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Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions

Author: Ned Rossiter
Publisher: Rotterdam, Netherlands: NAi Publishers, 2006
Review Published: February 2008

 REVIEW 1: Daren C. Brabham
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Ned Rossiter

Finding our current relations to the realities of networks inadequate, Ned Rossiter opens his book with this imperative: "There is an urgent need for new institutional forms" (13). More than an extension of information society theories from the likes of Manuel Castells, and more than simply a response to the calls of globalization theorists like Arjun Appadurai, Rossiter's critique posits the "organized network" as a beginning frame for addressing the inadequacies of modern structures in a networked world. "Networked organizations" stand in contrast to Rossiter's "organized network." The former concept refers to an interconnection between established institutional forms (e.g., unions, universities, the state), "whose logic of organization is predicated on vertical integration and representative tenets of liberal democracy" (14). The latter concept refers to organizational forms co-emergent with the rise of networks, particularly through/with digital communications media (14). As such, the organized network is a "form whose logic of organization is internal to the dynamics of the media of communication" (58). After outlining his agenda and theoretical premise in the Introduction, Rossiter uses the lens of the organized network to embark on a critique of representative democracy, creative labor, and media theory throughout the book's three two-chapter sections, respectively.

In Part I, Rossiter investigates the challenge for democracy in organized networks. Representative democracy is generally assumed to be a failed institution in this book, but its emphasis on vertical, hierarchical structuring, even with a careful consideration of multi-stakeholderism, is considered to be especially ineffective for the horizontal, distributive capacities of networks. As Rossiter puts it frankly: "It is time to abandon the illusion that the myths of representational democracy might somehow be transferred and realized within networked settings. That is not going to happen" (95). In the call to rethink representational democracy, the author hopes that organized networks, which include perhaps virtual and informal social movement organizations, will "make a strategic turn and begin to scale up their operations in ways that would situate them within the formal/centralized [organizational] quadrant, but in such a manner that retains their informal, distributed and tactical capacities" (75). Refreshing in this book is the argument that the so-called open character of organized networks ought to attempt to match up with power-wielding networked organizations to achieve anything. In this sense, Rossiter is a realist, pragmatic in his hope for intervention and change for a better world. This, I believe, is Organized Networks' unique contribution to theory: a middle way can be had between radically decentered movements on the Web and centralized organizational regimes which hold all the power in our world. To achieve this meta-collaboration -- or meta-confrontation, depending on how one looks at it -- the focus must be on formation rather than form, on "relational processes not representational procedures" (13).

Part II takes on the creative industries, with particular attention paid to the "official" moves by British and Australian governments (e.g., Tony Blair's establishment of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) to exploit creative labor generated by workers in the areas of art, software, film, and the like through the legal regime of intellectual property. Rossiter adopts the Deleuzean perspective of the "constitutive outside" in this analysis:
In the case of the creative industries, the constitutive outside is a force of relations characterized by two key features: antagonisms in the form of the exploitation of creative labour as it subsists within a juridico-political architecture of intellectual property regimes; and the affirmation of creative labour that holds the potential for self-organization in the form of networks. (131-132)
The section concludes with a chapter presenting some empirical grounding, a survey posted to an email list subscribed to by the author which sought relationships between creative labor and intellectual property. Only seven survey responses were collected. Rossiter acknowledges the limits of making theoretical claims off of such a small sampling of survey responses, though these data provide some rich qualitative fodder. On the whole, though, this survey is an awkward impediment in the pace of the book, a cul-de-sac the reader is led into momentarily before Rossiter returns to the book's overarching program. The strength of this chapter lies not in the qualitative data gathered, but in the author's clever theoretical turns to build upon and propel further his already strong argument in the book. In particular, though they really unfold in the beginning of Part III, are Rossiter's concluding remarks in Part II on the "distinction between a processual media empirics and the new media empirics" (161), which he implies is a kind of epistemological distinction between knowing the process and movement of a networked organization and knowing the networked organization as an object of study in itself, respectively.

The work of Parts I and II leads to the most theoretically significant chapters in the book in Part III. Chapter 5, "Processual Media Theory," engages the discipline of media studies, and particularly the realm of critical Internet research, as having fallen into a trap of new media empirics. That is, Rossiter argues we have become too easily consumed with the project of analyzing phenomena in networks through an empirical paradigm that assumes a real thing with an essence that can be known. The problem with this approach, the new media empirics approach, is that it works to freeze the flows and interactivities of people and ideas in a concrete, present moment as the object of study. This is ill-suited for the study of organized networks, which are moving interconnectivities, ongoing processes, and which emerge from past conditions through the present and into a future of possibilities. This plea for processual media theory by Rossiter resembles the media erotics work of critic Brian L. Ott (2004), whose critique of the stagnancy of television criticism at the time called for an attentiveness to the pleasures of audiences engaged in the co-creation of meanings in texts rather than the "revealing" of ideology latent in discrete texts.

Rossiter punctuates Organized Networks with a chapter on processual democracy. Here, he raises the stakes for processual media theory. For if we can engage the potentialities of organized networks effectively with process in mind, we might wonder "whether the mobilization of capacities within social-technical networks ... can produce political institutions, or arrangements of the social" (202). Thus, if we can begin to address organized networks in appropriate ways, we might harness the potential of millions of human relationships and flex a force against power inequities in the same way labor unions once did in an era prior to the rise of information communication technologies. From the standpoint of the cultural critic, Rossiter's book is, in sum, a hopeful one.

This is a very well-written and meticulously edited volume from Rossiter and NAi Publishers. Like most good theoretical writing, this book is appropriately abstract and complex in its writing, allowing the reader to extrapolate the text in a variety of directions for a variety of his or her own would-be writing projects. But (like most good theoretical writing), its abstraction and complexity makes the narrative very dense and warrants re-reads of several passages. For this reason, this book is unsuited for an undergraduate curriculum and perhaps even for master's students. However, for advanced graduate students and faculty, Organized Networks connects research from the fields of organizational communication, globalization, new media, and governance in important ways.

Ott, B.L. (2004). (Re)Locating pleasure in media studies: Toward an erotics of reading. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 1(2), 194-212.

Daren C. Brabham:
Daren C. Brabham (M.S., University of Utah, 2006) is a graduate teaching fellow and Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication and researcher in the Lab for Communicating Complexity Online (LCCO) at the University of Utah. His research focuses on crowdsourcing, with an article on the crowdsourcing model forthcoming in the journal Convergence.  <daren.brabham@utah.edu>

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