pulp drive – of the story is broken up by a fictitious text within the text. In “The Garden of the Forking Paths”, this fictitious text is a “chaotic novel” likewise called “The Garden of the Forking Paths”, but written not by Borges, but by a ficitious Chinese writer T’sui Pen. Similar to bifurcations in fractal geometry and quantum models of space and time, T’sui Pen’s novel tells all possible turns of its story at the same time, creating “various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times”.
This story was not only a prototype of post-structuralist text theory and later hypertext poetics, but its direct inspiration. In his 1963 essay “Le langage à l’infini”, Michel Foucault refers to a narrative loop in the tales of the 1001 Nights: In one night, Scheherezade begins to tell the story of the 1001 Nights, thus getting caught in infinite recursion. Yet unlike Foucault believes, that loop exists in no known version of the One Thousand and One Nights, but only as a fake reference in Borges’ short story of the “Garden of the Forking Paths”. Foucault mistook Borges’ philological fiction for face value, and that fiction took up a life of its own when other scholars started quoting Foucault.1 In 1991, Stuart Moulthrop adapted the “Garden of the Forking Paths” in an attempt of actually writing T’sui Pen’s branching novel as hypertext fiction. Both appropriations, Foucault’s and Moulthrop’s, miss to grasp Borges’ ironical sophistication whom novelist John Barth characterized in 1967 as a “Theseus in the Cretan labyrinth”: someone who reflects contingency and non-linearity – or, to use Lyotard’s later terminology, the postmodern sublime -, but ultimately conquers it in the closure of his own writing.
The paradox between dissemination and closure cannot only be found in Borges, but applies to all text. It is reflected in Saussure’s and Jakobson’s model of language as something constructed both vertically from a set of associative differences (paradigm) and horizontally as a linear sequence (syntagm). The meaning of “textus” as “the web” implies the same aporia of association and linearity.
[Borges reflects this in another short story, “The Library of Babel”. Although he referred to the Renaissance ars combinatoria of Lull and Leibniz rather than to structuralist linguistics, it on the idea of writing as a set of differences within a total set of possible utterances. In the story, this system materializes as a library generated, according to the speculation of the first-person, by an exhaustive computational combinatorics of the alphabet. While the resulting text is given various and sometimes paranoid meanings by the humans who live inside the library, it is formally just data – data in a web of differences analogous to a set of patch files created with the Unix “diff” command. Links (a.k.a. cross-references) or meta tags (a.k.a. paratexts) aren’t required to create those relations, but merely underline what is already related, given that any digital file can be can be diffed or data-mined against any other. Again, association and finality aren’t contradictions, but paradoxical sides of the same coin.]
In that light, “hypertext” boils down to a pleonasm, since text contains “hyper”-structures by definition, or the World Wide Web can simply be seen as an update, perhaps even clarification of the term “text”.
Conceptual clarity hasn’t been the strong point of literary and cultural theories of text. Structuralist semiology greatly expanded the notion of text when Roland Barthes read all kinds of cultural phenomena including cars, beefsteaks and striptease dances as texts in his “Mythologies” and when Yury Lotman developed the concept of a text that encompassed all semiotic systems. While those readings were inspiring, they made the notion of “text” as fuzzy and undefined in the literal sense of having no boundaries and thus ultimately no meaning as, for example, the notion of “media”. Traditional philology on the other hand had, and still has, a hard time differentiating text from literature, and thus the notion of text from paper, books and semantic intentionality.
Among other virtues, computer technology, Shannon’s information theory and the Internet have one great benefit to the humanities: they have helped to get a better understanding of what a text is, how to separate text from meaning, and more generally what falls under the realm of “form” and what doesn’t. For example, structuralism still believed that metaphors were formal, but everyone who is computer literate knows that they are not. In other words: Since Leibniz, Lovelace, Turing and Shannon, but ultimately through personal computing we have learned to define syntax as what is fully computable and semantics as that which is not – unless one models it as syntax, within the known drastic limitations of so-called “artificial intelligence”. Informatics therfore provides no conclusive model of semantics, but a very clear one of text as everyone knows who is familiar with ASCII files and text streams over TCP/IP or Unix pipes. For computer-literates, it is trivial to abstract text as storage of symbols from semantics of writing. From this perspective, the question “what is text” is neither difficult, nor academic, but easy to answer with a simple formal definition: a an amount of discrete, in most cases alphanumeric symbols. 2
[This means that the notion of text is not bound to meaningful writing. Literary theory has struggled to grasp this although it’s been illustrated before, in Dadaist poetry for example like Man Ray’s poem out of blocked-out words. Nelson Goodman, an analytic philosopher, pioneered an informatics model of text in the humanities when he used the notion of analog and digital information in his book “The Languages of Art”, and formally defined writing as disjunct and discrete.] Since, to refer to Levi-Strauss, Barthes and Lotman, neither a culture, nor a striptease or a beefsteak is a file made up of unambiguously discrete information elements, neither of them can be read as a text without oversimplifying the matter. And – to jump at my own conclusion – just as the paradigm of text has its limitations, “web” and network conversely have their own.
Read as network theory, Borges’ fiction juxtaposes network associations in its speculative imagination to network topology in its narrative closure. In other words, networks are characterized by the paradox of text extrapolated in Borges’ fiction: that network topologies are never networks in themselves. Any network, whether a network in mathematic graph theory or a communication network, can be mapped as and flattened to a linear structure. The complexity of any web can be broken down, in Borges’ terms, to a number of letters that spell a stinking corpse. (For the Internet, one might cite the five letters “ICANN”.) “To break down” is the literal meaning of analytics and deconstruction; so we’re not talking about reductionism, but critical theory. From such a critical and analytical perspective, networks are no counter-epistemology, but not that terribly different from hierarchical structures.
But there seems a more important lesson to be learned from text theory, its initial trouble to understand text syntactically, its later excesses of applying text to anything and a computer-literate understanding of text as data. The political issue is how terms become magic bullets, getting mapped onto other phenomena, and out of hand in that process. If the linguistic turn led into a trap – a “prisonhouse of language”, as Jameson calls it -, the same could be said about media theory, especially where it follows cybernetic paradigms without being aware of it.
The earliest modern theory of networks can be found in Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory of the late 1940s. It was part of his grand project of interfacing hard sciences, social sciences and humanities, technology and art through a common set of descriptive notions, such as system, network, metabolism, openness and closure. Despite Bertalanffy’s humanist agenda, his project had a dialectical flip-side: mapping physics and biology onto culture, it conceived of the human world as an organism, a questionable concept passed on to Maturana’s and Varela’s radical constructivism and to chaos theory. Just as cybernetics is closely related to General Systems Theory, so are its issues. Focusing more specifically on human-machine interaction than on systems as a whole, cybernetics applied engineering concepts to humans and culture. That arts and humanities adopted McLuhan’s concept of media more enthusiastically than Wiener’s cybernetics may be rooted just in the latter’s blatant behaviorism. However, with the assumption that the medium is the message, that machines had their own agenda, media theory was hardly less problematic, and by the early 1990s had developed into a rehash of cybernetics.3
For sure, the approaches to media studies discussed here at this conference differ from older schools of media studies in that they are more skeptical about classical two-way models of feedback, stimulus and response and sender and receiver. Instead, they search for both more complex and less dogmatic models of communication and interaction. But they make the network their very emblem of that complexity and undogmatism, this is just another rehash of 1940s general systems theory which had defined networks as, quote, “organized complexity” – a continuity that should raise some eyebrows.
Not only can the supposed openness of networks be questioned if one breaks them down, like Borges’ fiction does, to its very linear bones. The network is just another cybernetic metaphor that seduces to conflate phenomena that any critical theory should rather differentiate: telecommunication switches from social networking, machine feedback from human interaction, computation from cognition, storage from memory, data from knowledge, syntax from semantics, and so on. The seemingly more critical, “rhizomatic” paradigm of the network does not change this logic, but merely its costume. (All the more, since the “rhizome” is a blatant biologism and vitalist figure of thought in itself.)
There’s no doubt that machine logic and human practices do intersect, and that the Internet is a rich zone of their ambiguity; an ambiguity that continues to be highly productive for the fantastic imagination of Science Fiction novels, David Cronenberg movies, chat bots, net.art and codeworks, to name a few examples. But why is it a problematic figure of thought for critical theory? C.P. Snow’s claim of the two cultures, humanities versus sciences, should be given a second thought as a sensible tool of differentiation; and indeed I would like to argue in favor of a network theory that clearly locates itself in the humanities and cultural studies rather than faking scientific formalisms, simulating scientific interdisciplinarity and ultimately ending up as history of science and technology.4 If semantic interpretation remains out of reach for computation and formal logic, it means the humanities are needed just as what Wilhelm Dilthey defined them in 1883: hermeneutic disciplines. Such humanities theory fashions as structuralism, analytic philosophy, cybernetic aesthetics and technical media theory never produced more than pretensions of hard scientific methods, adapting the latter’s rhetoric without actually adopting their methods of formal proofs and quod erat demonstranda. So they ultimately produced what they had been opposed to, hermeneutic interpretations.
Failing to acknowledge crucial methodological differences to hard sciences, and suffering from a lingering inferiority complex or just buying into the hipness of technology, cultural studies often enough given up resistence to techno-positivist figures of thought. For example, a media studies scholar and cultural critic might consider it intellectually inspiring and provocative to reason about the “signal-noise ratio” of a mailing list. But for information theory and cybernetics, this terminology is neither a provocation, nor a metaphorical word play at all, but a no-nonsense superimposition of statistical formalisms onto cultural semantics. In the design of content filters for example, with all their problematic implications, this formalism is applied every day. If the role of critical humanities should be to critically take apart mappings of technological formalisms onto culture rather than indulge in them, then most media theory and criticism has been a blatant failure. Whatever media theory one takes, it continues to buy into all kinds of hypes and problematic cybernetic identifications; no matter whether they’re more questionably called “artificial life” or go under cozier terms like “networking”.
Literary studies tended to glorify the notion of text once they had turned into text theory. Art history tends to worship the image now that it has turned into visual studies. Both defend texts, respectively pictures, as inherently “good” and try to make each of them the master trope of all cultural theory. As a simultaneous outgrowth of media theory and Internet culture, Network studies runs similar inherent risks. A new network theory therefore needs to be a critical network theory, be built on the insight that networks – and the Internet – are neither good or bad per se, nor universal models and descriptors of culture.
Feedback is not interaction, computation is not cognition, storage is not memory, data is not knowledge, telecommunication switches are not social networking. The cybernetic mapping is not the cultural territory. But this mapping is blatantly political and ideological in itself. We need a new network theory indeed: one that takes apart those identifications. Rather than taking all phenomena that get marketed as “networks” for face value, it would have to analyze and criticize the terminological webs and networks that are spun in between them.
2Nothing more, nothing less, with no defined or implied materiality of paper or books. An example of a non-alphanumeric text would be a classical musical score, while performed music would not be a text when it is not performed as symbols, but as sound waves.
3As Claus Pias’ recent research has shown.
4A problem of the contemporary German and continental European humanities and media studies in particular.
Towards a new critique of network cultures: creativity, autonomy and late capitalism in the constitution of cultural forms on the Internet
In this talk I will center on the core meanings of different kinds of activities converging into web platforms, some known as Web 2.0 and others not covered by this logo. I will follow some routes of thinking the potential of these processes and suggest some new interpretations.
If we look at various kinds of platforms as similar phenomena, we will see that it is creativity in its social dynamics, which is the magnetic grain beyond various implementations of online platforms. Creativity is a highly controversial concept, having different and even opposing definitions in different disciplines, and more recently charged with annoying and misleading connotations within the discourse of the so-called “creative industries”. However, the meaning – I think – we still adhere to, is the one of culture and art capable of creating, of a creation capable of liberating, of a liberation into some moment of autonomy, into a glimpse of difference. Especially within the two traditions – pragmatism, and in particularly the work of Dewey, and Marxist schools, creativity is regarded as immanent to human activity and emancipatory. For Dewey, creativity makes possible self-realization, it is embedded in experience, and immanent to any engagement with the world. The Marxist conceptual framework includes alienation as a process occurring to the labourer alienated from the product of his labour and from his own life through the organization of industrial capitalist production. Thus, under capitalist rule, natural joy and the free creativity immanent to life and work is eliminated through alienation. Therefore, creative activity is regarded as an integral element of human activity and as resistant to capitalist logic. Up until today, Marxist researchers write of “the basic autonomy of human creativity” [Dyer-Witheford 2004].
Developing the argument further: if creativity is the central characteristic of network platforms, the uneasiness is born by a proper understanding of the nature of late capitalism, whose economy relies on and capitalizes on creativity, and where creativity equals consumption and sociality builds wealth. Such an understanding is rooted in some of Autonomist Marxist concepts and more developed recently in works of, i.e. Maurizio Lazzarato and especially Tiziana Terranova. A number of concepts reflect this reality, among which I could list social factory, immaterial labour, and even multitudes (for the lack of time I can’t go in detail here). here are a few citations: Immaterial, affective labour rooted in human communication and relationships serve as a source of surplus value in the new process of production [Hardt and Negri 2004, 274]. “…contemporary production …includes within itself linguistic experience as such” [Virno 2002, 56]. For Virno, “thought becomes the primary source of the production of wealth” [Virno 2002, 64]. Contemporary production includes linguistic competence, knowledge, imagination, social interaction as its core sources of added value.
So, the new modes of production and contemporary wealth are built not on labour power understood in classic Marxist terms, but on the appropriation of the entirety of human productive power.
Terranova applies the concepts to today’s network cultures: “These are moments which turn qualitative, intensive differences into quantitative relations of exchange and equivalence; which enclose the open and dissipative potential of cultural production into differential hierarchies; which accumulate the rewards or work carried out by larger social assemblages… “ [Terranova 2006, 28]
The logic of capital subsumes the potential of many platforms, and encloses it within the chain of valorization of creativity and subjectivity.
The direct monetization of creativity is, for instance, one of the major sources of trouble for critics of Web 2.0. They call Web 2.0 a business model, or “Internet Investment Boom 2.0”.
Thus, I would like to formulate an argument that both demonstrates a common way of thinking today and provides a critique of it. Trying to save the potential for “openness” of creativity and sociality from the subsumption by the logic of capital, for many means transferring the platforms onto free software or P2P production and distribution models. But I would like to state that confronting open source and P2P based platforms to other kinds of platforms, thus, building a simplified dichotomy, is absolutely misleading for understanding the core problematic of creativity and cultural labour in late capitalism.
Such a distinction is based on the hacker’s ethic distinction, traditionally built and still pertaining in the discourse on free software. But if there was a steady tradition to frame P2P, free, libre and opens source software (FLOSS) in terms of resistance to capital, it is changed today.
Richard Stallman’s Free Software movement existed since 1983, making an emphasis on the freedom to run, to study, to adapt, to improve and to share tools as a central virtue of the movement [The Free Software Definition]. Though Eric Raymond and others with Open Source Initiative (1998) moved towards creating more pragmatic rhetoric appealing to business, Raymond’s seminal papers “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and “Homestanding the Noosphere” continued in applying cultural and anthropological interpretations, describing FLOSS development as a “post-scarcity gift culture” with hackers creating software out of the possession of the leisure time, and an artistic motivation [Raymond 2001]. The classic text, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh’s “Cooking Pot Markets…” adds to the similar range explanations [Ghosh 1998].
Such accounts are echoed in Richard Barbrook’s writings, who even speaks of “anarcho-communism” as being prepared by the gift economy, – an essential element, for him, of the digital economy (and being prevented by capitalism).
In recent years, research into the free software production model has intensified; a number of significant books released by major publishing houses have appeared devoted to economics of FLOSS production; utopian leftist promises of digital communism or reincarnation of gift culture were tested with sociological surveys and a lot of empirical data [Feller et al. 2005; Ghosh 2004]. This new wave of analysis is related to economic success of FLOSS. Reports demonstrate great increase in the share of open source software usage in IT services and in economic revenues accrued: “Defined broadly, FLOSS-related services could reach a 32% share of all IT services by 2010, and the FLOSS-related share of the economy could reach 4% of European GDP by 2010. FLOSS directly supports the 29% share of software that is developed in-house in the EU (43% in the U.S.), and provides the natural model for software development for the secondary software sector. … Firms have invested an estimated Euro 1.2 billion in developing FLOSS software that is made freely available. Such firms represent in total at least 565 000 jobs and Euro 263 billion in annual revenue. … FLOSS and proprietary software show a ratio of 30:70 (overlapping) in recent job postings indicating significant demand for FLOSS-related skills” [Ghosh 2006].
The FLOSS development model proved to be an efficient business model for software development, and new research addresses such evolution by attempting to build working economic models that radically depart from rhetoric of gift culture and volunteer labour of early explanations.
Radically expanding the line of thinking on open source, Tiziana Terranova suggests a challenging analysis of FLOSS production and, more broadly, of cultural production on the Internet.
Terranova describes all cultural developments, even oppositional ones, by means of analysis derived from the Foucauldian tradition, as not only always originating and occurring within the capitalist system but also as being functionally central to its development. Thus, for her, appropriation and incorporation happens not from outside but is a natural inner process of the “channeling of collective (or) cultural labour into monetary flows” directed by capitalism that is always a pre-condition and a capturer of created value.
Terranova suggests that the gift economy of networks represents an important element, a basis of the digital economy that is in turn an essential part of late economy at large. Terranova’s central claim is that while Internet cultural, network or FLOSS software production depend on vast amount of continuous work, most of which is “free”, it can only mean that such free labour is immanent and central to late capitalism, rendering the “gift economy” merely an important economic tool [Terranova 2000]. Thus, there is no struggle and no appropriation of an authentic moment, but a reliance, a mutual constitution working towards an advancement towards more developed forms of capitalist production. I will return to her position a bit later.
For now, I would like to state that it is important to understand that FLOSS today is not, first, an ultimate revolutionary technique aiming to defeat capitalism, and, second, that it is unwise to see FLOSS principles as the only means of resistance. “Capital monetizes creativity through platforms? Let’s make platforms open source code based or P2P, an open distribution channel based”. The free software production model cannot be entirely applied to cultural production, and, vice versa, cultural production using techniques seemingly opposed to free software principles, might work well in terms of building temporary oppositions, contexts and platforms for creation, expression, and exchange.
The GNU project and Open Source Initiative are built on the understanding of software programming, that places emphasis on unrestricted access to program code for the purposes of education, use and modification for improvement or further application. Various license models, from GPL (General Public License by Richard Stallman) to a “legal toolbox” of Creative Commons (bounded by Lawrence Lessig) are built on such understanding of the source code, which is then applied to the fields outside of computer programming. Various Open Content licenses concern music, art, text or any publication, sampling and many more, giving rise to the rhetoric of open society and free culture [Liang 2004; Lessig 2004; Ghosh 2004; Feller et al. 2005].
While it is of extreme importance to understand the essence of struggles with media giants, re-framing intellectual property and efforts laid into propagation of legal instruments of open content and of a differing narrativity, such attempts face difficulties when applied to creative and cultural sphere, to art [Malevé 2006].
Let us consider the License Art Libre. Nicolas Malevé explains: “Copyleft Attitude tried to seek out a reconciliation with an artistic practice which was not centered on the author, which encouraged participation over consumption, and which broke the mechanism of singularity that formed the basis of the processes of exclusion in the art world, by providing ways of encouraging dissemination, multiplication, etc. From there on, the LAL faithfully transposes the GPL: authors are invited to create free materials on which other authors are in turn invited to work” [Malevé 2006, 64].
The ideology of LAL suggests an utopian picture ignoring the essential laws of the artistic field and qualities of the artistic process. The value attributed to a particular artwork here is symbolic and cannot be directly derived from expenses spent on its production, its momentarily success or any estimation of its “quality” [Bourdieu 2005]. Thus, a desire to build on a certain work does not originate from its usefulness or functionality but is a result of a complex mechanism governing construction of value in the cultural sphere.
If with software, its functionality, minimization of bugs, safety and other points, above which is whether the developed code compiles or not, may stand as evaluation criteria and allow for an objective estimation, within the art field, such objective evaluation is impossible. If it is impossible to work out the criteria that would work for horizontally organized shared creation within the symbolic field, it makes a process of globally open non-individual but truly communal creation in large volume impossible. Thus, only consumption and dissemination of artistic work (ownership) can be discussed in this context. Limiting the discussion of “Free Culture” to the question of ownership, though in itself important, is not capable of radically imagining a range of potentialities of different society and culture.
Having divorced from revolutionary rhetoric, Creative Commons incarnation of FLOSS led by Lawrence Lessig is not anymore about transforming capitalist society, but is about creating legal tools that would guarantee certain actions. While FLOSS enters into a crisis unable to provide a model of a better constitution of the society, and free culture model does not seem to provide a working instrument, increasingly more researchers write about various kinds of open culture.
But how can we imagine such “libre culture”? How can we analyse platforms in terms of some “libre culture”? How at all can we speak about any liberating potential of creativity, of any autonomy of creativity, if creative production is core to capitalist production and supposedly exists as always pre-subsumed within it?
Marxist analysis, and especially Italian Autonomia believed the true revolutionary theory should be based on researching the working class in the most advanced sectors of economy [Wright 2002, 4]. If at a current state the working class category is more adequately addressed through the category of the social factory executing immaterial labour within, i.e., a such advanced sector of capitalist economy as digital economy, then it is a moment when digital cultural becomes economic and political in a very “real” immediate sense of the word. Cultural is directly and immediately economic by not a complex layers of mediation, signification, valorization; it is frontally economic for the language of money.
If we are to find ourselves, as cultural theorists focusing on digital cultures, at a moment when producing culture means producing added value and building new political subjects, then we shall at least identify this moment as a new point for interpretation of cultural processes, and at best think on the new patterns, a new set of methods that would allow new paradigm of cultural analysis and practice. It may be a moment when essentially Marxist set of concepts makes a comeback into cultural theory as adequate tools to apply and to build on. Theory of culture should then suggest ways of their implementation for the particular purposes. But for doing that it should first overcome its determinism, in particular expressed in Terranova’s account, a brilliant application of this tradition of thought to cultural critique, which, unfortunately yields paralysis for a cultural practitioner. I am going to explain what I mean here now.
I can’t present here an account of Terranova’s book “Network culture”. I can only give my feedback very fast. It leaves the reader with mixed feelings. On the one hand, today it is impossible to object to the analysis of operation of the system of production within the digital economy as an integral part of late capitalism. On the other hand, if apply her analysis literally, it is hard to start looking at Mr.Stallman as at a most talented agent of capitalism (“no hi-jacking open source against its tradition”) [ibid., 93]. Describing digital cultural production as a process, taking place always within capitalist system of relationships, nurtured and exhausted within it, Terranova happens to build, maybe accidentally, a picture of the development of capitalism as a smooth, seamless, monolithic process. If the development of capitalism is a monolithic process, and experiments in digital production were always born within capitalist systems with no potential for liberation, even unrealized, if no contradictions and ruptures, no potentials and struggles, no excess, no gaps, no “liberating” in “free”, then what kind of action and practice is possible today?
To my mind, “Network culture…” is a deeply pessimistic book. For Terranova, every field she focuses on becomes interpreted as a zone of experimentation of late capitalism. Digital economy is an experiment with production models and new kinds of value [ibid., 79], network culture is a political experiment [ibid., 153], and new forms of production and cooperation is an experiment with new technologies of control [ibid., 108]. Her brilliant analysis of these models sums up into a totalizing picture with no excess, no exit, except for a catastrophe. To my mind, it is the catastrophe she briefly mentions [ibid., 121], that is the key to her entire model.
Such understanding stands very well as a political theory, explaining the disappearance of public space, the introduction of new political subjects and imagining the political constitution of the future, but it represents a totalitarian deterministic model if applied without modification within cultural theory. Within such an understanding, no creative practice can be imagined as emancipatory (truly creative), and even, prior to that, exercised at all. Within such an understanding no cultural critique is possible, since it is based on understanding of multiplicities, of differences, of radical inconsistencies of the world of cultures, which contradicts the “seamlessness” of The Culture (and Tiziana Terranova’s book is entitled by using the “network culture” in singular) central to an uninterrupted monolithic capitalist production of added value.
So, while autonomist theory and some of contemporary developments of its line of thinking presents a brilliant analysis of contemporary mode of capitalist production and, in particular, of digital economy, for constructively apply it to studying network cultures mean radical re-thinking a number of concepts that are undervalued within these traditions and accounts, and misinterpreted within other. One of them is creativity.
Creativity in digital cultures is a complex process, an event that is impossible to localize or subjectify. It is a dynamic process occurring in the relationship between network systems, technology and human beings; creativity appears as an explosion within a particular combination of forces, technical and human.
Value is also a process; it is not a commodity anymore but a process of valorization, a set of attempts set out by capital to valorize the valuable. Creativity is a process, is an explosion creating the valuable, creating, for Braidotti who uses Lacan, something that we do not possess and giving it to someone who do not need it [Braidotti 2004]. This absence of need for it and a possession of it means this creative explosion creating aesthetic value is essentially excessive.
So, creativity is excessive, it is an explosion, and it is responsible for the process of valorization. Self-unfolding, explosion of creativity is not entirely dependent on people, on grassroots or “official” institutes rendering it happen or technologies resonating the humans’ efforts. The excess means a space for construction of an individual valuable. The catastrophe spreads out an extra space, a dimension where construction of value is enabled within a different logic. In this explosive, catastrophic dynamics of unfolding of an excessive, additional space is the basis of autonomy.
It does not mean every user is creative and autonomous or every creative act or project is “free”. Creativity cannot be located in human being or machines, it is found in their interrelationships, in-between. Creativity is dynamic; it is an explosive process that cannot be frozen. It is a potential that can be realised into autonomy.
The potential of creativity is not located on the bio level, as a potential of labour-power, inseparable from a living body, a potential that acquired a status of a commodity [Virno 2002, 84]. A potential of creativity is distributed within technical systems, human beings, fields of culture and society. The potential of creativity cannot be exhausted. Moreover, creativity functions as a catalyst, intensifying processes both in the positive and in the negative directions, accumulating the potential.
Capital needs to keep creativity free in order to survive. Creativity parasites on the capital’s need for itself. The freedom of creativity means its excessivity, its existence in ruptures, in events, in intensification, in uncontrolled catastrophes. Creativity is able to resolve subsumption into autonomy of creating different modes and spaces of value. Creativity gets systematized but it happens as an explosion, as an excessive event that cannot be pre-subsumed, a force that establishes a possibility of modality.
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