The Institute of Network Cultures analyses and shapes the terrain of network cultures from the inside. No innocent bystander, it actively contributes to the field through events, publications and online dialogue. The sphere of new media has huge potential for socio-technological change – the mission of the Institute of Network Cultures, the INC, is to explore, document and feed this potential.
Established in 2004 the INC takes as its focus the Internet and other new forms of media. The INC is a framework for the realisation of a diverse array of projects, with a strong emphasis on content. Its goal is to create an open organisational form where ideas from both individuals and organisations can be given an early institutional context.
A key INC focus is the establishment of sustainable research networks. Following from this the INC seeks to identify emerging critical topics and to then initiate and steer dialogue and exchange in order to shape the way these new forms develop. Differentiating the INC from Information Technology research is its emphasis on the interaction between aesthetics and social relations within technological environments. Attention is also paid to the intercultural aspects of the field. The INC views theoretical developments and self-reflection as vital to the creation of the rich autonomous language that this new area of knowledge deserves.
The Institute of Network Cultures was founded by Geert Lovink following his appointment as Professor within the School of Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Amsterdam Polytechnic).
The field of network cultures revolves around the interaction between new forms of media, for example, the Internet and mobile telephony, and the users of such new forms – where the users themselves shape the technology. With a strong focus on the transdisciplinary nature of new media and its DIY and open source components, the INC gives equal attention to the artistic, political and technical aspects of the Internet and other emergent media. As such, the INC’s area of research extends to design, activism, art, philosophy, political theory and urban studies and is not confined to the Internet alone. Indeed, the INC maintains that the Internet can only be understood at the conjuncture of these various fields and lines of inquiry.
‘Network cultures’ is seen then as a strategic term enlisted to diagnose political and aesthetic developments in user-driven communications. Network cultures can be understood as social-technical formations under construction. They rapidly assemble, and can just as quickly disappear, creating a sense of spontaneity, transience, even uncertainty. Yet these forms are here to stay. However self-evident it is, collaboration is a foundation of network cultures. Working with others frequently brings about tensions that have no recourse to modern protocols of conflict resolution. How to conduct research within such a shifting environment is of key interest to the Institute of Network Cultures.
The aim of the INC is to create sustainable research networks. In its first years, the INC selected a few emerging topics in which a critical contribution could be made, such as ICT for development, urban screens and the creative industries. Such an INC research thread may start with just one person with ideas on a topic of critical importance. This can lead to the formation of a small group of international researchers, both inside and outside of the academy, which may then result in a larger online discussion. Together with the researchers and a group of students, interns and volunteers, an event is organised to gather key questions and thinkers. Each of these events, such as a conference, seminar or workshop, culminates in a publication. Formats of publication may include a printed reader, a book, video interviews, wikis, blogs and special online magazine issues, along with conference documentation (photos, videofiles and podcasts). The publication functions as an important vehicle for the sustainability of the research network. Currently the INC produces three distinct series of publications: the Studies in Network Cultures book series edited by Geert Lovink investigates concepts and practices unique to network cultures; the INC Readers are derived from conference contributions and available in print and pdf form; and Network Notebooks present INC commissioned research.
The School of Interactive Media of the Amsterdam Polytechnic (Hogeschool van Amsterdam, IAM) was founded in 2002 by its director Emilie Randoe. IAM educates students to become interactive media professionals: transdisciplinarians with knowledge and skills in the areas of marketing, communication, management, technology, theory and interaction design. The IAM graduates are able to devise, design, develop and manage effective solutions and can advise about the business, communication, technological, design and cultural aspects of interactive media.
Within the context of the School of Interactive Media, the responsibilities of the INC include the provision of internships, lectures, BA thesis supervision, courses on media and design theory, and coordinating the minor programme ‘Media, Culture and Philosophy’. Geert Lovink’s appointment was one of 300 ‘lector’ positions across national Polytechnics assigned to formulate the research agenda for Dutch vocational education. The INC is affiliated with the University of Amsterdam where Geert Lovink is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Culture. The University of Amsterdam and the HvA have merged at a managerial level and are cooperating in different areas. The INC contributes to this collaboration by means of initiating and co-organising projects and events such as the Databodies research group, the Digital Methods Initiative and the New Network Theory conference. For each of its events, the INC offers students research or production internships.