Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New problems of internet governance

As Ned Rosster (2009: 37) argues in a study of e-waste industries in Southern China,

In the case of the global logistics industries, the rise of secondary resource flows accompanying the economy of electronic waste is coextensive with the production of non-governable subjects and spaces. I suggest that the relation between these entities constitutes new regional formations that hold a range of implications for biopolitical technologies of control.

Writing in the same publication, one of the editors notes

The idea of nature as an aesthetic and normative exteriority appears to offer a safe position of ethico-epistemological privilege from which to condemn various aspects of information-technological modernization. But it is perhaps only by acknowledging that the contradictory consequences of the spread of electronics cannot be easily mapped onto an antagonism of nature versus technology that the idea of network ecologies becomes comprehensible (Zehle 2009: 4).

The non-governable of nature is then produced in the contemporary world as a network effect: this would explain why ecologies and networks are employed as metaphors in systems analysis and environmental science alike. Regionality might suggest a partition of the world between the urban or nega-urban and the preserved and conserved nature park, or at least the gap between lanes on the highway where wildflowers bloom and which in New Zealand is called 'the nature strip'. But it must also evoke divisions, especially the division of labour, a network form which predates and founds digital network logic. The ecology of the poor emerges, as pointed out above, in the interstices of networks: by rail tracks, under the fences of factories, on perilous slopes where gullies carve a path of green into the city. The term 'pristine' which is almost invariably attached to the word 'wilderness' does not recognise the evolutionary genius of organic life,human or otherwise, that proliferates between paving stones and in the shit-piles of the slum. Rodents, insects, amoeba and bacteria do not usually figure in the cartography of the megacities' settlement with natural phenomena, yet they are as integral as urban foxes or the uncanny spectacle of zoo animals.

The emergence instead of 'ungovernable subjectivities' and the consequent need for a biopolitical management of material, energetic and informatic flows which Rossiter points us to, should evoke subjectivities which are no longer purely human. Some of these have been familiar to sociology since its birth: the crowd, the tribe, the family and the factory. In contemporary media formations, corporations constitute actually existing cyborgs comprising complex technical assemblages onto which are plugged, Matrix-like, the human biochips on which they feed. Increasingly, the meta-assemblage which is the megacity requires a third term, the organic life which seeps in, as aesthetic (pets, gardens) , as functional (parks, waterfronts) but also as Nigel Clark suggests as the ungoverned and unwanted weeds, pests and bugs which contaminate the ostensibly clean distinctions between parts (Clark 2000). In a network, the divisions are also media of translation between nodes, human, technical and organic. Smart objects, the internet of things is one response to this problematic explosion of unexpected subjectivities: indeed, a biopolitical recognition that our devices have indeed evolved a life of their own.

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