Two ways for the state to adapt to networks

While networks on their own might be democratising, equalising, liberating – the hybrid forms are not, because they inject aspects of command at key points as substitutes for voluntary agency.

Very interesting contribution by Andy Robinson:

“I think part of the crisis since the 70s has to do with networks and hierarchies. The “old” system was highly hierarchical, but was suffering problems from certain kinds of structural weaknesses in relation to networks – the American defeat in Vietnam being especially important, though one could also refer to resistance through delinking and syncretism at the margins, Offe’s decommodification crisis in the welfare state (based on power of everyday uses over systemic means) and the diffusion of popular cultures (importance of niche over mass markets). And ever since the 70s the system has been trying to find hybrids of network and hierarchy which will harness and capture the power of networks without leading to “chaos” or system-breakdown. We see this across a range of fields: just-in-time production, outsourcing and downsizing, use of local subsidiaries, contracting-out, Revolution in Military Affairs, full spectrum dominance, indirect rule through multinational agencies, the Nixon Doctrine, joined-up governance, the growing importance of groups such as the G8 and G20, business networks, lifelong learning, global cities, and of course the development of new technologies such as the Internet.

While networks on their own might be democratising, equalising, liberating – the hybrid forms are not, because they inject aspects of command at key points as substitutes for voluntary agency.

Very often, networking of capitalism involves a replacement of systematic agencies which are flexible or universalistic on the side of the institution, with arbitrary, commandist agencies making extreme demands on participants. By seeking to capture the WHOLE of networks, the distance between power and everyday life is reduced or eliminated. One thus ends up with an extremely intrusive and cruel, “personalised” form of power which attempts to draw on all aspects of the network by becoming identical with it. This is the type of hybrid I think is dominant today, definitive especially of Third Way and neoliberal politics; it is associated with one of Zuboff’s two types of high-tech in the workplace, and with “New Age policing” (CCTVs, ASBOs etc) and “welfare to work”/employability/flexibility (of the worker). In rendering the command apparatus (state/capital) identical with society and with life, in denying life any space of its own, this model is terrifyingly totalitarian. It is really an attempt to ward off the power of networks by decomposing, by substitutionism.

There is also a second type which lets networks do their own thing and seeks to filter a surplus from them. This is more sustainable, but at the moment seems to be facing huge resistance from the status quo.

In the medium term, the loss of power to networks is probably irreversible, and capital and the state will either go down fighting or create more-or-less stable intermediary forms which allow them to persist for a time. We are already seeing the beginnings of the latter, but the former is more predominant. The way I see the crisis deepening is that large areas will drift outside state and capitalist control, integrated marginally or not at all (this is already happening at sites such as Afghanistan, NWFP, the Andes, Somalia, etc., and in a local way in shanty-towns and autonomous centres).

I also expect the deterritorialised areas to spread, as a result of the concentration of resources in global cities, the ecological effects of extraction, the neoliberal closing of mediations which formerly integrated, and the growing stratum of people excluded either because of the small number of jobs available or the growing set of requirements for conformity. Eventually these marginal spaces will become sites of a proliferation of new forms of living, and a pole of attraction compared to the homogeneous, commandist, coercive core.

(This is slightly complicated by the issue of reactive networks – the closure of networks in otherwise non-hierarchical spaces by their coalescence around fixed identities and exclusions, as “small-world networks”. This tendency is strong today, partly because it is a major strategy of state and capitalist reintegration of escaping areas, partly because of effects of hierarchy-induced scarcity – and is the reason these areas have not gone further in becoming loci of affirmative energy and forces of attraction).

At the moment, the state (backed by capital) tries to bring these areas back in violently, but sooner or later, sectors of capital will realise they can profit by working with forces on the ground in the deterritorialised areas. Corporations which adapt to their loss of power at marginal points will become more like merchants, or service providers; I see the likes of PirateBay as forerunners in this regard.

States which adapt will become “rhizome-states” linking to the locality only through intermediaries in the local setting, and losing their control function – they might become a kind of pure welfare-state or pure distributive state. Or, states might try to draw on the proliferating energies by creating concentrated open spaces similar to the old city-states (there are already micro-states which do this in relation to capital flows). In all these cases, the flows will be so uncontrollable and unpredictable that the hierarchies will not have regulative force over them, will not be able to guarantee profit, but rather, will be almost parasitic on abundance. I suspect some will choose this over disappearance, once the structural power of networks is sufficient to overpower the violent response one currently sees.”

1 Comment Two ways for the state to adapt to networks

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Kevin Carson, via email:

    that’s the first stage in the decay of the old mass
    production model. Lewis Mumford called it a “cultural pseudomorph,”
    with potentially decentralizing technologies like electrical power
    being integrated into the “paleotechnic” framework of Dark Satanic
    Mills, instead of living up to their potential as the basis of a
    fundamentally different “neotechnic” era. The first stage of decay
    was the introduction of networked, lean methods of physical production
    as in the Toyota Production System and the Emilia-Romagna region.

    But the cultural pseudomorph, or paleotechnic framework, persisted in
    the form of corporate headquarters that retained control of finance,
    IP, and supply and distribution chains.

    And the supply and distribution chains are the one thing that lean
    hasn’t touched yet. So to the extent that lean, networked production
    is still dependent on global “warehouses on wheels” (or “in container
    ships”) distribution chains, the system is to that still a Sloanist
    batch-and-queue system, with the warehouse full of inventory just
    outsourced to the highway or ocean.

    The final step in the evolution from mass production to lean will be
    when production itself is scaled to local markets, and these
    warehouses on wheels are eliminated. The transformation of the
    distribution system is the last piece in the puzzle, and I think it
    will be forced by Peak Oil.

    And as numerous people on and off this list have pointed out, the
    whole Nike model of outsourced, networked production makes the
    corporate headquarters a node to be bypassed. One form the bypass
    will likely take is when the networked production chains you mention
    decide to cut out Nike and ignore their IP rights, and sell the
    sneakers (or whatever) directly to the local market without the
    brand-name markup. I think with its localized supply and production
    chains, Emilia-Romagna could navigate the Peak Oil transition and
    shift to production almost entirely for the local market, with
    comparatively little disruption.

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