Beyond physical networks

Actor-network theory has given us lots of new ways to observe complexity in the connections among us. The theory takes us beyond the strange hybrid called "social networks" where people are nodes and connections appear tangible. Both physical and social networks can be quantified and studied empirically. They exhibit the properties of persistent objects which supports the subject/object dichotomy robustly. They transmit some kind of tangible evidence which can be traced and graphed.

According to Bruno Latour in Actor Network Theory and After, the use of the term "network" in actor-network theory is the opposite of it's meaning for physical and social networks. Actor-networks defy conceptualization, oppose objectivity and dismantle persistent objects. Connections between interests in flux are neither singular or enduring like physical linkages. They overlap, combine and intertwine. Connection "points" are passing assemblages, enrollments, mobilizations and alliances. They do not resemble nodes in physical networks. They are imagined places or spaces where transformations occur and circuits realize completion.

Today I've been pondering the qualities that may be inherent in non-physical networks. Here's a few ideas:
  • They place emphasis on the impermanence and intertwining of what comes together - rather than persistent objects and established connections
  • They invite perceptions of "well-placed" concreteness in non-forms and no-things - not "misplaced concreteness" in objective forms and facts
  • They're about relatedness that gets found, uncovered and realized in the face of wonder - not networked, outreached or linked up anew
  • They're organized by the convergences upon unknowns, possibilities and mysteries - not positions, stances and opinions
  • The movement along connections involves inquiries, explorations and pursuits -- rather than negotiations and persuasive arguments
  • They expect news of a difference emerge from complexity - not result from manufacture by objective efforts

These ideas suggest an opportunity to visualize non-physical networks more imaginatively. They involve far more space than physical networks. They make sense through intertwining of interests rather than forming of connections. Plenty here for me to play with further :-)

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