Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 4/15/14

Deleuze and Guattari - Introduction: Rhizome

Rhizome Illustration featuring a variety of structures and properties. Posted by The Rhizome Archive.

Assemblage and Bateson:
"A book is an assemblage, and as such is unattributable" (4).
The authors begin the text with this explanation for why individual names are not associated with the "plateaus," or chapters. They do not see the book as an individual construction, but as the child of many parents, objects, ideas, and environments. They have also abandoned ego, claiming "we are no longer ourselves: (3). It reminds me immediately of immanence and Bateson, who advocates the same sublimation of the self in the humble recognition of the vast and powerful connected universe. In such a connected and overlapping space, who can say where one autonomous object begins and ends, if indeed autonomy exists?

What is the rhizome structure?

The authors emphasize that their book (as a metaphor for networks and structures of connectivity) is most aptly described a rhizomatic structure. This stands in opposition to the common tropes of the tree (with a central trunk and radiating branches) and the root (radiating structures pulling inward from the environment).

The authors outline four main groupings of principles for the rhizome:

  1. Connection and Heterogeneity: The rhizome structure affords that "any part of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be" (7). Nothing in a rhizome is isolated from the structure. It is also important to note that the rhizome is a structure of varied properties. In the illustration above, it is clear that there are larger channels, smaller tubes, internal connections and outward-reaching chutes. This diversity is a key component of the rhizome; there is not a single type of node or connection.
  2. Multiplicity: Similar to the idea of heterogeneity, the rhizome is also multiplicitous. It "has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions" (8). While the language in this section is abstract, what I am able to discern is a sense of the rhizome as resistant to unified classification; it has multiple origins, destinations, properties, and purposes. We cannot understand the rhizomatic network as having AN origin or A destination, but many origins and end points. These multiplicities are without privilege, but exist in a flattened space.
  3. Asignifying Rupture: The rhizome resists destruction and decay because even when one section is damaged, the remaining structure is unharmed. Owing to the diversity and multiplicity of the structure, no single aspect is vital to survival of the whole. Compensations will be made; workarounds can be made. Like the starfish in the video below, regeneration and survival occurs after a portion is damaged. The rhizome is a resilient form. 
  4. Cartography and Decalcomania: I understand this aspect to mean that rhizomes resist having a generic underlying structure or skeleton. A tree or root can be understand to have a basic form that all structure in that category will follow, despite their surface differences. This is the why rhizomes cannot be "traced," but instead require mapping, which follows unique structures rather than repeatable lines and shapes (as in a copy from tracing another object). Even still, the map is highly organic and "constructs the unconscious" (12). This is a key component of rhizomes and their evolving structure that cannot be predicted or repeated, only mapped after they are rendered.


In addition to rhizomes, plateaus are another key structure for Deleuze and Guattari. I was interested in this section especially as they refer to Bateson, on whom I have a little scholar crush for his lofty and idealistic ideas of interconnected-immanent-oneness. Building on Bateson, the authors define plateaus as "a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end" (22).

Developments without a culmination point. Image by My Travel Photos
Plateaus and rhizomes both invoke a sense of wildness and horizontality. Neither structure leads one to a "point," which I think subverts so much of traditional Western thinking. We're trained to find THE main idea and to write A thesis.There is a sense that all ideas must culminate in one, coherent, communicable mission - especially in the work place. We are aiming to reach the acme, but what is there is no peak? What if, like a plateau, there is only a lateral space on which to meander? Thinking about networks in these terms reinforces the idea that we live in a flat world. Networks, especially the digital kind, are largely democratic with nodes of differing shapes, sizes, and functions and agency broadly distributed. It is not dependent upon a culmination or origin to have meaning or survival, and growth is only mappable. Information and ideas will bubble up like a rocky plateau, but the "end" will never be a single point, only a flat space in which the user's own values and experiences must determine what if any meaning can be determined.

Scott - Social Network Analysis:
Chapter 1: Networks and Relations

One useful part of this chapter is the breakdown of types of social science data. It reminded me of the reading from the Research Methods course I took two semesters ago.

  1. Attributive data: Seeks to understand attitudes, opinions, and behaviors
  2. Relational data: Seeks to understand contacts, ties, and relations
  3. Ideational data: Describes meanings, motivation, and definitions
Each data type is associated with a particular analysis tool: variable, network, and typological respectively. Relational data seems most useful for studying networks because it tends to reveal structures and linkages. I think this would be a useful section to revisit in planning for my dissertation, which will focus on the undergound press. I do not think it has been analyzed as a network system. Most scholarship is historical, cultural, or journalistic is thrust. However, I would think a useful body of work could be to examine the contacts, ties, and relations in alternative media. It seems that especially for social movements, network structures are key to development and success.

Chapter 2: Development of Social Network Analysis

Gestalt, Conventions (Affordances), and Genre:

There are three main traditions of social network analysis: the gestalt psychology tradition, the psychology of groups tradition, and anthropological traditions studying factories and communities. The gestalt tradition is interesting as Scott describes it as "organized patterns through which thoughts and perceptions are structured" (8). This reminded me of Norman's description of cultural conventions and genre theory. All three ideas rely of socially recognizable forms that shape thinking. I still think this is a powerful idea from when we studied genres. How do we know what we know? Why do we think what we think? Why do we think how we think? The answer from these writers is in part based on forms and patterns in society. As humans, we have a tendency to believe we exert control and dominance over our environment; we mediate our world and use technology to shape our realities and alter - often radically - the natural world. So I think there is the same tendency to think of human dominance over external objects in metacognition. However, these theories challenge that; they force us to examine how the external world is shaping us? How is it limiting, constraining, and sculpting our thoughts and knowledge? I have been recently exploring material culture theory and am coming to recognize how influential the material world is on us. 

Christian von Ehrenfels - Gestalt school founder. Image by Austrian Philosophy.
Quality of Relationships:

If I bring social network analysis into my dissertation, an interesting way to examine the underground would be through the three concepts Scott explains are analytical lenses for interpersonal networks: reciprocity, intensity, and durability. Reciprocity speaks to the degree to which transactions are reciprocated. Intensity is how strongly obligated the network members feel toward one another. Durability is a measure of time involved, whether that be long-term or transient. The underground movement's durability would be interesting  to study. Overall, the papers and the writers engaged with the network transiently. However, some papers have survived to this day, such as Village Voice in New York. What sustains revolution and social action? Why are some elements durable while other transitory? Would an analysis reveal an answer that would serve future actions?

Strength of Weak Ties:

Scott draws on the work of Granovetter's strong and weak ties arguments. The conclusion is that "through the relatively weak ties of less frequent contacts and of people in different work situations that new and different information is likely to become available" (35). This just struck me as very true in our networked individualism that Raine and Wellman speak of and represent with the Peter and Trudy story who "take advantage of the wide-ranging skills that existed in their extended social network" (7). It also reminds me of the Filter Bubble discussion from a few weeks ago. Is it not more powerful to connect widely and broadly than to be limited to a familiar immediacy? What other benefits comes from dispersed connections besides exposure to new information? Is there some sense of personal growth that is valuable, aside from a tangible benefit like a job? Is there a benefit to the network itself? Is it more rhizomatic this way with asignified rupture? 
Using weak ties to take advantage of  the widest possible network. 
Raine and Wellman - Networked:

Chapter 1 - Networked Individualism:
"Rather than embedded in is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group" (66).
It feels in some ways like these authors go against the ideas of cliques discussed in Scott and other traditions of social network analysis. Although connected to one another, the human social groups have evolved based on the Triple Revolution: Social Networks, Internet, Mobile. The groups are no longer based on familial ties or geography, but on the the connection made possible by technology, which may be invisible. It is not that we are disconnected from one another, a common critical observation about human interactions, but that we are connected in new ways. As we sit in classrooms and on buses, attention diverted into a portable technological device, we are not connected to people based on proximity. 

Is this the new reality of human interaction - digitally facilitated and not proximally? Image posted by Kingfield.
Chapter 3 - Internet Revolution

  • The verbs used to describe the internet: enhance, empower, enable, extend. Verbs used to describe actions the internet affords: search, project, receive, broadcast, create, form. It suggests the internet is a powerful force with highly actionable properties.
  • Computers are personal, connected, humanized (interface), helpful, customized/private, decentralized, and asynchronous. The authors argue these traits are largely responsible for the exceedingly rapid growth of computer and internet use.
  • There are four types of users, as outline by Castells, responsible for the culture of the internet: techno-elites (the technical culture - development of the technology facilitating the internet), hackers (not necessarily the "bad guys" but responsible for the political culture), virtual communitarians (develop the culture of social forms and uses), and entrepreneurs (developing the internet as an economic tool, the culture of business online). The authors also add participators to this list.  
Works Cited:

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1987. Print.

Raine, Lee, and Barry Wellman. Networked. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Print.

Scott, John. Social Network Analysis. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Great job consistently making connections to other theorists we've read as well as continually bouncing against your OoS.