Galloway & Thacker: antagonistic clusterings and enfolded alliances

Like Castells, Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker also draw on a variation of information theory within their account of network as a political ontology (2007). They use a discussion of graph theory, which “provides us with a standard connect-the-dots-situation” (p31).  This means: “a number of relationships can be quantitatively analyzed” (p31) and gives them the concepts of “nodes” and “edges” with which to map the topology of political networks. However they stress that graph theory is only a beginning (p33) and question a network diagram that attributes agency to active nodes and the carrying out of actions to passive edges (p33). A node-edge separation implies a clear division between actor and action and also leads to what they call “diachronic blindness”. A graph approach, they argue, “focuses on fixed ‘snap-shot’ modeling of networked ecologies” (p33) and “works against an understanding of networks as sets of relations existing in time” (p33). Finally they question a network diagram that draws too rigidly on graph theory because it does not see subnetworks or subtopologies as the at the heart of the matter. For Galloway and Thacker it is the heterogenous nature of networks, the “antagonistic clusterings, divergent subtopologies, rogue nodes” (p34) one finds in peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, or political and military struggles, that define the network and open it to analyse and ‘counter-protocological struggle’.

Tiziana Terranova reads Galloway and Thacker as placing the “life of networks” at the heart of their account, bringing together as it does Galloway’s interest in protocol (2004) and Thacker’s in biomedia (2005). “The network,” she says, “needs active subjects in order to exist, but at the same time undermines their agency by its very nature, by embedding it into sets of relations, and by the fact of being somehow alive” (2009: 47). Although she goes on to criticise what she sees as an overly masculine account of the “impulsion” and “thrust” of Galloway and Thacker’s counter-protocological ‘exploit”, an account of networks as an issue of enfolded political topologies, clearly chimes with her own account of network labour (2004). She goes on to distinguish Galloway and Thacker’s account from what she characterises as the “anthropomorphic agency of actors found in actor-network theory” (1009: 47). While there is certainly the potential for an anthropomorphism within ANT and by implication OOP, Harman is adamant that object-oriented approaches do not imply this. He says:

“Let me first deny the criticism that my model is guilty of anthropomorphizing the world by retrojecting purely human mental traits into the non-human world. The illegitimacy of this critique is easy to show. When we consider those psychic traits that may be uniquely human or perhaps animal, we might list thinking, language, memory, emotion, visual experience, planning for the future, or the ability to dream. In no case have I ascribed such capacities to inanimate objects. What I have done, instead, is to reduce human cognition to its barest ontological feature—the translation or distortion of a withdrawn reality that it addresses. And it should be easy to see that even inanimate causal impact show exactly the same feature. Hence we can speak of a sparse, bedrock form of relationality that holds good for all real entities in the cosmos, and from which all the special plant, animal, and human mental features must develop as if from some primal kernel… Rather than anthropomorphizing the inanimate realm, I am morphing the human realm into a variant of the inanimate” (Harman 2009: 212).

It is even possible to see Galloway and Thacker as echoing some of the concerns of OOP. An object-oriented account of a primordial soup of antagonisms and alliances located in particular times and spaces parallels Galloway and Thacker’s refusal to engage in “snap-shot modeling”. Similarly their “antagonistic clusterings” and “divergent subtopologies” have a similar focus on flat ontologies, anti-foundationalism and emergence that characterise OOP’s ideas of black boxes and actants enfolded in alliances. Finally Galloway and Thacker’s critique of network diagrams that separate actor and action is also at the heart of an OOP account that draws actants as always and inevitably deriving their power and position through alliances that are always being constantly remade.  For OOP as for Galloway and Thacker, actor/actant and action/relation are enfolded, even inseparable.

  • Galloway, 2004, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.; London.
  • Galloway, A.R. & Thacker, E., 2007, The Exploit: A Theory Of Networks, Univ Of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
  • Harman, G., 2009, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, Anamnesis, Melbourne.
  • Terranova, T., 2004, Network Culture : Politics For The Information Age, Pluto Press, London ; Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Terranova, T., 2009, Masculine Holes, Radical Philosophy (July/August), pp. 46-9.
  • Thacker, E., 2005, The Global Genome : Biotechnology, Politics, And Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..