On Social Viscosities: diagramming the flows of mobile media in India

Posted: February 19, 2010 in Causality, Clinamen, Deleuze, dialectic, Ecology of Sensation, India, Method, Organized Networks, Precarity, ressentiment, social viscosity

Sensation and its ecologies get us beyond the pleasure-agency / consumption-docility binary that characterizes radical political thought today. This is simply because sensation is not the synthesis of the dialectic, it is not involved ontologically in dialectics at all. Sensation involves the creative mixing of the virtual and the actual. Deleuze writes, “sensation has no [objective and subjective] sides at all; it is both things, indissolubly; it is being-in-the-world, as the phenomenologists say: at the same time I become in sensation and something arrives through sensation, one through the other, one in the other” (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation 27; qtd. in Elena del Rio, “Alchemies of Thought in Godard’s Cinema: Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty,” SubStance, Vol. 34, No. 3, Issue 108: French Cinema Studies 1920s to the Present (2005), pp. 62-78, 62). Sensation emerges in gradients of intensity, movement, density, synaesthesia, passing through critical thresholds of becoming, complexly mixing in self-differentiating affective processes across value, sense, and force. As bodies and technologies assemble across delivery platforms emergent properties and co-evolutionary trajectories partly actualize virtual futures, repetitively, stochastically. Sensation also gets us out of the morality of the pleasure-agency / consumption-docility binary, a morality of ressentiment and a practice of “good vs. bad” representation. What we need to affirm in media studies and critical theory today is not the pious memory of the subaltern, but the processes (cultural, institutional, economic, subjective) that have been rendered as products in analyses that seek to bring the subaltern to voice. Dispense with subaltern pieties, return to movement, consider its diagram of change, its variable dimensions, its ecology of becoming. If we attend to the function of a bodily event, if we consider such events in the act of exceeding their actualization, we come to consider the politics of the virtual and the becoming of sensation (I owe this point to a conversation sociologist Shilpa Phadke and I had on a feminist response to lingerie ads in Mumbai, India).

We need therefore to pose clearly what method would allow living the chance of a becoming away from the binary between docility and resistance. What Ned Rossiter and Brett Neilson’s article (“Precarity as a Political Concept, or, Fordism as Exception,” Theory Culture Society 2008; 25; 51) helped bring out for me was the set of problems in which one locates one’s practice. For me this set is best analyzed as they suggest in their article as the “movement of movements.” Someone very wise it was who said “Follow the Movements!” Rossiter and Neilson’s frame of reference includes such names as Agamben, Foucault, Schmidt, Spivak, Mouffe, Berlant, Hardt and Negri, and Lazzarato. This is their abstract:

In 2003, the concept of precarity emerged as the central organizing platform for a series of social struggles that would spread across the space of Europe. Four years later, almost as suddenly as the precarity movement appeared, so it would enter into crisis. To understand precarity as a political concept it is necessary to go beyond economistic approaches that see social conditions as determined by the mode of production. Such a move requires us to see Fordism as exception and precarity as the norm. The political concept and practice of translation enables us to frame the precarity of creative labour in a broader historical and geographical perspective, shedding light on its contestation and relation to the concept of the common. Our interest is in the potential for novel forms of connection, subjectivization and political organization. Such processes of translation are themselves inherently precarious, transborder undertakings.

Their work is exemplary in that it brings to the fore questions concerning the possible relation and connectivities involved in, for instance, the passing of the citizen-worker (as concept, not as experience) and the institutionalization of new forms of precarious labor and life as norm rather than exception, the relation between distributed self-organizing silicon-based networks of communication and the difficult task of translating differences across sociopolitical and global context; the relation between a radical commitment to the digital/ecological commons and the emergence of new forms of sociality, subjectivity, organizing, and injustice. These are not minor accomplishments but the deft treatment of enormous problematics whose dynamics are for the most part well-posed. The article enabled me to consider critically my own engagement with “institutional analysis.” I would like to reconstitute as effectively as possible a pragmatic diagram (a diagram through which we do something in virtual-actual circuits) of the intensive gradients of a given regime of control, keeping in mind always that the aim of thought is the becoming-intensive of coevolving non-coinciding resonant unities (I have tried to define this concept with reference to nonlinear dynamics in far from equilibrium conditions; see my blog entry on Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy). What relation does this unity have to, for instance, Foucault’s analysis of the Unity of the State in his work on governmentality, his lectures on neoliberalism and biopolitics, and his rendering this unity into a networked multiplicity (this was still too spatialized) in his history of sexuality?

Which unity? What if the unity we are referring to in the phrase “a non-coinciding resonant unity” is the unity of a refrain, a strain of music, a fold in timespace, a torsion in a continuous substance with an infinity of attributes? This molecularization of politics doesn’t mean that the timescale and actuality of media effects is thereby “made smaller” and thereby irrelevant to radical social change; molecularization is a process of correlating (through events of thought and sensation) intensities and their gradients, their connectivity and functionality, and their potential set of phase transitions.

Now molecular politics necessitates we critically engage the extant strategies of fighting injustice within network societies. Much of this turns on how we conceptualize power, resistance, and difference. Rossiter and Neilson write: “Our emphasis is on translation as a social practice that brings differences into relation” (60). What kind of practice of translation can bring difference into relation? Of course, the authors realize that difference is already in at least two sets of relation at once: an intensive, non-signifying relation of resonance and contagion, and an oppositional and antagonistic relation of dialectical difference (the representational and linguistic appropriation/abstraction/ capture of difference). Let us clarify: there are hierarchies of force in both forms of difference, but the nature of the force is what is different. In dialectical difference a certain dispositiff (apparatus, networked institutions of human culture) gives to oppositions their unequal force of normalization or propriation (following the work of Foucault and Derrida); in intensive difference self-organizing patterns of flows (of matter, energy, information, desire) form correlated functions across time-scales— in ecologies of sensation flows resonate with other flows through an irreducible element of chance. Intensive difference is organized through quasi-causal forces around basins of attraction through the entrainment of temporally irreversible processes. The formation of these non-anthropomorphic intensive processes is what Deleuze following Nietzsche calls the will to power.

Isabel Stengers gives us a clear image of thought as well as forceful concept for the way difference functions in far from equilibrium systems. In fact, it is a rejection of apriori conceptualism, and opting instead for a practice of emergence. Not that the practice is constantly emerging (it is mutating), but that it is involved ontologically in the emergence of ecologies. She (drawing as well on her work with Ilya Prigogine) writes of strange attractors, whose systems have an irreducible aleatory force passing through them, repetitively, and whose properties (affects) vary with sudden changes in force, passing from basin of attraction to basin of attraction. Given a statistical probability of variance in a process, in a population of processes, irregular forces transform noise into the occasion of a dynamic threshold. She writes:

Far from equilibrium, fluctuations may cease to be noise, instead becoming actors that play a role in changing the macroscopic regime of a system. Furthermore, the far-from-equilibrium physiochemical systems that Ilya Prigogine baptized “dissipative structures” exhibit another new property. It is not only “molecular noise,” the fluctuations, that may “take on meaning” but also certain details of the control variables that correspond to the experimental definition of the system under study (pressure, volume, temperature, flow of reagents,….) For example, although gravitation has no observable effect on chemical systems at equilibrium or near to equilibrium, far from equilibrium its effect can be amplified so that it has macroscopic consequences. The system has become sensitive to gravitation.

When a system becomes sensitive to certain forces, dynamics, processes, an emergent property comes into play in the new system. These emergent properties open the system to the machinic phylum and the nonlinear plane of potential.

Similiarly, it has been shown that a dissipative structure fed by chemical flows that are not perfectly constant in time but slightly irregular has access to new types of structuration. In other words, it is the collective regime of activity that decides what is insignificant noise and what must be taken into account. We do not know a priori what a chemical population can do, and we can no longer tell once and for all the difference between what we must take into account and what we can ignore….A demon that understood and could control with positively infinite precision a system characterized by such an attractor could obviously deal with it as just another system. For the demon, the system would be deterministic, as are the equations that describe it. However, is this reference still relevant? We are not actually separated from the demon by a quantitative lack (we observe and manipulate less well) but by a qualitative difference: as long as our observations and manipulations do not have a strictly infinite precision, we are dealing with a system with nondeterministic behavior….Here the notion of complexity is close to that of emergence. Dangerously close, moreover, if, as is often the case, “emergence” is understood as the appearance of the unanalyzable totality of a new entity that renders irrelevant the intelligibility of that which produced it.
(Isabelle Stengers, “Complexity: A Fad?” 9, 10, 12)

Stengers goes on to argue that the difference between emergence and complexity is that of a physical genesis in contrast to a conceptual genesis. Can concepts become involved in a machinic phylum in any other relation than one of capture and reduction? In other words, of ressentiment? Stengers in her analysis of what science is historically has provided us a method to potentialize various fields of concept production, and Deleuze shows that this method must first of all come to terms with creative processes of intensive self-organization.

This is not an abstract issue applicable only to the nonlinear modeling of the physical world. Contemporary network societies embody the engineering diagram of self-organization. For instance,

A new class of microelectronic devices frees us to mix computers much more freely with the objects and places of everyday experience. Our research groups at the University of California at Berkeley and Intel, as well as at start-up firms and other universities, have joined simple computers to radio transceivers and sensors to form small autonomous nodes that we call “motes.” Running an operating system known as TinyOS, each mote links up with its neighbors from the moment it is turned on. Although these smart sensors have limited power and processing capabilities, an assembly of hundreds of them can spontaneously organize into a perceptive network that is spread throughout the physical world, able to perform tasks no ordinary computer system could. (David E. Culler and Hans Mulder, “Smart Sensors to Network the World” Scientific America, June 2004, 85).

Thus, one sees at once what is at stake in these two conceptions of difference, both of which we need to understand in terms of their types of forces, their dominance in a given field of forces. The collective regime of activity in an unanalyzable totality of a new entity: this is how we have been wanting to characterize bodies as non-coinciding resonant unities (following Deleuze). This concept helps us to keep two qualities of multiplicities in focus. The first is that multiplicities are constituted by processes that are only abstracted into products through various forms of more or less legitimate reductionism; the second, is that multiplicities become noncoinciding resonant unities through phase transitions in their capacities, as new ones emerge, as an actual multiplicity becomes sensible to new forces.

The issue in terms of a method of analysis, in terms in other words of an affirmative ontology of becoming, is the active relation between the two conceptions of difference operative in Rossiter’s work. What we have in the passage quote earlier is intensity abstracted into dialectical difference, or monstrosity (their term, I have also written on monstrosity but quite differently than Rossiter and Neilson) into organized network. This is slightly unfair, because one also reads a strong aspect of the argument as a kind of anthropology of monstrosity. It would be useful here to recall Derrida’s famous comments on monstrosity.

A monster may be obviously a composite figure of heterogenous organisms that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what the norm is and when this norm has a history–which is the case with discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they have a history–any appearance of monstrosity in this domain allows an analysis of the history of the norms… But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. This monster is also that which appears for the first time, and consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or hybridization of already known species…But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the ‘as such’–it is a monster as monster–to compare it to the norms to analyze it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and, consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication, of normalization has already begun. . . . All history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity. (Derrida, Points 385-87)

I think this notion is close to what Rossiter and Neilson mean by excess and monstrosity. But Derrida draws back from considering the nature of monstrous life beyond the dialectic and language (yes beyond logocentrism, but the dissemination wrought in Derrida’s works always sought an other as the outside, never far from dialectical difference). Similarly, Rossiter and Neilson seem to emphasize the process of formation, morphogenesis only in order to valorize the actual form itself (differences in identity, forms of organization, etc.). The danger of appropriation Rossiter is fully aware of. But the sense is of a certain piety toward the subaltern (and their movements?); bringing to “voice” or “visibility” is a symptom of a certain pious disposition toward the victims of injustice. We need a change of sense for criticism, from sympathetic piety to pragmatism, and a new image of thought as an event in ecologies of sensation.

Thus morphogenesis itself is a concept that allows another event of thinking (as Deleuze called thought), that of counter-actualization. Now what is the point of counter-actualization? Nothing other than pragmatic experiments in becoming. One way of mutating affect is by pushing its type of intensive sets to the n-th power. This is not because intensifying affect leads to mutation, it is because intensifying affect pushes its correlated processes to critical thresholds, where a stochastic resonance (a random shock: we affirm all of chance with each experiment in intensity, Deleuze says in Nietzsche and Philosophy) may cause a general, global phase transition in the system as such (a multiplicity taking on a qualitatively new resonance, becoming sensible to various forces).

These phase transitions are revolutions that as yet have no name, as Spivak paraphrasing Derrida put it. We could just as easily call them the Active Untimely. Intensive shifts in values and sense can be swathed in a feeling of re-volt. Many people that I have spoken with across differences of gender, class, religion, and region say that India is going through a complete “revolution” through the patterns of adoption of the mobile phone taking shape today. As one recent report put it,
Two years ago, Mumbai call center employee Vijay Parihar used his Nokia mobile phone for calls and sending occasional text messages to friends, spending about $7 monthly. Today the 24-year-old, who earns $450 a month and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in suburban Mumbai, forks over about $20 a month — for calls, of course, but also for ring tones of Bollywood hits, movie tickets, e-mail, and mushy text messages to his girlfriend. If he had enough money to invest, Parihar says, stock market quotes, too, would beep on his phone. “My handset is an extension of myself, a cool, one-stop shop for my personal needs,” he says. Parihar is part of a growing group of Indian consumers who want more from their phone than just talk time. That’s a blessing for Indian carriers that are looking seriously at new services to enhance revenues. The numbers are huge: Indians spent some $250 million on extra services for their mobile phones last year — including text messaging, music, wallpaper for phone screens, cricket scores, games, and Web surfing — and that number is expected to reach $1.7 billion by 2010. (Lakshman, Nandini. “Mobile Services Boom in India.” Business Week Online (07 Apr. 2008): 17-17. Accessed 16 May 2008)

Lakshman goes on to further qualify this “blessing” by noting Indians sent some twenty-five billion short text messages in 2007, and together with ring tones they made up about 80% of the services Indians used. The current rates are relatively low relative to the global market – it costs 25 paise to book a flight on the mobile phone and 75 paise for a music download – but “given the numbers of Indians now using phones, those numbers can add up fast.” Already these patterns are changing. The recent tariff wars have sent profits spiraling downward (although this too is exaggerated), and different patterns of use are emerging. One of the most extreme: youths buying sim cards from providers who offer a certain number of free minutes of talk time, and after using the allotted time tossing the sim in the garbage. While extreme, it gives one a sense of the value of talk-time for consumers—that’s the commodity that is largely the focus of exchange in this context.

What is happening in India is part of a shift in temporality and everyday life that is tied to the emergence of mobile networks globally. In an article on Italian politicians’ use of mobile telcommunication, Enrico Menduni concludes thus:

Mobile communication exploits scraps of time previously unserviceable (car rides, waiting in airports) or succeeds in doubling time areas dedicated to other activities (phone calls during meetings or social events), while it weakens the need for actual presence in space. Consequently, it multiplies the amount of political communication, lowers reaction times to external events and speeds up the pace of political life. This can outline a different public sphere, in a different culture of time and space. At the same time, however, mobile communication speed up the ’oral’ dimension of politics, already pushed by audiovisual media, shifting it closer to everyday life, showing more ’politics’ than ’policies’, more talking than acting. (Enrico Menduni, “Petty offers of the political fleet: The impact of personal mobile communication technologies on communicative practices of Italian politicians and the transformations of the public sphere,” Convergence 2005; 11; 88, 99).

This sense of “all that is solid melts into air” (Marxian modernity) is endemic to network culture as such, which does not mean that network culture is itself the phase transition; the phase transitions can be mapped in the millions of becomings that are forming emergent patterns in distributed ecologies of sensation. In the scraps of time a new distribution of chance, information, and bodily sensation is taking shape. Of course, the social constructivist position is that every scrap is a representation within a grid of possibility. But we mean scraps like Phillip K. Dick meant the term kipple, something growing, amplifying, accreting. This scared and fascinated Dick, but Stengers and Prigogine show that this entropic theory of information privileges equilibrium. Kipple is a force of mutation in active information networks. For instance, Kazys Varnelis notes in “The meaning of network culture” (http://www.opendemocracy.net/kazys-varnelis/meaning-of-network-culture-1) that “Not all at once but rather slowly, in fits and starts, a new societal condition is emerging: network culture.”

As digital computing matures and meshes with increasingly mobile networking technology, society is also changing, undergoing a cultural shift. Just as modernism and postmodernism served as crucial heuristic devices in their day, studying network culture as a historical phenomenon allows us to better understand broader sociocultural trends and structures, to give duration and temporality to our own, ahistorical time. …Or take the way cell phones have changed our lives. When you first bought a mobile phone, were you aware of how profoundly it would alter your life? Soon, however, you found yourself abandoning the tedium of scheduling dinner plans with friends in advance, instead coordinating with them en route to a particular neighbourhood. Or if your friends or family moved away to university or a new career, you found that through a social networking site like Facebook and through the every-present telematic links of the mobile phone, you did not lose touch with them.

The end of tedium? An acceleration and change of direction in media flows, their revaluation, their technological innovation, their tendency toward critical thresholds of habituation. So that sense of change is a complex, ambivalent symptom (effect) of some nonlinear event occurring beneath. This is not an epiphenomenalism: the effect feeds back into creation of new events. This is why the act of creativity should be posed from the perspective of an ontology of becoming. These are effecting, still questions, like a Zen koan, that suddenly change the scale in which a question is posed, an intensification in thought, thinking as an event. In this sudden change we glimpse the movement of something much more compelling than identity or representation, we think the machinic phylum. This event in thought happens across the two notions of difference I have marked above: extensive and intensive. This discourse of network culture should not blind us to the intensive processes that give a unity-in-multiplicity (an effective multiplicity) to media assemblages. Intensive self-differentiation within ecologies of sensation is qualitative multiplicious and continuous difference, a unity-in-multiplicity as in a fold or a gesture. I don’t think Neilson and Rossiter make enough of this key distinction. Rossiter writes: “There is an urgent need for new institutional forms to address the uncertainties of labor and life within network societies and informational economies….The challenges of contemporary governance can be addressed through the creation of new institutional forms that are responsive to the logic of social technical networks and non-representative democratic processes” (Ned Rossiter, “Organized Networks, Transdisciplinarity and New Insitutional Forms,” Intelligent Agent vol. 06, no. 02).

What is the desire here? Is there an unacknowledged desire for precisely representation? Visibility? I suggest this because the critique of representation remains somewhat inchoate in their article. In the final analysis—that is in terms of its effects—there seems very little difference among translation, articulation, and an emergence into representation. And is consciousness ever not the norm is such frameworks? I sense another demand, How do the oppressed seize power? By forming connections that develop into organized networks of transversal subjects, and further reclaiming the commons, both digital and “real.” For Rossiter this also necessitates an acknowledgement and a pragmatic “working through” of the transformation of labor under new assemblages of affective capital. These desires are necessary today; pragmatic connectivity suggests a war of position that has already transformed how politics is practiced in many places in the world. There are many examples from India, the Phillipines, China, Korea, and Africa of mobile technology’s contagious capacities functioning as a vent to representational anger—anger at representatives of the state—through the circulation of sms jokes and slogans and video. But that is just the history of the mobile, its Untimely dimension emerges from these preconditions in order to become. This is also an active dimension, but one not reducible to language, identity, representation, or even justice. Through an anonymous will to power, the Untimely correlates functions, histories of switches, intensive gradients, and critical thresholds. It is tied to the mutually ramifying evolution of multiplicities that resonate with a new intensity. The Untimely in a given ecology of sensation is its cliché mutating, its potentiality for deterritorialization and reterritorialization is grasped through the durations that constitute a habit: waiting, pause, association, break, gestures seemingly autonomic, folding time into time, skin onto skin, acting through paradox, a diagram of becoming form/s, anaesthetized sense becoming syneasthetic. On the plane of potentiality information is actively involved in the quality of connectivity, texturing it, molding it, and in turn being textured, being molded repetitively to the point of a change in capacities. Intensive self-differentiation.

I would like to recall again the key elements of Deleuze’s critique of the dialectic.

Nietzsche’s work is directed against the dialectic for three reasons: it misinterprets sense because it does not know the nature of the forces which concretely appropriate phenomena; it misinterprets essence because it does not know the real element from which forces, their qualities and their relations derive; it misinterprets change and transformation because it is content to work with permutations of abstract and unreal terms. All these deficiencies have a single origin: ignorance of the question “which one?”…It is sufficient to ask “Which will is it?” in order to sense the essence of the dialectic. The discovery dear to the dialectic is the unhappy consciousness, the deepening, the re-solution and glorification of the unhappy consciousness and its resources. It is reactive forces that express themselves in opposition, the will to nothingness that expresses itself in the labour of the negative. The dialectic is the natural ideology of ressentiment and bad conscience. It is thought from the perspective of nihilism and from the standpoint of reactive forces. It is a fundamentally Christian way of thinking…(158-59)

This is also why for Deleuze the question of the political is an aesthetic question, not just in the sense of aesthetic value (and there is a profound critique of that as well), but more radically in terms of emergent capacities that give a power to mutation. Which one? This is the ontological question, it is the typological question to ask of media today, which connectivity? The answer, however, needs to go beyond the idea that a given connectivity is better than another. Rather, connectivities have a relative affinity vis a vis other connectivities; a plane of affinity, with differing degrees and dimensions of change. The mobile phone emerged from the machinic phylum, a kinetic, processual plane where affinities form resonances across habits, practices, functions, institutions, perception, language, ecologies. A statistically probable regime of regulation grids the machinic phylum, ordering it, producing blockages, modulations, control. Needless to say, the dialectic has a signifying potential that is limited, captured, and reduced through language and representation. Recall what Nietzsche says in “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”:

It is only by means of forgetfulness that man can ever reach the point of fancying himself to possess a “truth” of the grade just indicated. If he will not be satisfied with truth in the form of tautology, that is to say, if he will not be content with empty husks, then he will always exchange truths for illusions. What is a word? It is the copy in sound of a nerve stimulus. But the further inference from the nerve stimulus to a cause outside of us is already the result of a false and unjustifiable application of the principle of sufficient reason. … The “thing in itself” (which is precisely what the pure truth, apart from any of its consequences, would be) is likewise something quite incomprehensible to the creator of language and something not in the least worth striving for. This creator only designates the relations of things to men, and for expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors. To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor. The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one. One can imagine a man who is totally deaf and has never had a sensation of sound and music. Perhaps such a person will gaze with astonishment at Chladni’s sound figures; perhaps he will discover their causes in the vibrations of the string and will now swear that he must know what men mean by “sound.” It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things–metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities.

I recall these well-known critiques of language and the dialectic in order to suggest that the method of political analysis that emerges from this critique needs a revaluation in light of Rossiter’s work on organized networks. Below we pursue this critique further.

How do habits emerge? Which habits? Which emergence? I think I would aim to go from the habit to the capacity; which capacity is being affirmed in or blocked from what it can do by which kinds of forces, in what contexts, through the exercise of this habit? How is sensation mobilized and modulated? If habits emerge by a local and general shift in cathexis (an intensive investment in a repetition), a sudden redundancy of a function, and/or by the contagion of practice, sense, value, and image, then what habits allow for is an understanding of organized networks through (counter)actual social practices. I think it is fair to say the set of habits that are necessary for life—sensing, communicating or connecting one’s capacities for sensing (sensitivity, in Michel Serres’s sense) with various kinds of dynamic interfaces/thresholds (cf Katheryn Wright’s work on the screen as threshold)—are changing in a statistically significant way in India. The most obvious symptom of this broader emergence is the creative adoption of new business models by, for instance, unorganized rickshaw drivers in Bhopal. For these lower middle class, mixed caste men, the mobile phone gave them the means of more or less effective control of their business—potential passengers call them, and give their numbers to relatives and friends, family life is seemingly more closely coordinated with rickshaw patterns through the mobile, etc. Many moments of connectivity between spaces emerged; for the drivers communicating between home-space and street seemed to punctuate the day and shift their itinerary based on events happening in several sites at once. This network of connectivity has politics, but not one, it is a political multiplicity as much as an intensive one. The mobile has allowed a greater differentiation of time and space, and a qualitative new modulation of movement through the city. It is these “unorganized” sectors of the Indian socio-economic sphere that are emerging into a kind of recognized subaltern public sphere. There are both possibilities and dangers in this, but we should not confuse this emergence with the political as such.

Neilson and Rossiter write: “…not described in tourist guides and absent from policy and corporate narratives of entrepreneurial innovation and development, the domestic worker is a public with a discourse. For many Hong Kong residents their visibility is undesirable…” (62) What emerges here is a desire precisely to represent (describe, visibilize) the migrant worker. And of course there can be no public without a discourse. Why? What are affective publics? Resonant populations. Now what we would want to disentangle are, first, the two conceptions of difference embedded in this frame. As I suggested above dialectical and intensive difference are not opposed to each other, but rather differ in kind. What happens when intensive differences are translated or articulated into dialectical differences? Our method in media assemblage practice provides us with some ready answers: there is a tendency to take product over process (equation of the actual with the empirical); there is a tendency to spatialize durational processes into nodes of antagonism. Also, we would want to pursue the analysis of the migrant workers by noting the incommensurability in, precisely the different time scales of intensive self-differentiation of a minoritized group (forms of intimacy and pleasure, memory and dream, creativity and acculturation, work and leisure) and their emergence into public discursivity. The difference between intensive self-differentiation and public discursivity does not need translation: it needs an engineering diagram. Rossiter’s pragmatism can take us in another direction.

How to organize through movement (63), how to institute new forms of cooperation? That seems to be Rossiter and Nielson’s central concern. “The antagonisms that underlie the encounter with difference unleash a mode of exchange, asymmetrical as that frequently is, where one does not simply win or lose but almost always gains and loses something at the same time” (65). Such an exchange is the nexus of flows of bodily energy, emergent capacities, and other intensive forces. These forces are always at work, in play, oscillating stochastically.

Rossiter notes that “My proposal can be easily criticized for appropriating the outside – the experimental elements that so often energize networks on the frontline of invention – and closing it down again. This is the classic critique of appropriation. We see this most obviously in the fashion industries. Remember punk? If you wanted, you could pay 200 bucks for a pair of jeans with a rip in them. Hilariously, there was no shortage of idiots who went out and purchased their damaged goods. The same can be said about knowledge. What functions against the closure of minds and resources is the fact that educational business projects undertaken by a network of networks is predicated on principles of open source software, society and culture. (“Organized Networks, Transdisciplinarity and New Institutional Forms”, http://www.intelligentagent.com/archive/Vol6_No2_transvergence_rossiter.htm).

The differences between Rossiter and myself have to do with the object of analysis, the method, and the sense of critique. Rossiter’s thought is still within the dialectic of subaltern/elite. My sense of the evolution of force relations suggests a method that must not remain dialectical thought at all. My objects of analysis are the bodily conditions of specific habits, all of which are used as targets and instruments for and in affective capital. Habituation as intensive process of value creation entails an analysis of autonomic process molded and aggregated through the connectivity of the body with various machinic-media assemblages, an analysis that yields a kind of relief drawing of the object as it mutates in its own ecology of sensation. Clinamedia: swerving media. Capital, affective value production, accumulation, regulation, image branding—necessitate that we diagram as well processes of abstraction, the ressentiment of knowledge production, the reinvestment in processes of emergence, innovation, and the value of “cool.” Finally, the new sense of criticism that the crisis of representation has enabled brings into relief the value of value in contemporary criticism: from a piety toward the subaltern (movement) toward a creative diagramming of ecologies of sensation across culturally diverse, and historically sedimented media assemblages.

In this sense experimenting with the embedded nonlinear flows of media patterns is both an aesthetic and political project at once. I think Lily Shirvanee’s notion of social viscosity is a provocation to thought. She explains:

According to Newton’s theory, viscosity is the character of any flow with layers that move at different velocities; the ‘denser’ the fluid, the greater its resistance to opposing forces, and the more rapidly it becomes balanced. The term ‘social viscosities’, coined in this article, refers to the dynamic spaces of flow between people that emerge as collective activities begin to form in mobile social groups. Over the past decade, the emergence of greater numbers of people using mobile devices in urban cities has created a culture of mobile communities that begins to resemble some of what technology and cultural critic Kevin Kelly describes as the key characteristics of ‘swarm systems’. Some of the characteristics of swarm systems include the absence of imposed centralised control, along with autonomy and high connectivity among smaller groups and individuals. In human social groups, because ‘swarm systems’ have the ability to connect in transitory space, large-scale populations of people begin to exhibit a ‘collective intelligence’—where the actions of one has a greater impact and consequence on the whole. These dynamic social spaces are forming increasingly, as locative media become more commonplace in urban environments and thus bring about greater connectivity, spontaneous formations of collective activity and trends of movement.

The “same” technology is used otherwise in surveillance industries:

Welcome to Watch My GPS. We provide real time tracking of your GPS units. Wether in a car, boat or plane, keep track of your routes and where you have been. You can even let friends see your whereabouts, or even the world. Watch your GPS from any computer or internet connection in the world. Watch your kids as they are new drivers and make sure they don’t leave the area, or implant it on a cheating husband’s car and watch his whereabouts. The use of our GPS tracking system has endless usess. (http://www.watchmygps.com/content/watch-my-gps)

I am often asked that isn’t it ironic that new media scholars are writing for consciousness what is in fact a bodily process. But that is to miss the point about events of thought as well as the limits of representation. An event of thought is that which brings the force of the Untimely to bear on projects in the present, and one of those projects is the transformation of academic writing on media through an encounter with a body of which we know still quite little. Now without suggesting that I have done a survey of the entire field, what I would offer is that media studies is still by and large a representational project of ressentiment’s morality. What I mean by this is the problems associated with Platonic idealism (the static real vs. a sensational illusion), Hegelian dialecticism (linguistic and conceptual binarism), and Marxist epiphenomenalism (an instrumental materialism) are still very much a part of how media history and criticism is written. What we are suggesting by pursuing a thoroughgoing “ecology of sensation” framework is not a turn away from representation, but a rigorous analysis of the sense and vectors of force active in a media assemblage.
But you see then social viscosity cuts two ways. The viscosity of the social gives mobile media assemblages a certain dynamism, this dynamism is given a certain range by the capacities of the assemblage of human perception (always already in differing degrees cyborg) and mobile connectivity. But it is precisely the quality of this viscosity that biopolitical projects of maximizing the life of the population work on. As Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol, Jack Linchuan Qiu, Araba Sey put it in On Mobile Communication and Society, “…mobility can be subject to surveillance, first of all, by controlling the thing that moves, that is, the body (the person) or their transactions (the things the person does either as physical actions or as captured in data); and, secondly, by controlling the movement itself. With the surveillance of mobility there is potentially no hiding. All movements and flows are subject to scrutiny, captured, stored, manipulated, and used subsequently for various purposes” (120). Thus social viscosities and the media assemblages of which they are a part are also instruments and targets of what Gandy years ago termed the Panoptic Sort: searchable databases of clicks, profiles, financials, pleasures, work flows, and sundry other digital histories. One must go from the viscosity to the ecology, and from the ecology to its potential. Potential poses the question: “Which one?” Which will to power, which quasi-cause?
Which will is appropriating which forces in mobile phone cultures in India? What are the types of forces that one can discern in mobile phone cultures? What is driving this market? Many, many forces, not least of which is the market itself. Global circuits of finance, services, resources, and data. Terabytes per second analysis of data, its encoding and re-patterning taking on a force of its own, embedded in switches and circuits that have no strictly human center, and whose uses depend on the assemblage it is embedded in, on the assemblages it is open to, or connected to in terms of energy and adaptability, and data exchange and typology.

Let us end with an example provided by Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol, Jack Linchuan Qiu, Araba Sey from their work On Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective (these passages below are taken from their 2004 publication available on-line). They note that globally the mobile has refunctioned time, space, and activity in the “coordination of daily family activities.” The busier the activity of a subject the earlier the adoption of the mobile. Care-giving has become remote, they suggest (although one wonders how this cuts across heterosexual gender relations, and classed queer families). But clearly the mobile has facilitated a kind of distant-presence through which forms of “care” are transmitted. “This is valid both in the case of children and in the case of old-aged persons.” But they mistake intensity for a quantitative multiplicity when in fact it is by and large qualitative. They write: “In this sense, it should be interesting to have deeper information about how elderly people use the mobile telephone and, particularly, if there is any difference among countries in which the family solidarity is higher (for instance, Mediterranean ones) compared to those in which family ties are less intense.” There will always be differences across these national, sub-national, religious, linguistic, topographical, ecological, and media contexts. The question then is not greater or lesser forms of intensity, but the nature of the qualitative differences through which force acquires a sensation, through which capacities emerge, through which critical thresholds form birfucations in a field of force. This question can be pursued by following the patterns of use and interaction that pre-existed mobile technologies, and the emergence of new patterns in the new media assemblage.

In India, for instance, where out of a population of well over one billion 72% live in roughly 638,000 rural villages, and where for the past two years the agricultural sector has seen negative growth, the adoption of mobile telephony has taken on very different patterns. These patterns, both emergent and quite well-established, have become the target of various mobile ecology forces. A recent industry report (partly funded by service provider giant Vodafone) recommended that higher agricultural productivity necessitates an information-based, decision-making agricultural system, what the report terms “precision agriculture.”

“This is often described as the next great evolutionary step in agriculture. Precision agriculture, in turn, is heavily dependent on an efficient information dissemination system – GPS and mobile penetration of mobile phones and mobile-enabled information services in rural India can reduce information asymmetry and complement the role of extension services. In the context of India, the impact of mobiles as a mode of providing information for farming purposes would depend on how effectively the mobile network links farmers to market information. The impact on productivity can be measured in terms of increased returns –through changes in cropping pattern, yield increases and better price realisation (inputs and output) – to farmers. Non-price factors like information on the availability of inputs, seed quality, and adoption of modern techniques are also critical to raising productivity.” (1-2)

According to the study’s recommendations, the focus is on increased profitability for farmers: “Profitability would improve through a reduction in (i) transaction costs with respect to both inputs and output; (ii) information search costs by saving on time and (iii) travel cost. We expect farmers’ revenue to increase because of both increased access to information on prices and reduced wastage/spoilage, including that from crop infection. Better and timely decision-making on the optimal cropping pattern to be adopted and the use of better inputs, particularly improved seeds varieties, are expected to deliver better yields and profits. The key argument here is that that information received through mobile phones could play a complementary role to extension activities and would have a better impact than other one-way information sources (e.g. radio, television, newspapers etc.)” (2). More, “the
widespread use of mobile phones increased the efficiency of markets by decreasing
risk and uncertainty, although it noted that realising potential efficiencies depended on
easy access to capital” (3). (Surabhi Mittal, Sanjay Gandhi, Gaurav Tripathi, “Working Paper No. 246: Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones on Indian Agriculture” (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Feb. 2010), http://www.icrier.org/publication/WorkingPaper246.pdf )

What does this suggest both about rural patterns of mobile use and the way these patterns are being gridded by the mobile providers and value added services industry? First, there have been gradients of energy, resources, labor, matter and information that have been crucial to the organization of Indian agricultural production rooted as it is in weather patterns, soil composition, the politics of seeds, climate change, state policy, village institutions, and seasonal shifts; these gradients have been tightly correlated and re-engineered since India’s “green revolution” of the late-1960s. The present mobile “revolution” aims to make all these gradients searchable, active data-commodities that becoming available to workers, farmers, fisherman, and “futures” traders in need of relatively cheap, “timely” information. Precision agriculture: the mobile industry structuration of this field aims to extract value and produce value from the informatization of these gradients. Noting that in Ghana the adoption of mobile telephony by farmers and agricultural traders has helped them reduce both their transportation and transaction costs, the authors suggest a positive correlation between rates of adoption and increased efficiency and cost savings (4).

Castells et al make a similar point that suggests an emerging capacity between mobile temporality and the force of traffic in urban areas.

An important part of coordination is related to travelling that members of a family habitually do. These journeys can be made by car, public transportation or even by foot, and include diverse activities that, for instance, could be to go to the supermarket or to pick up the children from school and drive them to any out-of-school activity. A study demonstrated that, in this sense, the mobile telephony is not significantly changing the number of trips a person makes, but allows the redirection of journeys that have already begun” (67). These redirections change the experiential nature of travel. This is an example of an intensification in social viscosity that does not primarily reference the trackable nature of the mobile trail as data, but rather shifts emphasis to the nature of the mobile trail self-organizing around geographical, logistical nodes and through patterns of traffic. The mobile ecology has become sensitive to flows of human and vehicular traffic; and this shift in its structure of sensation lead to other kinds of “adjustments.” “These kinds of adjustments, which mobile telephony has made habitual, belong to the Microcoordination category: ‘Micro-coordination is the nuanced management of social interactions. [It] can be seen in the redirection of trips that have already started, it can be seen in the iterative agreement as to where and when can meet friends, and it can be seen, for example, in the ability to call ahead when we are late to an appointment’” (67).

Noting that the key difference between computer Internet and mobile phone communication is, while high-intensity users of the PC Internet tend to spend less time with friends and families, heavy users of the mobile Internet are actually more active in interpersonal communications and socializing. Mobile phone users are also found to have high disclosure of their subjective self because mobile subscribers tend to use the technology for close interpersonal relationship. (from Castells et al’s book 92). This is one reason the mobile phone in India is an affine object of a very high order: not only does it have connectivity through broadband but also through bodily discipline and pleasure that is itself involved in other but proximate media assemblages. There are technologies that mute bodily dis-equilibrium (impossible to cancel its effects to zero), that reduce noise by immobility—even the laptop is like this…will it be true of the iPad? Regardless, the wiiPhone ecology will mutate through its affinities, its relations of motion, not toward greater justice but toward different affects.
A final interlocutor: But you have dodged the question, haven’t you? You have not addressed the fundamental question: what do you want in your criticism? Can you say that you don’t want justice? That you want an unjust world controlled by the panoptic sort? Could it be that you want in some sense injustice?
I have privileged in these pages the figure of a subaltern pirate of information flows. A subject in clinamedia, swerving, folding, resonating, creating, laughing, subverting. The question of radical democracy within network societies should move us beyond the representational understanding of justice as a recognition of an essentially rights bearing subject. Becomings are not just or unjust, but they do shift values irreversibly.

  1. John says:

    Hi Amit,

    Can’t say I understood everything, but surely very uplifting reading about philosophies, of which I am just a ring-side observer.



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