History as Networks and the Issue of Durability

Perhaps it is not tighter definitions but a fuller canvassing of the interplay between past and present media that the historical study of new media could use most.”

– Wudwig Wittgenstein

Benjamin Peters’ proposal of media as renewable opens up the larger discussion of network’s enfoldment of time and space. Peters opens up the conversation, but did not detail the ways which media renew themselves in the “gaps, silences, and white spaces” left by the media that displaced them. By conceptualizing history as a constellation, as a network, we can begin to see how such renewal happen. Fascinated by the idea of renewable, fascinated by the idea that history can offer an “ever-renewable resource” as an affirmative call for the actualization of this virtual realm of possibilities, I am nevertheless urged to consider how this renewal happen.

By conceptualizing history as networks engages with questions of change, agency, and organization embroiled in the term “renewal”. It seems renewal as a term needs some unpacking. I find Castell offers a form of clarity that might be missed in Latour, mainly how the “switchers” does the switching. Castell argues that changing one component of the network does not change the structural logic of domination. To counter networks of power and their connection, an alternative networks need to introduced. In other words, disruptions, ruptures, events, and breaks are not enough to introduce change if the establishment of new networks does not bind/connect/sediment to the previous network. Then the question must be, how are these new annunciations/connections/articulations durable? The binding of alternative networks has unique temporalities and should address the issue of durability (we can not take sedimentation lightly). Again, Castell in his “Afterwords” did not tell us how this can happen (though perhaps he sketched out his ideas in some of the other readings).

[If I am making this an issue of durability, then there are certain affirmativeness to the ‘failure of networks’ themselves (interesting I think…) Yes, failures of networks bring to light the ‘black-boxed’ nature of heterogenous elements, but I think there’s something more going on…]

Specifically, renewable media, and more generally, history and networks, the question of agency, change, and organization still needs to be teased out. Merleau-Ponty argues, history is a “cumulative penetration in an unfolding process” where habit sediment the past within the present, dismissing history as successive discrete events. I start from Merleau-Ponty to touch upon the critique that ANT doesn’t take in to account the politics of gender, race, etc. I think its important to privilege embodiment for we are bodies-in-situation or bodies-in-networks. Actors are embodied in their networks, that this embodiment brings attention to our practices and habituations within a network and how that network offers the affordances for certain expressions. Creative praxis must be durable and bind to our very practice in a relational ontology of indeterminacy offered by ANT.

I did not answer any of the questions that I set out to ask, or am even faithful to the critques I made in the beginning, but I feel this train of thought can be another affirmative facination.




  1. I am glad you have raised the issue of the ‘black-boxed’ nature of the network. As we mentioned in class, and as you have continued to highlight here, many of the shortcomings within networks relate to issues of gender. As Latour points to networks as being a relation between actors and things, or the human and the material, we often lose sight of the social context and/or nuances of the subject, when the human and the material are brought together (i.e. the gunman).
    I recently stumbled across a group called GenPORT, who’s goal is to evaluate networks of (in)equality in relation to social networks and gender. The group has produced a host of programs and research, and will be hosting an Academic conference to shine further light on the issues of social justice in relation to gendered social network structures.

    I have attached the link for further inquiry:http://www.genderportal.eu/events/social-networks-and-gender


  2. Focusing in on “the idea that history can offer an “ever-renewable resource,”” is an extremely fascinating discussion that reminded me of a movie I saw this weekend. If you haven’t already seen the movie The Big Short, which is based on the non-fiction book The Big Shot: Inside the Doomsday Machine, you should—the movie is filled with numerous examples of networks ruptures! The Big Short explains the complex financial instruments that led to the United States housing bubble collapse, but does so in a very interesting way. The housing bubble collapse affected millions of citizens globally, countless individuals lost their jobs and homes because of this large-scale network breakdown (excuse me for the simplicity of my explanation). Raising questions such as: could the housing market network ever crumble again? What is the current durability of the housing market? And has the housing market ‘renewed’ itself from the collapse?

    For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it follows three main groups of individuals as they discover the breaks, ruptures, and flaws within the housing market system before any major Banks, Wall Street investors, or the Government. These individuals bet against “market based mortgage-backed securities” to create a default swap system that makes these individuals enormously wealthy when the markets plummet! Castell states, “this new economy (information, global, networked) is certainly capitalist,” and can been seen through the distribution of wealth and power during the collapse (Castell, 11). As discussed in class, networks continually transform and change profiting some while disenfranchising others. After the housing bubble collapse the United States was forced to “adapt and transform itself,” creating new networks, while renewing others (Castell, 14). The US housing bubble collapse shows the fragility of a network, how intertwined digitality becomes within a network, and how dysfunctional systems cause networks to become visible again.

    Although I also didn’t answer the question of renewability and may have raised some additional questions along the way, I hope that my comments provided an example of a historical network that stopped performing, yet did not disappear. The housing bubble network was broken, negatively affected many other networks, yet began to correct and renew itself. Nevertheless, some economists perceive that the United States might be entering a “new housing crisis” with the election of Donald Trump, but let’s hope this network maintains it adaptability and continues to function effectively.


    Liked by 1 person

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