According to Theory, Culture and Society we are having a complexity turn. From John Urry’s introduction to the special issue on the topic:
Overall, complexity approaches both signify and enhance a new ‘structure of feeling’; one that combines system and process thinking…such an emergent structure involves a sense of contingent openness and multiple futures, of the unpredictability of outcomes in time-space, of a charity towards objects and nature, of diverse and non-linear changes in relationships, households and persons across huge distances in time and space, of the systemic nature of processes, and of the growing hyper-complexity of organizations, products, technologies and socialities.
See also Fibreculture Journal’s latest issue, on Distributed Aesthetics, edited by Lisa Gye, Anna Munster and Ingrid Richardson:
Rather than try to define the terminology or taxonomy of distributed art theories and practices we have proposed instead a descriptor for the ‘aesthesia’ of contemporary networked encounters. Distributed aesthetics, then, concerns experiences that are sensed, lived and produced in more than one place and time. This might equally be a sketch of reconsiderations of the operations of cultural memory or of phenomena such as endurance performances. But what we propose, through gathering together the disparate pieces in this fibreculture journal issue, is that techno-social networks are crucially constitutive of this distributed aesthesia. In various ways, all the texts here take up the mode through which ‘the network’ – the juncture and disjunction of here and there, you and I, social and individuated – functions as the crucial operand in dispersing and contouring perception, art practice and aesthetics.
Although I am probably more interested in socially distributed and differentiated aesthetic (value) systems, rather than the spatial and temporal (albeit networked and socially contingent) distribution of art, this is kind of tangentially useful as I attempt to describe the complex system of technologies, literacies, values, and social identity formations that shape effective access to ‘voice’ in the apparently autonomous ‘cultural public sphere’ of the Internet (i know, doesn’t work as a sphere, but leave it for now). It seems to me that it is necessary to find a rigorous and defensible position on the ‘democratisation’ of technologies of cultural production that evades binaristic thinking, does not simply ‘debunk’ hyperbole, does not promise or warn of utopias or dystopias, and does not simply rely on glib theoretical virtuosity (or glib neologisms) to get out of those double binds.
A commitment to participatory ethics in research, combined with lightly interventionist research-led practice and an insistence on theory grounded in the empirical practice of such research is both a way through these problems and an additional burden – but all worth it. And I don’t want to wake up and realise that yet again I’m either the voice of complicity – using academic rigour to legitimize shallow marketing hype – or (even worse) the arrogant and ascetic ‘voice in the wilderness’. I have to sleep at night.
In this post about the risks of critiquing that which is cool (in this case, ‘things’), and this one on technological inevitablity and intervention Anne seems to me to be practising the steps of a similar dance. I think she is falling over a lot less frequently on the slippery floor than I am, though.
As an example of where I might be able to add some value to these debates: from Bradley Horowitz, an interesting post that explains the (exponentially scaled) continuum of online participation replicated across yahoo groups, flickr, etc. (although he’s careful not to call it a ‘natural law’). The post is thoughtful, the numbers and the graph are useful, and I was quite taken by the acknowledgment of ‘implicit creation’ as a legitimate form of participation (well, actually, as a form of participation that will still work to create value for the web service – flickr, say).
Still, I can’t help but feel that there is so much missing here – why does participation pattern like this? What does it mean for the emergence of complex systems of cultural capital and social power in these environments? Does it matter, for cultural democracy? And what about considering the idea that the necessary motivation to be a content creator or even editor is not only a matter of personality, but articulates to social identity, class, education, and literacy – which itself is a complex formation that articulates to the other three. And so on we go.