Periodisations of power from Sean Cubitt: Nations, markets, networks

A potpourri of stimulating paragraphs from Sean Cubitt:

1. Market, Nations, Networks

“China sees the market as servant of the nation. The market sees nations as infrastructure, providing the legal and physical systems it needs to run. The network sees the market as a way of getting money to secure the free flow of information. Nations want to protect their people against these flows; markets want to control them. Networks want to extend the logic of “free” from free-from-worry (national goal) and free-to-compete (market goal) to free as in borderless and cashless: free as in flow, free as in beer. “

2. Media and Power

“Before all this began, cutting the long story short. there was the Sovereign, the alphabet and the manuscript.

In the era of the Nation, there was printing, the republic, discipline and capital version 1. In the era of the Market, photomechanical and broadcast media shared their diagram with representational democracy, biopolitical management of populations, and the globalisation of capital version 2. In the era of the network which is coming (and in many respects already here), telecommunications align with government by control (Deleuze) or protocol (Galloway). But we do not yet know what political or which economic forms are emerging. The choices would appear to be between Sassen’s TAR (territory-authority-rights) model, and Hardt and Negri’s multitude as polity, and Bauwens’ peer-to-peer or a harder and deeper capital as economy.”

3. The new epistemology of networks

“The characteristic cultural formation of the capitalist epoch was realism, and its characteristic visual form geometry, specifically the geometry of projection. This is the form of perspective, of cartography. Not primarily or exclusively illusionistic, realist projective geometry is about scale and dimensionality – making small things big, big things small, and round things flat.

By contrast, the fundamental cultural formation of the network era is the database, and its principle is no longer geometrical but arithmetic. The database is dimensionless: it has taken the logic of converting time into space (the graph, the calendar) and eradicated space as well. The database is decreasingly visible, hidden behind the screen displaying the results of a specific search. Thus the invisibility of database-driven sites to search engines.

The long journey from the dominance of hierarchic and semantic visual forms under feudalism has led to the layering of semantics under observation, and now under ubiquitous digital enumeration. The questions are whether this new form is so voracious it will consume the previous modes of visual culture; and whether this is a genuinely new form of political economy or merely the latest twist in the tail of capital.”

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