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Debating Relationality and Individuality, part two: relations need an object

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th June 2006

We continue our exploration. In the first Jyri Engeström stresses that a groups engaged in a common are more than just a sum of relationships: they need an object.

The second item is a debate between John Heron, pioneer of cooperative inquiry and relational spirituality, with Ted Lumley, theorist of Inclusionality.

Finally, for those who know French, an extract on the theories of Simondon, one of the prime theorist of the shift to relationality.


Introducing Object-oriented sociality:

“[There is a] profound confusion about the nature of sociality, which was partly brought about by recent use of the term ‘social network’ by Albert Laszlo-Barabasi and Mark Buchanan in the popular science world, and Clay Shirky and others in the social software world. These authors build on the definition of the social network as ‘a map of the relationships between individuals.’ Basically I’m defending an alternative approach to social networks here, which I call ‘object centered sociality’ following the sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina. I’ll try to articulate the conceptual difference between the two approaches and briefly demonstrate that object-centered sociality helps us to understand better why some social networking services succeed while others don’t.

Russell’s disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term ‘social networking’ makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it’s not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term ‘social network.’ The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That’s why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about ‘socio-material networks’, or just ‘activities’ or ‘practices’ (as I do) instead of social networks.

In my experience, their developers intuitively ‘get’ the object-centered sociality way of thinking about social life. Flickr, for example, has turned photos into objects of sociality. On del.icio.us the objects are the URLs. EVDB, Upcoming.org, and evnt focus on events as objects.

For a much more elaborate academic argument about object-centered sociality, see the chapter on ‘Objectual Practice’ by Karin Knorr Cetina in The practice turn in contemporary theory, edited by Theodor R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny (London 2001: Routledge.)”

Cooperative individualism and the P2P Self

A debate between John Heron and Ted Lumley:

Lumley quote 1: “We are each unique, and each have a unique and authentic role to play because we are each uniquely situated within and included in, a common hostspace dynamic. When we move, the shape of the hostspace dynamic we are included in transforms… Our individual movement = transformation of the common hostspace dynamic.”

Lumley quote 2: “Rather than having an absolute center of self, our center of self is defined by where our inside-outward asserting meets the outside-inward accommodating of the dynamical hostspace….Our assertive movement is relative to the (simultaneous mutually influencing) assertings of our fellows, together constituting a community hostspace dynamic from which our individual actions push off (rather than pushing off from the ‘absolute center of our self’).”

JH comment: Lumley has two definitions of the self. Quite rightly, because I think both are necessary and interdependent. In quote 1, the self is defined in term of its unique situation within a hostspace, prior to any assertive movement within it. In quote 2, the self is defined in terms of this assertive movement. In my worldview, the first definition relates to the autonomy of the self in terms of its idiosyncratic appraisal of and response to its unique situation within a hostspace; and the second definition relates to the co-operative mutuality of the self in terms of its interactions with the others in a hostspace. The autonomous and the co-operative accounts are correlative and interdependent.

Lumley quote 3: “A ‘peer’ is usually thought of as an abstract entity that is capable of behaviour in-its-own-right, and particularly of peer-to-peer collaboration, …none of which alludes to the common hostspace dynamic as the prime influence in the evolution of the peer-to-peer dynamics.”

Not by me and others, e.g. Spretnak. Here’s a quote from my book Sacred Science, pp 10-11

The distinctness of a person is to do with him or her being one unique focus, among many, of the whole web of interbeing relations. Personal autonomy is grounded in this unique presence, participating resonantly in an unitive field of interconnected beings, within the presence of Being, and in the individual perspective necessarily involved in imaging a world. It is manifest as the individual judgement inalienably required for a person to appraise what is valid and valuable; and as individual responsibility in choosing to act. This is not the personal autonomy of the Cartesian ego, an isolated, self-reflexive consciousness independent of any context – what Charlene Spretnak calls the Lone Cowboy sense of autonomy. It is, rather,

The ecological/cosmological sense of uniqueness coupled with intersubjectivity and interbeing…One can accurately speak of the ‘autonomy’ of an individual only by incorporating a sense of the dynamic web of relationships that are constitutive for that being at a given moment. (Spretnak, 1995: 5)

Source P2P News, issue 65

The relationality of everything: Simondon

The French journal Multitudes has dedicated a special section of its 18th issue to an examination of these aspects of the thought of Simondon. An excerpt from the introduction:

“La modernité se constitue, selon Simondon, à partir d’un paradigme qui traverse tous les domaines de l’expérience : l’être-individuel. Elle se définirait comme un ensemble d’opérations, de techniques, de connaissances visant à extraire les dimensions individuelles de ce qui, dans la réalité, se présente comme essentiellement attaché, relié et changeant. Dès lors, une des possibilités pour sortir de certains problèmes (liés à la connaissance, à l’expérience, au social) qui ont accompagné la pensée moderne pourrait se situer dans ce que nous avons appelé une « pensée relationnelle », dans laquelle la relation occuperait une place centrale.

Whitehead écrit que « la philosophie ne revient jamais à une position antérieure après les ébranlements que lui ont fait subir un grand philosophe ». L’histoire de la philosophie serait faite de chocs, de ruptures sous l’apparence d’une continuité de problèmes. Dès lors, interroger la « nouveauté » d’une pensée revient à demander quel « ébranlement » elle a suscité, quelle irréversibilité elle a introduit dans un champ.

On peut dire que Simondon produit quelque chose de proche d’un ébranlement lorsqu’il place comme une proposition centrale que « l’être est relation » ou encore que « toute réalité est relationnelle ». Cette proposition n’est pas neuve ; on la retrouve, chaque fois différemment, avec Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson et Tarde si bien que d’une certaine manière Simondon ne fait que prolonger un mouvement qui le précède et duquel il hérite l’essentiel de la construction qu’il opère.

Mais ce qui est inédit, c’est la mise en place d’une véritable systématisation de la proposition « l’être est relation », la prise en compte explicite de ce qu’elle requiert pour pouvoir être posée et de ces conséquences dans différents domaines – physique, biologique, social et technique. Et c’est un nouveau type de questions qui en émerge et qui s’oppose aux questions mal posées qui ont traversé la modernité : il ne s’agit plus par exemple de demander « quelles sont les conditions pour que deux individus donnés puissent être en relation », mais « comment des individus se constituent-ils par les relations qui se tissent préalablement à leur existence ? » ; de la même manière, au niveau social, il ne s’agit plus de demander qu’est-ce qui fonde l’espace social (les individus ou la société), mais comment s’opèrent des communications multiples qui forment de véritables êtres-collectifs ?”


2 Responses to “Debating Relationality and Individuality, part two: relations need an object”

  1. LimeWire Blog » Blog Archive » Linkdump 6-26 Says:

    [...] LimeWire is our relational object. [...]

  2. These Days blog » 10 blog entries on P2P Says:

    [...] 6) What is the lonely individual vs. the multitude, asks the Swarming weblog, who regularly examines deterritorrialized identities, is soloware really replacing groupware? We also collected several items on individuality vs. relationality in the peer to peer age. All of that is also monitored in our P2P Relational Concepts page. [...]

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