20 06 07

A New Institution

Branka Ćurčić

Reading through the book by media theorist Ned Rossiter on organized networks, one could notice well structured research, which thoughtfully connects media theory and possibilities offered by communication technologies with exploitation of labor and creative industries in service of informational capitalism, giving this book special critical flavor of not yet well explored issue. The book is predominantly dealing with the question of “new institution”, new organizational form which goes beyond standardized and traditional models such are party, university, union, state or firm, keeping in mind that exactly those categories are subject of post-Fordist flexible labor and uncertainty. New social conditions acquire new organizational unit based on transdisciplinarity, distributive and collaborative forms. According to the author, exactly this form is the non-representational “organized network”, which is in opposition to what above mention traditional forms are: networked organizations. Also, this book challenges often uncritical assumption that culture of networks have default setting of flows, decentralisation, horizontality, etc. and that hierarchical and centralizing architectures and practices are absent from net cultures, which is quite often wrong (take an example of ICANN and its hierarchical and political-economic aspect of assigning domain names). The other challenge made is flexibility of labor integrated into creative industries as a modus operandi of post-Fordists economic precarity. As the author himself has summarized it, this book is about “concrete research” in order to create “a strategy for future”, an ultimate quest for new technics of organization based both on theory and practice. Nevertheless, one of the most significant methods employed is transdisciplinarity, which is here seen as “a practice interested in the educational capacities of network cultures” - as a kind of highlight which offers possibilities for alternative education within organized networks, overcoming crisis of modern universities which are more and more falling into neoliberal commercialization.

As one of the models or best practices of transdisciplinarity, Rossiter is mentioning functioning of the “Institute for Social Research” in the first half of 20th century, as an constitutive relationship between organizational forms, transdisciplinary methods and historical, political and economic conditions. The Institute is taken as and example of how methods of one organization are shaped by context, historical and political situation, while it was moving from New York City and Los Angeles back to Europe. Although this example predates new informational technologies, this book actually says much about how cultural practices and organizations within the Internet could be better understood by learning more about specific geo-political, social and economic conditions.

For the author, creative industries and exploitation of labor-power go hand in hand with each other - the main postulates of creative industries: “generation and exploitation of intellectual property” based on uncertainty, risk and insecurity, suppose to be, in a way, replaced or deregulated by what is called “disorganized labor” - fragmented and constitutional. In order to expose this resonating issue to more critical discourses, it is necessary to analyze the constitutive power of micro, subnational scales and macro, international forms of neoliberal capitalism, at first place, by analyzing its very institutions. This is the point where Rossiter is making his clear critical step forward examining the roll of informational universities today as the carriers of “monopoly of knowledge”, in general sense. According to the other author, Brian Holmes, there is an urge to include creativity into industry in the USA and this tendency could be observed the most often through strategies of privatizing public scientific research and patents, trading patents under the fundaments of education and “knowledge&technology transfer”, through entrepreneurship, bounds with intellectual property regimes, which exactly leads to the exploitation of the flexible labor-power. “Informatization is about delivering labor in the mode of information” (Bousquet). Critique of this kind of institutions opens up possibilities or creating new, alternative educational resources instead of restructuring universities, resources which could represent tactics that supports strategic interests. Here, the author lay a lot of faith to practice of transdisciplinarity and transdisciplinary research which is far from practices of inter- or multidisciplinary work. He sees it as an experimental research methodology and pedagogy that emerges within the logic of networks as they traverse diverse institutional forms.

Still, there are some similar things that are said in slightly different way and a bit more expanded, in the work of Alain Badiou and his discussion on network and organization. While talking about almost identical positions, Badiou is elaborating on need to come up with new theories, new philosophies of action and political intervention, in order to experiment in practice in social and collective field, in new organizational forms, new forms of acting, fighting, new relationships between movements, new movements, new ways of working and directly engaging with people, etc. This seems to be a qualitative step forward from Rossiter's examination of how multi-stakeholderism, NGOs and universities are functioning today. His stand point is dealing more with existing (mostly neoliberal) institutions of networked organizations, in order to get to know “how they are operating” and what is the general landscape in which new institution is raising. The step that Rossiter is making in this direction goes towards the question: what happens with accumulated knowledge gained through alternative education, best practices, situated projects that we are witnessing? What is potential to link them? Badiou is linking to this though by proposing to reconsider: New global social movement. New unity. Affirmative internationalism. Affirmation of common political will. He is also, in a way, warning that this sort of division, a difficulty to create this link – geographical, class, contextual distance - is fundamental for the development of capitalism itself. According to Lash, one of the authors often cited in the book, there has been a process of moving from decline of organization that we know, to emergence of disorganization, which doesn't mean the absence of organization but rather decline of it. This process is following shift to “disorganized capitalism”, which is not absence of the very, but it rather represents new different forms in which capitalism is organized. It represents a kind of “flexible accumulation” through organizing labor-power and it is based on the dispersion and relocation on the basis of “currency exchange rates, the cost of labor, taxation rates, government incentives, corporate welfare, level of technical infrastructure and supporting service industries”. Decline of organized capitalism influence decline in organization as a social relation, but it also institutes something else – non-organizational and non-institutional forms.

Last but not least, a question if democracy as a principle should be assigned to the organized networks is answered here by following Paolo Virno's arguments about “non-representational democracy”, the one that is decoupled from sovereign power. Rossiter considers that networks are indirectly regulated by sovereign interests of the state, but that they are not reducible to institutional apparatuses of the state. Democracy within organized networks shouldn't be observed as “political idiom of limits”, but rather as non-representational form which corresponds with an “non-state public sphere - an experimental space of cooperation, sharing, common resources, knowledge, customs, experiences and habits...”. What is important here is that this also goes along with notion of emerging new institutions which are operating autonomously from sovereign power.

Australian media theorist Ned Rossiter works as a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies (Digital Media), Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland and an Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Details about the book could be found at:

Chapters in the book:

* Whose Democracy? NGOs, Information Societies and Non-Representative Democracy * The World Summit on the Information Society and Organized Networks as New Civil Society Movements * Creative Industries, Comparative Media Theory and the Limits of Critique from Within * Creative Labour and the role of Intellectual Property * Processual Media Theory * Virtuosity, Processual Democracy and Organized Networks *

Branka Ćurčić