Monthly Archives: April 2014
I enjoy visualizing things. I really do. One thing I definitely do more of after taking this course is visualizing in new ways. When I visualized in the past, it tended to be with paper and pencil, and an attempt to draw things in that visceral way. In the heat of an excited epiphany, I still tend to reach for paper/pencil, either to jot or to draw. Old habits die hard, and, well, these tools are ubiquitous, cheap, and don’t require batteries or cords.
But I find my life and learning transitioning ever more to the digital realm. I also am doing more natively digital, vs. using a paper-based process and then transliterating it to the digital. Google Drive is now a regular part of my thought process, and I see benefits to parking my thinking in Popplets as well. Being forced to continue in a visual media, and to revamp and revisualize thinking over time using Popplet has forced me to think about how ALL the things might fit together, rather than as a series of blog posts or reading notes. Being forced to reconceptualize it in a non-linear way, too, is a good exercise for extending critical thinking and making connections. I had already done that a few weeks before we were assigned to do so, as that method began to make more sense to me in terms of finding places of consonance and dissonance. Thus, my last few MindMap posts and updates have been on this new format, organized around the questions we were using with our Case Studies, modified slightly to create some über-nodes, Castells-style.
It is also nice to have a record of my developing thought processes over the course of the semester. I see how at first I was using the tool as a kind of note-taking place, adding quotes surrounded by the particular authors. This makes sense as a start since I didn’t have a lot to connect the ideas to. This approach quickly became unwieldy, both due to the size of Popplet boxes and it kept me within each text, even though I could draw lines between authors. What frustrated me a bit was that I couldn’t demonstrate the TYPE of connection with the lines. I enjoyed the Theory Tree better because we could have some basis of describing influence: citations, publication dates. That made me think that a network and a visualization have this in common: both need a basis and protocols to define the parameters for what is being connected, why, and how. There must be an “according to” that regulates what gets included and how it is placed. Otherwise, it can resemble stream-of-consciousness or a scatter-plot that doesn’t converge. I felt my original mind-map was becoming that way: mere boxes and lines without a structure. Although I recognize this now as a more organic or rhizomatic growth structure, it was not conducive for constructing meaning (beyond the meaning that connections could be made anywhere).
I am struck by the notions that several of our authors made (help me out here: Foucault, Biesecker, Latour, D&G, I believe), that one MUST construct meaning, one must impose subjectivity, one must recognize the imperfectness of any map or graph or use of language to describe or capture or “see” or “mean”, but one must use these tools nonetheless. Otherwise, we have no individual agency or means to construct, resist, narrate, make sense, or in a Cartesian sense, to exist. Earlier in the semester I was playing with Cogito Ergo Sum and variants earlier in the semester. Loquor ergo sum (I speak, therefore I am) might be useful for rhetorical theory, the idea that the act of discourse is not only epistemological and ontological, but also existential. Scribo ergo sum (I write, therefore I am) is useful in terms of rhet/comp and genres. The creation of text, of artifacts, of boundary objects and actants, creates and constructs reality. Bazerman, Miller, Hall, Popham, Johnson-Eilola, Joyce, Spinuzzi, and possibly (I have not decided yet) Rickert would agree. But the one I was really thinking about for the 21st century information society is Intersum ergo sum, I am involved/participate, therefore I am. It seems to me that nothing is made, understood, or exists except in relation to another (which has been a theme in our reading all semester). I am my own network. We are the network. The network is us. Reticulum est nobis. A mesh. A weave. We are the weavers and the wearers. We are we.
In many ways, this week’s readings have me shouting, “Preach!” from the amen choir seat, and punching the air with exclamations of agreement and “where have you been all semester?” I find echoes of my previous reading notes in Hall and Rickert. Places where I pushed back at previous theorists regarding translation of the message and the importance of the situational factors in communication. Marginalia where I called Bitzer and Vatz out on over-simplification and where I wrote about actors not playing prescribed roles in a network or agents taking up their given niche in an ecosystem. I wrote about the GAPS that had to be crossed, and how this was imperfect. And I wrote about how rhetors become complicit in the motives of the entity on whose behalf they are speaking. NO message is without motivation for action; communication is not merely to express, but to urge people to do. What you want them to do is always bound up in what is beneficial for the speaker or entity s/he speaks for. I have struggled with not being complicit with the Althusserian model of educational institutions as Ideological State Apparatuses, and instead embrace Deweyian and Freirean liberatory pedagogies to push back at this tendency to limit, enforce, and comply. So this week’s combination of Althusser, Hall and Rickert has me feeling validated in some of my seemingly cynical and jaded musings, derived in part from my own radical sensibilities and experience as one who designed/s communications (while I am no longer a corporate communicator producing professional/technical writing per se, as an academic and as a teacher I still produce and design communications — lectures, graphic organizers, syllabi, articles, presentations, prompts, etc.).
Stop repressing me! I never gave consent! Oh, but by participating in society, you did. You certainly did. Monty Python gets Althusser and Marx quite well:
Althusser’s MAIN IDEA: Ideology, not economic forces (Marx) is the ultimate power in a capitalistic society. Ideology creates subjects who submit to the state and the status quo. The state is a “machine” that represses through violence and ideology, maintaining the dominance of the ruling class. Ideology creates subjects through interpellation. Recognizing you as an individual identifies you as part of the repressive system; co-opts your identity and subjectivity. Ideology exists as a materiality.
Althusser says that “you and I are always already subjects, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects.” ← in other words, we seek reminders of our own existence and ways to be recognized (like in The Odyssey); ← how does this relate to larp? when we roleplay; participate for this as a player? Althusser says this act of recognition as a self, as having subjectivity, then is co-opted and constructs you as a ‘subject’ as in subjected to the ideology, to the state to the system; CLAIMING to be outside ideology only demonstrates that one is within it (“you’re drinking what they’re selling” — Cake) → claiming to objective demonstrates one’s subjectivity (and thus complicity with ideology whereby a privileged fiction of ‘scientific method’ or objectivity is dominant)
- “an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material.” ← ideology is not intangible; it has form; this form is not merely a representation, but enacts power ← consider artifacts, consider traces
How does this relate to networks? I’m thinking about being part of the network, and how Castells says that you become elided with it; your identity is bound up in it. And how once you are recognized on it, then you are now serving it. Thinking of Facebook and Twitter and Google and all the other “service for profile” companies that exploit your activity and use it to market. Or the crowdsourcing that co-opts your labor. Or the “prosumer” idea, where you both produce and consume (yourself). Or the Selfie movement, whereby you are given a way to be interpellated, and this binds you to the system.
Indeed, it certainly relates to Hall’s “Encoding, Decoding” (1980). During says in the editor’s introduction to the chapter that Hall notes that “messages have a ‘complex structure of dominance’ because at each stage they are ‘imprinted’ by institutional power-relations” and the communication circuit is also a circuit which reproduces a pattern of domination” (477). Thus ideologies are created via discourse, with a preferred or dominant or privileged method of interpreting that seems naturalized to those receiving the information, thus reinforcing the dominant ways of knowing, being, doing. Hall posits that discourse is message exchange that is a process of linked articulations in five distinct moments: production, circulation, distribution, consumption, reproduction (478). At any one of these moments, as the message crosses the border from one articulation to the next, there is the opportunity for miscommunication or misinterpretation. At these gaps, the message is decoded, transformed, mediated or interpellated, and what was encoded is not guaranteed to be decoded. As meaning crosses these gaps (synaptic spaces, I say), there is opportunity for intervention from an outside (or internalized) force that causes the encoded meaning to be changed or transmuted. Receivers of the information need the receptors to accept a particular message (to continue lightly with the neuronal network metaphor), and if they cannot accept the code or the meaning, then the message goes into the void or the receptors are filled with something else, which mimics the original message but changes the meaning.
Hall hearkens back to Johnson-Eilola and his maps, noting that the representation of the product is not the product itself, what is consumed is the idea or the language about the product; this is already mitigated through the rules of the symbolic in language. Hall also debunks the notion that what is produced is free from rhetorical choices (have to say that was a “duh” moment for me, having made such rhetorical choices as a media relations/corporate communications professional). To be fair, he acknowledges that is shared fiction of objectivity that is a result of the institutions having been naturalized in our thought or an unexamined portion of the communication circuit. Hall was channeling Althusser when he says that “natural recognitions” have the “ideological effect of concealing the practices of coding which are present” (481) noting that this sense of seamlessness or transparency is simply the “fundamental alignment and reciprocity — an achieved equivalence — between the encoding and decoding sides of an exchange of meanings” (481). Indeed when this alignment happens, the message simply “feels right” or “seems true” or “fits”. It activates something other than logic; a sense of intuitiveness that itself is constructed. It allows for Truthiness:
Slight aside: Hall speaks of the linguistic sign for cow, and the iconic sign for cow and how they are referents for the thing they represent. My mind went to the time when I was in Japan and came to a restaurant and was trying to decipher the kanji to determine what sort of restaurant. (I thought of kanji because the Chinese radical system is more pictorial than phonetic). The first symbol, according to my dictionary, was “flaming” or “on fire”. The second symbol was “cow.” It took me an interpretive moment to realize that “flaming cow” meant it was a barbecue restaurant, of the Japanese or Korean style, with strips of beef cooked on a central grill on your table (not teppanyaki). There were multiple moments where meaning could get lost in this transaction, but I successfully decoded the intended meaning that had been coded, and I took action by eating at the restaurant.
Rickert’s concept of rhetoric as taking place within an environment that affects the what/when/who/how/why of what is said is a breath of fresh air. AND has huge implications for my theoretical work with larps.
Althusser, L. (1969). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm
Castells, M. (2010). The Rise of the Network Society (Second Edition., Vols. 1-3, Vol. 1). Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hall, S. (1993). Encoding, Decoding. In S. During (Ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (3rd ed., pp. 477–487). London; New York: Routledge.
Rickert, T. (2013). Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being (1 edition.). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
- Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?
- Ecosystems/Ecologies (Bateson, Spellman, Gibson, Norman)— Looking at larp as a system that is organic, makes more sense to me than as an organization (such as what activity system theory would allow). Larps are, by design, interactive, with individuals being given a particular role within the system to enact. Ecosystems allows me to look at the relationships between the nodes in the network, and to look at how the environment affords and constrains gameplay and fun for the members.
- Three Ecologies / Ecosophy — Guattari — Guattari looks at layers of ecologies combining to create a rich reality that operates on the physical, mental, and social levels. Looking at the larp as a multi-layered system allows me to explore the dual-consciousness of player-character, the interiority of the game experience through personal diegesis, and the interactivity within the limitations of physical bodies in physical spaces (which have both diegetic and non-diegetic meanings, contexts and affordances.
- Role playing as diegetic construction of worlds — Montola → this Finnish larp theorist discusses how the individual interacts with the environment and his/her individual perspective constitutes the reality of what the “game” is. I can use this to show how perception influences what the affordances and constraints of an environment are, and how this can differ from designed affordances by the GM; also how this duality of player and character, who may have different abilities yet coexist int he same body.
- Three Aspects of Larp — Stenros → the mapping of pre-, during- and post- play for larp as creating an ecosystem (and recognizing that larp is more than the playtime; the playtime is afforded by the pre-work and meaning is made of it from the post-work)
- Possible: Castells: His concept of the elision of self into the network, timeless time, and the space of places and space of flows will allow me to look at the particular continguity of a larp that takes place in a particular physical reality (brute world) and in a network of imagined personal diegeses (“the game world”).
- Possible: rhetorical situation, Bitzer/Vatz: in that larps are spoken, they are enacted primarily through discourse and resultant action. They are in response to a rhetorical situation. The exigence may be from in the game (diegetic) or outside the game (non-diegetic) or both.
- Possible: Rainie Wellerman and networked individualism, which can demonstrate how the larp ecosystem provides benefits for the players (non-diegetic) by affording opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, personal interaction and EMPATHY.
- How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?
- Ecosystems theory allows me to look at how the larp works as a system, that co-creates, using living and non-living things. It also allows me to look at the individual nature of the role played
- Guattari allows me to bring in multiple layers of a larp into simultaneous ecosystems; layers of play between a brute and diegetic ecosystem.
- Rainie, Wellerman let me talk about benefits of such a networked system (both for play and for the player) and get at the individual within the system
- Castells lets me talk about how the network of the larp moves in and out of the spaces and flows, with power changing hands and new networks forming as capital (in or out of game) is exchanged; this can help get at perceived affordances and constraints (vs. designed ones)
- How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?
- I see myself as a social-constructivist and larp helps me explain the co-creation of worlds, narrative, composition, behavior, and as a microcosm of society that can be more safely explored in terms of its norms, roles and boundaries.
- I am a writer and a teacher, and believe English studies affords a means to know oneself and find one’s place and power in the world through narrative, alternative points of view, control of language and expression of thoughts and feelings.
- Pedagogically, understanding larp design and experience allows one to design for experiential learning, especially learning to create empathy. In many ways a teacher in a flattened classroom that fosters learner-to-learner interaction functions as a GM in a larp, with the bulk of the work done “pre-larp/lesson” then monitoring the instance of play/learning, then debriefing from it. A larp and a lesson are both designed to achieve goals. I will not focus on “gamification” or levels or points as motivational tools; instead I will focus on game design (with both content and affective goals) as lesson design. The power and information exchanges of larps allow players and GMs to alternate between “guide-on-the-side” and a “sage-on-the-stage” roles, which is more indicative of the microcosm of a classroom and the macrocosm of society, rather than a false binary of one or the other.
- How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?
- I came to this project because of my belief that larp offers something beneficial for both individuals and society → a way to help us understand:
- The roles we play everyday
- The norms we uphold, consciously or unconsciously
- The beliefs we have about ourselves
- The relationships we form, rules we follow, power we express and give
- By creating the safespace of the larp, we can be freed from our mundane world and explore other points of view (but we carry those beliefs and physical limitations with us) (individual level)
- Larps are interactive and require people to collaborate → this is a pedagogical lesson important for democratic society
- Rhetorically, larps are sites of cultural production and fuse elements of composition, performativity, and play — all of which are areas of English Studies.
- Larps are embodied and culturally situated, and thus are a site of analysis of norms related to play, story, gender, mores, etc. while bringing the body back into the reality of experience (rather than attempting to transcend it through a digital avatar).
- I came to this project because of my belief that larp offers something beneficial for both individuals and society → a way to help us understand:
- Explain larp as an ecosystem
- Introduce Stenros’s three aspects; map larp to pre-, during, post → how that functions as ecosystem
- Introduce Montola
- Benefits of looking at larp this way
This week’s Mindmap gets double duty because I neglected to map Castells the previous week. I have colored Castells red in the same way as I colored Post-Modernism/Foucault. I see Castells as theorizing the same kind 0f global über-theory as Foucault, even if they aren’t saying the same things. Both are attempting to theorize “the way things are” and how we, as societies and individuals making them up, think, do, and interact.
In adding Castells, I was able to see how his system of networks within networks, and all networks not being made equally, could jive with ecosystems theory of systems within systems, and constraints due to access and protocol. I was also able to see the tension between an idealistic flattened hierarchy and the hierarchies of power that exist — not all nodes or networks are created equal. Furthermore, these constantly change, depending on needs, which can be based on capital: financial or human.
I added Social Media theory (Rainie, Wellman, Scott) as an orange set, the same color as CHAT and activity theory. I grouped them together as both are setting up and mapping traces and what users actually DO in a system. I see connections between Spinnuzi’s user modifications and movement away from designer-as-hero, and the activity by users of social media and how they determine by their actions the shape of the network. The users themselves create the design through their activity system. Every piece of content on the web is an “action potential” (another connection I made to neurobiology in looking at the Popplet) that is actualized through user activity. It is then inscribed and becomes the preferred neuro-pathway via repetition, sharing, and being valued.
I put D&G as the same color as ecosystems, since their rhizome concept is organic and based on interconnectedness.
I am discovering that some of the questions around which I based this Popplet Redux (which are the questions for the Case Studies) are really related to each other and causing me to converge on some similar answers. So I plan to reorganize the map to consolidate or at least bring those similar nodes into closer contact with each other. That’s for next week!
Ah. Deleuze and Guattari. The undoers. Undoing theory trees and dichotomous binaries everyone. Tearing apart psychoanalysis, parental hegemony, and enlightenment ethos. Laughing in the face of neatly mapped neuronal networks. Scoffing at the idea of traces as containing anything more than a fleeting moment, tracing instead anything but “meaning”. What do they offer instead? The “bible of the American dentist”, Amsterdam, a fetish with canals, in-betweens, constant change, the Kerouackian elusive search for “it”, a disdain for copses and groves of all sorts, and a predilection for “grass” and “weed”, traveling rhizomatically all across this land. Here are our intrepid superheroes, opening minds and freeing us from binary fallacies and obfuscating certainties everywhere:
Rather than a neat, western Enlightenment flow chart of activity, D-Money and G-Spot offer an “acentered system” in which “communication runs from any neighbor to any another, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment — such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency” (17). Put that in your Organizational Management pipe and smoke it! Such a “machinic multiplicity, assemblage, or society rejects any centralizing or unifying automaton as an “asocial intrusion” (17), so take your hegemonic patriarchy with you when you leave this mythical place where it doesn’t exist. Dolce & Gabbana go on to quickly remind us that such an egalitarian ethos is certainly not Western and definitively not American, in love as we are with our phalluses, trees, and generals (a “schema of aborescence corresponding to preestablished, arborified, and rooted classes” 19). However, our intrepid theorists remind us quickly that despite such codified systems of hierarchy, bureaucracy and centralized control, even in America a rhizomatic structure exists as an undercurrent, flowing underground …. which, gets transformed and appropriated and taken up by the system to create a neocapitalism which … brings us to an impasse. Uh-oh. If we have set up a binary between roots and rhizomes, then we have joined the arborescent structures we purport to dismiss. Shoot. Time for an interlude by The Talking Heads (they get it, man)
See. Life happens. Not like how you planned. And the water flows underground. Same as it ever was. Same as it will be.
Now, it’s time for a quiz! Which of the following is Catholic-Buddhist, East-West spanning Jack Kerouac, and which is D&G?:
“When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you cant understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.”
“The problem of writing: in order to designate something exactly, anexact expressions are utterly unavoidable. … Arrive at the magic formula we all seek — PLURALISM=MONISM — via all the dualism that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging” (21).
A. “This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is.”
B. “there is no dualism, no ontological dualism between here and there, no axiological dualism between good and bad, no blend or American synthesis. There are knots of arborescence in rhizomes, and rhizomatic offshoots in roots” (20).
Shoot. Yes. Offshoot. Go with it. First thought, best thought. It’s jazz. Play it and the notes become zen, baby. Blow, man, blow! Follow it to your solo. I can dig it. You’re a hepcat, man.
Beyond the abstraction that is Deleuze & Guattari, Scott demonstrates how one can concretely and mathematically map such rhizomatic growth which epitomizes modern social networking. By flattening the hierarchical structures, as Latour, Castells, and Deleuze & Guattari note in various ways, there are no longer single structures, or even a “root” for a binary decision tree. Networking becomes more about multiple entry and exit points, a system of redundancy, and a way of anticipating user behavior, while simultaneously recognizing (and expecting) a variety of “user modifications” that augment or thwart these expectations. I think what I like about Scott is that he recognizes that the patterns do not exist in some sort of pure form waiting to be discovered and then “understood” or replicated. This is what bothered me about activity theory and CHAT. It seemed to thwart the post-modern notion of the absence of an underlying “truth” and instead search for it, Bitzer-like. If it didn’t exist, they would create it through the flow chart of “ideal” behavior, and assume it could be replicated or made even better through the intervention of rhetor-designer. I chafed against this notion for several reasons: 1. because I’m not sure such a convergent solution is either real or even desired and 2. because I am cynical about the profiteering and exploitation that can be achieved through “optimization” and homogenization. I believe strongly in equifinality: more than one way to get to the solution. I think this is why I never applied activity theory to larping, as I found the fundamental idea of trying to map a constantly changing system to be difficult, if not ludicrous.
Scott’s methods do not assume an underlying “optimal” network shape or user behavior. They recognize, as do D&G, that these networks grow rhizomatically, and loop back on themselves, moving in fits and starts, with periods of growth and dormancy, with nubs that took off in one direction then abruptly stopped, only to start again in a tenuous new direction. The resultant map is not a pure demonstration of what could/should be done, when done “right” or “well” or “efficiently”, but simply what was done. It recognizes that the map itself is a past representation, and limits what generalizations can be done from looking at it. Playing with Scott reminded me of playing with the logic problems from the old GRE and LSAT, which used to occupy me for hours (and still do, sometimes, especially as a teacher). It’s looking at areas of congregation and areas where there are gaps, which to social media marketers translates to customers: where they are, and where there is potential for new ones. What I love about the SM analysis is that it doesn’t assume that the way it is today (or more accurately, the way it was yesterday, as you are always mapping what is in the past, not what is the present), is the way it will continue to be. While digital games and computer code and network theory seek to create a closed system, real life works with constant disruptions which are not necessarily aberrations or “noise” to be diminished or destroyed. These places of convergence and divergence are popularity and innovation, and they cannot be predicted (only seen in the past). Once seen, you can design for a repeat of that behavior, but there is no guarantee that the inputs will match the outputs. In fact, they likely won’t, given the fickleness of human behavior, and the propensity, driven, I think by the internet itself, to undermine patterns for the sake of distraction, irony, or a recognition of having been co-opted, and actively resisting.
Rainie and Wellman discuss the benefits of being a networked individual, freeing us from the claustrophobia of nuclear families and the constrictions of tight-knit social groups (much like Castells discusses being freed from the contiguity of space). The rise of social networking, the internet’s ability to empower individuals, and the continual connectivity of mobile devices has brought about this networked society.
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., & more, & 0. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) (1 edition.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
Scott, J. (2012). Social Network Analysis (Third Edition edition.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Note: This case study is building towards a larger theory, as proposed in my Topic Proposal Redux. In that theory, I will use Guattari, Gibson, Bateson, Norman, and other theorists related to the affordances and constraints of an ecosystem and ecologies. I will also bring in multiple levels of play (as written, as played, as remembered) and the types of play displayed by various members of the ecosystem (Forge Theory, Edwards, Bøckman). I will relate that to the larp as a rhetorical situation with multiple rhetors (who are simultaneously the audience) and to the movement between diegetic and non-diegetic worlds (a system within a system) as expressed by Montola and others. The graphic below is a chart that delineates some of the connections I am making among the various theories. Though this is too complex to entertain in the short space of 2,500 words here, I am giving a taste of what is to come. In this space, I will discuss how I arrived at the idea of larp as an ecosystem, discuss how it behaves as one as well as how its phases correspond to Guattari’s ecologies. I will also discuss a pedagogical tool that can be used as a theoretical lens to analyze the designed affordances and constraints of a given larp. I will not yet discuss the tension between these designed or inherent affordances and constraints and those perceived by the players or characters – that will be developed in the final theory.
Finnish larp theorist Jaako Stenros delineates what he calls three “aspects” of larp in his Aesthetics of Action conference presentation. He lists the “framework” as designed by the larpwrights as the first or primary aspect, consisting of background material, the sketch of the roles and their social network, game mechanics, and sometimes character outlines. The second aspect is the larp runtime, during which the larp’s first level is turned over to the influence of the players, who create the experience. Stenros notes that this larp aspect is ephemeral and dynamic: “the players can run away with it” and “it is lost the moment the larp [allotted gametime] ends.” His third aspect is the larp “as remembered, interpreted, and documented” during which the players come together to share their individual experiences of the larp as played, and to co-create a kind of communal meaning of the experience. Markus Montola (2009) notes that larps use the principle of equifinality, or multiple paths to the same end state. This agreed-upon end state is co-constructed during the third aspect of larp, which follows the actual game. However, as Stenros reiterates, this is not to be considered a finite resolution that is simply decided upon once and codified. Rather, “as the piece [the particular instantiation of a larp] is debated later, discussed and critiqued, its meaning continues to shift” (Aesthetics).
I will summarize Stenros’s three aspects as 1. Larp As Written; 2. Larp As Played and 3. Larp As Remembered or Narrated, noting that the three levels take place before, during, and after the runtime of a particular iteration or instantiation of a larp. Stenros goes on to discuss the activity of the three aspects as framing, building/enriching and negotiating. The table below summarizes these simultaneous concepts:
|Phase or Aspect||Timeframe||Primary Activity|
|As written||Prior to game-play||Framing|
|As played||During game-play||Building, enriching, interpreting|
|As remembered||After game-play||Negotiating and narrativizing|
Here is a brainstorm of the activity that takes place pre-larp, during-larp, and post-larp:
These three phases of larp seem to create an ecosystem of larp, where any given larp is an interactive system moving within and between these three aspects — as the network or system is created, enacted, and dissolved. Ecosystems are ways to explain things that are dynamic, in a state of flux, and whose outcomes/outputs cannot be fully predicted mechanically or even computationally or logarithmically. An ecosystem is concerned with movement, distribution, exchange, and transformation enacted by invested, adaptable members who together co-create the system through production and consumption in relationship with one another.
Ecologies are fundamentally dynamic networks in that they exist only in the relationships, in the movement among the nodes, which operates according to protocols unique to each member, but translated into a working, mutually beneficial partnership. Of course, a larp is a constructed ecosystem, a world made by intelligent design – at least the geometry and geography or framework of it, as discussed above. In a larp, people are portraying roles within the constructed game-space ecosystem that is nested inside the outer ecosystem of the mundane world. This system is an ecosystem because it is dynamic, teeming, and alive, with each player occupying a particular niche and behaving according to his/her own perceptions and interpreting his/her own diegesis. Indeed, as Stenros notes, “Role-play is pretend play with a social context and shared rules” (Aesthetics, emphasis added).
In an ecosystem, every entity has a role, according to his/her affordances and constraints, in order to keep the system moving toward its goal of homeostasis, during which an individual population or an entire ecosystem regulates itself against negative factors and maintains an overall stable condition (Spellman 20). Spellman identifies roles into two categories: living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) (15). He further divides the abiotic components into three categories: inorganic substances, organic compounds, and climate regime. I will return to these three levels as depicted in a larp later, when I discuss artifacts and The Mixing Desk. Defining an ecosystem as “a cyclic mechanism in which biotic and abiotic materials are constantly exchanged”, Spellman delineates levels of production and consumption of these materials (15-16). I have added this column to my larp grid below to demonstrate how these roles and levels of production/consumption fit into the ecosystem of a larp:
|Level or Aspect||Timeframe||Primary Activity||Ecosystem Role|
|As written||Prior to game-play||Framing||Primary producer|
|As played||During game-play||Building, enrichingInterpreting||Primary Consumer|
|As remembered||After game-play||Negotiating and narrativizing||Secondary consumer &Decomposer|
We can then add the actual larp roles:
|Level or Aspect||Timeframe||Primary Activity||Ecosystem Role||Larp role|
|As written||Prior to game-play||Framing||Primary producer||GameMaster/ Larpwright|
|As played||During game-play||Building, enrichingInterpreting||Primary Consumer||Individual players|
|As remembered||After game-play||Negotiating and narrativizing||Secondary consumer &Decomposer||Community of playersGameMaster/ Larpwright|
So the larp ecosystem continuous cycle would look like this, with the green level being before a larp runtime begins, the blue level being during larp runtime, and the red and orange being post-larp runtime:
Indeed, both players in a larp and members of an ecosystem appear to continually assess its affordances and constraints, with their own survival and needs as paramount. A player-character in a larp also functions this way, following a path and plan in the game ecosystem that is based on two types of survival/needs assessment: in-game and out-of-game. In game elements: skills, relationships, goals, revealed secrets, mechanics are designed by the GameMasters or co-created against constraints given by GMs, the genre, or the world of the game. Out-of-game elements may refer to the player’s preferred play style, as a Gamist, Dramatist, or Immersionist, to use Bøckman’s “Three-Way Model” (2003). This dominant play style for each player helps determine the approach they take to the ecosystem, and how they perceive their niche within it. Dramatists, called Narrativists in Edwards’ Forge Theory Model (2001) are concerned with in-game action and plot, with the primary goal to create a satisfying story (Bøckman 14; Edwards Ch. 2). Dramatists perceive the game as affording opportunities for a cohesive and believable narrative, and choose to use or conserve resources with that goal in mind. Gamists are problem-solvers who use strategy to advance their in-game (and, often, out-of-game) social or material capital. Their goal is to survive and thrive, and will make calculations about resources in the game (or mundane) ecosystem(s) to ensure their own longevity and comfort (Bøckman, Edwards). Lastly, Immersionists (known as Simulationists in Edwards’ model) want to be fully engaged in the game ecosystem without any bleed from the outside mundane ecosystem that constructed it. As Bøckman explains, “a fully immersionist player will not fudge rules to save its role’s neck or the plot” (13). If the character is meant to, must, or otherwise cannot avoid harm in the constraints of the game’s ecosystem, an Immersionist will allow that to happen and focus on fulfilling that given role.
So, we may further break down the ecosystem roles into the three role-playing models of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist as three types of protocols governing the design and play of the larp in the three phases of writing, playing, and remembering. It is important to remember that these are neither static nor fixed roles: a player may be predominantly Gamist but also enjoy a good story, or may consciously seek an Immersionist experience but become more Gamist when a character’s survival is threatened. These typologies are also not necessarily fully inclusive; some theorists suggest a fourth level: the social. Under that paradigm, I would agree that the larp ecosystem itself is the social level, providing the space of enactment for players and Gamemasters to interact and enact their fluid play styles. This notion of role perception, which is how I see this theory as being valuable, is both a design element and a play element. A good GM should design games with elements of all three types of interaction with the game: an ecosystem that affords activity and enjoyment for all members.
The three play models of Gamist, Dramatist/Narrativist, and Immersionist/ Simulationist cannot be easily added to the matrix we have been building. They exist within each of the ecologies, not strictly within a single phase or role. Players make choices both during the game and in the post-game debrief that are based on their preferences, but, I am arguing, more on their perceptions. These include perceptions of their role, themselves, the Gamemaster, other players, other characters, their abilities, their character skills, the physical environment, the game environment, their likelihood of success, their energy level, gametime remaining, and a host of other ecological factors – both in the ecosystem of the game and the larger mundane ecosystem surrounding and influencing it. GMs design games with more of one interaction than another, and steer characters and game development toward that preferred end during a game. In short, both GMs and players design, steer, and enact role-playing games based on the affordances they perceive at a given moment in time, what Syverson refers to as a spatio-temporal reality.
J.J. Gibson (1977, 1979) introduced the concept of affordances, which he defined as “an action possibility available in the environment to an individual” (127). According to Gibson, these “actionable properties” are objectively measurable, independent of an individual’s ability to recognize them. To Gibson an affordance exists in relationship with an individual; it is intended to offer an action to another; however, the affordance exists regardless of whether any actor perceives it.
Gibson puts forward the Law of Ambient Optic Array as a theory of optics that attempts to demonstrate what and how individuals see in a given environment. He notes that perception is determined by the individual from information accessed in the environment and then assessed in terms of its possibilities and usefulness to create the aforementioned affordances. Gibson notes the importance of the position of the observer to what is perceived, since “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). This idea of the personal position of experience in an ecosystem is hugely important in larp. As Stenros reminds us, when role-playing, “You will only see what your character sees. You will only be able to witness those parts of the larp where your character is present, where you, bodily, are present. You are the lens or the camera through which you see the work unfold around you” (Aesthetics).
As an individual player, you create an individual perception and experience of the larp; the game exists for you, in your mind, in relation to the environment. Montola (2003) states that, “every participant constructs he or her diegesis when playing” and “the crucial process of role-playing [is] the interaction of these diegeses” (83). This takes place in the second phase of larp, or larp as played, as well as, to a lesser extent, in the third phase of larp, larp as remembered. A single player’s diegesis is their view of the world, which they interpret as a series of affordances and constraints based on abiotic and biotic factors from the diegetic and non-diegetic world, such as (but not limited to) character sheets, skills, experience, knowledge of plot, knowledge of game world, information from other players/characters, etc. In Actor-Network Theory, this information would be the connected nodes flowing into an actor; here, these are affordances of an ecosystem perceived and interpreted by agents who make decisions based on this information, within the constraints of the physical or brute world and the in-game world. In larp, as a constructed ecosystem, this relationship between agent and his/her environment is complicated, because the character/player exists in a layered double consciousness and simultaneity, even though s/he intends to interact in the diegetic world via immersion and will attempt to make decisions based primarily on that environment. As Stenros points out, “[l]arp is embodied participatory drama. As a participant, you are experiencing the events as a character, but also shape the drama as it unfolds as a player (Aesthetics). However, as Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014) note, a player/character will often “steer,” or use information and impetus from the non-diegetic world with the purpose of affecting the diegetic world for individual or community goals. Gibson noted this duality of position as he remarked about the law of ambient optic array, whereby “the observer himself, his body considered as part of the environment, is revealed at some fixed points of observation and concealed at the remaining points” (Gibson 136). There are times in an ecosystem, and certainly in a role-playing game, when the individual is aware of him or herself. In the case of a larp, I propose, these are moments where immersion breaks, and a player makes an in-game decision based on out-of-game knowledge or preferences, the definition of “steering” put forth by Montola, Saitta and Stenros (2014).
According to ecologies theorists, ecosystems can be measured in terms of their abundances and their efficiencies, what resources are plentiful and how they are distributed, used, and used up within the system. These are the kinds of settings that are engineered, or designed, in a constructed ecosystem, such as a larp. Don Norman (1988) revised Gibson’s idea of affordance to create the concept of “perceived affordances” which amount to what a user/actor believes to be possible (or not possible), and are independent of the real affordances an object or environment may have. Thus, for a Gibsonian affordance to be actualized or enacted, it is dependent on the individual actor’s ability to both perceive it and his or her capability to use it. Norman cares about perceived affordances because that is what the designer has control over in terms of a user’s experience. And designing, interpreting, and analyzing a larp’s affordances and constraints is where we now turn.
As we attempt to determine what a larp affords, and what makes a good larp, I will turn to a recent development out of the Nordic community, “The Mixing Desk of Larp” (2012), which uses the analogy of the audio-visual technician creating a live experience to create a series of “sliders” or “faders” that can be manipulated to produce a desired type of play. The Mixing Desk is a visualization of the inputs that go into an ecosystem to determine outputs, and it helps to describe the protocols and territories in play in a particular game ecosystem. One of the primary creators of the system, Martin Andresen said, The Mixing Desk “allows us to visualize the opportunities in larp design” and functions to “make larpwriters/designers aware of their default positions” (Andresen).
While primarily developed as a tool to help take something complicated, such as larp theory and design, and turn it into a pedagogical aid that visualizes important concepts and organizes around a simple metaphor in order to help inexperienced larpers and larpwrights to design playable games, The Mixing Desk of Larp is an excellent tool to use to analyze the affordances and constraints of a particular larp, both as it is written and as it is played. The faders each represent a design element of the larp, or a construction of the relationship between players, players and GM, the outputs of the game. The faders are the INPUTS and the game is the OUTPUT, at least on the first level of being written. The first level “Larp as Written” is the wireframe that becomes the larp. Using The Mixing Desk of Larp to consciously construct the first level of larp: “As written” is an excellent way to afford “The Larp”, which is “as played”, the level of interaction within the ecosystem created using the faders on the mixing desk (controlling the inputs into the system). However, as the larp is played, a Gamemaster, or in some cases, a player or group of players, can change the levels of the mixing desk dynamically during play, either as a result of individual or collective action that required intervention by the GM to keep the levels at their desired positions, or as a result of “steering” or conscious behavior that uses non-diegetic knowledge to affect the dramatic experience and/or outcome of the larp as played. The Mixing Desk of larp can be used as a Mobius strip to continually test and tweak the desired inputs and outputs of the larp to achieve homeostasis – the desired characteristic of the ecosystem.
Where this is going (undeveloped thoughts, not part of the “complete” Case Study #3)
(I’m including this in case you wish to offer feedback re: the direction and conclusions)
- More about the mixing desk and the affordances listed there
- These are notes and quotes re: relationship of player/character to environment
- Perceived vs. designed affordances
- Outcome of play phases 2 and 3
- Relationship of self to world — dual world consciousness
- Steering & Metagaming
What happens when, as Bateson outlines in his chapter “Form, Substance, and Difference,” we see ourselves as separate and above the natural world– “If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables” (468)?
Steering – Metagaming: But, what happens when a species consciously decides to adapt the environment to its own desires rather than adapting to the environment?
“We may have modified, as put by Gibson, our surroundings in order to escape from this cycle by making “more available what benefits [us] and less pressing what injures [us]” (130).
Fictional world as an ecosystem (within a larger non-diegetic ecosystem)
The way one interacts with the ecosystem depends on one’s perspective
- single player diegesis, yes, but also how one perceives one’s ability to interact and make change within the ecosystem; what one’s role is; whether one sees self as part of something bigger (diegetic or non-diegetic, as in a community experience, a game that has responsibility for the fun and custody of self AND of others)
- if consider self PART of the game or ABOVE the game; Montola would say that no one has an uber-view of the game, not even gamemaster. This is true. But some players act as if they have a greater knowledge or calling or purpose OR do not care about communal but engineer to “win” — God-Trick
- “Play to lose” in a sense, means to allow oneself to more fully embed in the diegetic world
Abiotic Items in the ecosystem
Affordance – is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through “the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but it “must be measured relative to the animal” as it is what the environment “offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127).
Objects (attached and detached) can also offer animals (humans included) affordances, but what they offer is often “extremely various;” “detached objects must be comparable in size to the animal under consideration if they are to afford behavior. But those that are comparable afford an astonishing variety of behaviors, especially to animals with hands. Objects can be manufactured and manipulated” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 133).
Cybernetic Epistemology – “The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system” (Bateson 467).
Guattari defines three ecologies: the environment (or nature), social relations and human subjectivity (mental) and posits that they make up an ecosophy, or an interconnected network. Only by looking at all three, can we have any effect on the environment proper or enact a holistic methodology (24).
So we may add a fifth column, corresponding to Guattari’s layers or ecologies that together make up an ecosophy:
|Level or Aspect||Timeframe||Primary Activity||Ecosystem Role||Ecology (Ecosophy layer)|
|As written||Prior to game-play||Framing||Primary producer||Physical|
|As played||During game-play||Building, enrichingInterpreting||Primary Consumer||Mental|
|As remembered||After game-play||Negotiating and narrativizing||Secondary consumer||Social|
Andresen, Martin Eckhoff. The Mixing Desk of Larp – Martin Eckhoff Andresen. Knutpunkt: Nordic Larp Talks, 2013. Film.
Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind: Collected Essays In Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, And Epistemology. Northvale, N.J.: Aronson, 1987. Print.
Bøckman, Petter. “The Three Way Model.” As Larp Grows Up. Knutpunkt, 2003. 12–16. Print.
Edwards, Ron. “GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory.” The Forge: The Internet Home for Independent Role-Playing Games. Adept Press, Oct. 2001. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
Gibson, James Jerome. “The Theory of Affordances.” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Psychology Press, 1986. Print.
Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.
Montola, Markus, Eleanor Saitta, and Jaakko Stenros. “Steering for Fun and Profit.” Knutpunkt 2014. http://dymaxion.org/talks/KP14-Steering-Final.pdf
Montola, Markus. “Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses.” As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Ed. Morten Gade, Line Thorup, and Mikkel Sander. Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03, 2003. 82–89. Print.
Montola, Markus. “The Invisible Rules of Role-Playing: The Social Framework of Role-Playing Process.” International Journal of Role-Playing 1.1 (2009): 22–36. Print.
Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” jnd.org. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
Spellman, Frank. R. Ecology for Non-ecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 2008. Print.
Stenros, Jaako. “Aesthetics of Action.” Jaakko Stenros: researcher, player, writer. 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
“The Mixing Desk of Larp.” Nordic Larp Wiki. N. p., 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Don’t read Manuel Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society if you’re looking for either a light read or a feel-good tome. You’ll leave with a sense of foreboding and outrage and wonderment at how he can identify such global turbulence and selfish decision-making and yet no policymaker seems to listen. I’m left wondering why he isn’t a Chief Advisor to the President, or the head of the Federal Reserve, or in some position where he can lay out the inter-relations of the various short-sighted decisions and help those with political blinders on see the big picture.
It was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of networking, of how it serves neoliberal late capitalist goals, of how it is a tool to connect those with power and amplify their power, and, by the same means, disconnect, disempower and disenfranchise those who are programmed with the wrong protocol or lack the means to connect. Rather than one, happy, flattened, connected world of unprecedented opportunity and a lack of traditional hierarchy, Castells exposes an inequality of networks within networks: networks of places and networks of flows; networks of implementation and network of decision-making and innovation; cultural networks and information networks; as well as “landscapes of despair” (xxxvi), a term coined by Dear and Wolch, to indicate areas and people outside of the places of networked value creation.
Castells points out the economies of synergy, where “potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction” (xxxvii) are what is most important in the global real-time network. Largely a recreation of the “Good Ole Boy Network” of the past, these face-to-face encounters are where the strategic plans are developed, plans are made, decisions cast, and communication systems created. What emerges from these synergistic economies are the “economies of scale” and “networks of implementation” — areas which are transformed by the “information and communication technologies” into “global assembly lines” (xxxvii). In other words, it’s still a matter of of a manufacturing economy, but the factory is a virtual one, assembled from around the world, and controlled by the panopticon of the overseer: the networked computer. As Castells points out, this virtual board room/corporate headquarters vs. branch offices and “worker bees” is merely an extension of the old model, but one, by virtue of the global connectedness that outstrips any national laws or regulations, that wields ever more power and controls both the means of production and the livelihood of the world’s workers. Indeed, though, all is not well for those who would control the network, because, as Castells points out, though we attempt to tame the technological forces unleashed by our own ingenuity, we struggle against “our collective submission to the automaton that escaped the control of its creators” (xliii).
Information technologies have replaced work that can be “encoded in a programmable sequence” and enhanced work that requires a human brain: “analysis, decision and reprogramming” in real time (258). These two main types of work can be further broken down into a hierarchy of value, innovation, task execution, and production, completed by the corresponding stratified workers:
- Commanders: strategic decision-making and planning
- Researchers: innovations in products and process
- Designers: adaptation, targeting of innovation
- Integrators: managing the relationships between the decision, innovation, design, and execution to achieve stated goals [this is where the communication function of an organization lies, I think]
- Operators: execution of tasks according to initiative and understanding
- Operated: execution of ancillary, preprogrammed tasks that are not automated. (259)
Furthermore, Castells delineates three fundamental groups within the networked system:
- Networkers: who set up connections
- Networked: who are part of the network but have no say about their position there
- Switched-off: not connected; perform specific tasks; one-way instructions; little to no input (260)
And at the top level of the organization, Castells creates a typology of the decision-making progress:
- Deciders: make the decision; final and ultimate call
- Participants: give input; are involved in decision-making
- Executants — implement decisions (but do not have say in what decision was made) (260)
These various groups become nodes in nested networks, not a flattened system, but a tree network (a tree of enunciative formation, I would argue, channeling Foucault) with a clear root and a clear structure of branching with gatekeepers at critical points. What flows across this network? Information. Information which must be communicated. Thus, the entire network is a rhetorical situation.
Castells states that “infrastructure of communication develops because there is something to communicate” (xxxvii). He calls it a “functional need” that calls into existence the infrastructure. Bitzer and Vatz would refer to this as an exigence, something that drives discourse. Networks of communication, which disseminate information according to the role one plays in the organization (see above) are dynamically created among the variable pathways that may exists. In some cases, a specific pathway or communication channel is used; in other cases, multiple channels; in still other cases, new channels and media may need to be created. The level of detail, causality, and interactivity within that communication is determined by the place on the network. Some information flows all the way through to the very end of the pathway; other information is stopped by a gatekeeper who determines “need to know” as programmed by the deciders, executors and integrators. In each case, the audience is taken into consideration, and though Castells does not directly look at this communications infrastructure as a rhetorical situation, he does talk about media as the mode of a global society.
Castells points out that the acceleration of time and exploitation made possible by the global network has annihilated our concept of time, and indeed our very humanity, causing us to live in the “ever-present world of our avatars” (xliii). We have lost a sense of past grounding and future obligation, living along the bandwidth as flickering images moving from place to place, doing the work of the machine that keeps us imprisoned. Simultaneously, we will rhetorically position ourselves as having found freedom from the constraints of our bodies and our physical limitations, not realizing that our cybernetic existence is one of less agency and greater self — and world — destruction. Castells calls this the “bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (3). We are simultaneously created and destroyed by our interactions in the information age, which made me think about Spinuzzi’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in an organization.
I also channeled Spinuzzi with Castells’ three dimensions to define the new division of labor:
- First Dimension: actual tasks in a given work process. Also called Value-Making.
- Second dimension: Relationship between an organization and its environment, including other organizations. Also called Relation-Making.
- Third Dimension: Relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network. Also called Decision-Making. (259)
These seem to correspond in interesting ways to Spinuzzi’s Microscopic, Mesoscopic, and Macroscopic levels of activity. Interestingly, I think, Spinuzzi’s levels seem to make sense in the way a telephoto lens works: focus closely on the workers’ tasks (microscopic), zoom out to the mesoscopic to look at relationships between workers and workers within a system or network or the organization; zoom out further to the macroscopic level of strategy and organization within an industry. However, Castells puts what would be Spinuzzi’s macroscopic level as his Second Dimension, and what would be Spinuzzi’s mesoscopic level as the third dimension. I’m wondering then, if these are to be seen in the same sort of stratified or wide-shot, mid-shot, close-shot way as Spinuzzi. It suggests that the OUTSIDE influence — the organization within the larger world — is an intermediary between the actual work done and the decisions made about that work. The paradigm of internal vs. external communications, as well as the flow from worker to organization to economy is disrupted, with more importance and relevance given to the competitive, connected, global environment rather than the immediate supervisor. Decisions made internally are connected through the external world. The model would look more like the managers and employees sending information up to the cell towers and satellites and then back down to the production line, informed by outside perspective, which is subsumed somehow into the organization.
I’d like to complicate Castells’ view with two articles in the past two weeks that seem to challenge the prevailing opinion of a globalized society, asserting instead a return to hyper-localization and regionalization. I am wondering, since Castell’s theory in this book is now 15 or more years old, if the pendulum is swinging the other way, toward a renewed sense of group affiliation and identity (which may or may not be connected to a modern constructed idea of a “nation-state”). Robert D. Kaplan, in his Time Magazine March 31, 2014 cover story “Old World Order: How geopolitics fuel endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st century” reminds us that although “the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water” (32). He goes on to show the instability of nation-states and the importance of actual physical spaces and resources to the world’s geopolitics and economy. While this seems to support Castells’ notions of space as well as flow, the concentration of resources and talent in particular cosmopolitan mega-nodes, it also underscores the importance of tribal, local, regional and national cultural pride and identity that cannot be merely summed up in the trade of ideas and the flow of goods across a global production system. What Kaplan continues to point out is that according to privileged Western philosophers, politicians, policymakers, and businesspeople (Kaplan calls them the “global elite”), “this isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like” (32). We were supposed to post-physical space, post-geography, post-political power grabs for physical resources. We were supposed to be an information economy and a global production system operating on trade among stable entities. Recent changes in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring remind us that what the mind can extrapolate and theorize often does not take into account visceral and physical loyalties that may operate beyond reason and individual or communal prosperity.
A week later, Rana Foroohar, in “Globalization in Reverse: What the global trade slowdown means for growth in the US — and abroad”, posits that many economists and trade experts are talking about “a new era of deglobalization, during which countries turn inward” (28). If this trend continues, then “markets, which had more or less converged for the past 30 years, will start diverging along national and sectoral lines” (28). While Castells discussed the convergence of the markets, there appears to be a counter movement, according to some, that would dismantle that synergy and supposed “free movement of goods, people and money across borders” (28). Personally, I do not believe that this means the end of the network society, only that the configuration of the network will change again, with a movement to more unique protocols for individual networks, attempting to communicate with a global mega-network. Rather than considering there to be a unified global economy or a “world-wide web”, there may indeed be more of a multiverse model, with pockets of independent development that coexist, and pathways must be set up to port between them.
Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Vol. 1. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. 3 vols. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.
Foroohar, Rana. “Globalization in Reverse | TIME.” TIME.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
Kaplan, Robert D. “Geopolitics and the New World Order | TIME.” TIME.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
Decision Tree. http://www.slidegeeks.com/pics/dgm/l/d/decision_tree_network_diagram_powerpoint_templates_1.jpg
Welcome to the Dark Side. http://crazyhyena.com/imagebank/g/5736914_700b.jpg
This week I added more gray boxes to signify information related to neurobiology. They are gray, as are the ecosystems boxes from last week, partly because I am out of colors in the Popplet scheme, and partly because I rationalized that the biological stuff could go together. Certainly one is a macro view and one is a micro view, but from the lens of considering each a network, their relationships among constituent parts makes some sense.
I discovered that my main theme for the week seemed to converge around the inability to transform a message as it is relayed through the neuronal network. It moves along without the message itself changing (although the strength and intensity of the signal can be altered via hormones and neurotransmitters). HOWEVER, the movement of the message itself, makes changes in the brain, in the network. It may inscribe a new pathway or make a former one stronger. So it is change but without agency; a kind of transformation that occurs despite conscious awareness or intention. I had thought about mediators (ANT) as being transformative as a result of an intention to create change — at least by someone. But in looking at this neurobiological system, it seems there can be change that happens merely in the course of the doing, not according to some plan, or exigence. I have more to mull there.
There were many things that struck me as I read through the Neurobiology textbook and related the physical and electrical structures and impulses of the brain to our other readings on computer networking, ecosystems, and the rhetorical situation. Most importantly, unlike a computer system, the brain is constantly adjusting according to a symbiotic feedback loop between the organism and its environment. It is far more complex than a computer system that uses binary logic to make decisions between inputs. In the brain, whose model is no longer thought of as a computer network or system of file drawers, the neuro-plasticity lasts a lifetime, and the experiences of the organism have a real physical impact on the network of neurons, which in turn governs memory, learning, thought, and systems. The movement of electrical impulses — action potentials — through the network physically changes the cell structures. The transmission itself actualizes the potential and creates the capacity for future transmission.
I was immediately struck by the language used by the researchers that mimics communication and rhetoric: neurons communicate constantly, they can listen and speak at the same time. In the computer networking materials I read at the beginning of the semester, this dual capacity was spoken of as something that evolved in networking: originally the cabling only allowed for taking turns — a node had to listen and receive before it could speak — but the development of fiber-optic cabling allowed for parallel pathways of outgoing and incoming information, what was described as listening and speaking. But the brain is different, and here I’m thinking of Latour’s concept of intermediary vs. mediator. In a computer network, the information is relayed without change, although it could be amplified by a particular node to have a larger reach. In the brain, the information is transformative as it moves along the network of neurons. In a computer network, packets of information are bundled and labeled for a particular recipient that takes a predetermined action. In the brain, the neurotransmitters mediate between the pre-synaptic and post-synaptic terminals, effecting change as a result of their interaction. This change is not merely for the current transmission, but it creates the possibility for future transmissions, strengthening and building a pattern. In this sense the movement itself creates the pathways, inscribing the network. The brain controls behavior and behavior makes the brain. They are in a co-creative loop that sets up the potentials for the next scenario encountered.
The relationship between the regulation of potassium and sodium drives the movement of these electrical impulses, which were termed “action potential” down the neuron. I began to wonder if my 9 p.m. salt cravings have to do with sustaining mental energy and concentration. Then I ate a big bowl of popcorn and figured I should get a banana.
As the scientists discussed the brain as being a link between the outside world and regulated internal behavior, I started thinking about the brain as a boundary object. I also started thinking about it as an ecosystem on the forage- eat- poop loop. The brain takes in information, processes it, then makes outputs. It is its own system, within the system of the body, in constant interface with external systems. I became consumed with the thought of the brain as a rhetor, and the action inside the brain as mimicking the movement in a rhetorical situation. The pre-synaptic terminals as the rhetor, the audience as the post-synaptic terminals, and the discourse or message traveling across the synapse via a medium — a selected and appropriate neurotransmitter. The magic happens in the exchange, where, based on the intensity of the message, the receptors can be “keyed up” or stimulated in such a way that they repeat or escalate the message, depending on how it is interpreted. One neuron firing — one instance of discourse — can cause a single other neuron to fire or thousands of them.
As the chapter discussed the movement of the electrical impulses along the Sheaths of Myelin covering the neurons, jumping tiny gaps called the Nodes of Ranvier, I was envisioning a Rider of Rohan galloping along, the ground lighting up under the horse’s feet, jumping the ravines (synapses) to continue to relay the message. (Must have been the word “Ranvier” that put me into the fantasy realm of Dagohir or Isengard).
There is fruit to this notion of an impulse being an “action potential” in the network, and to the idea of vescicles holding a variety of (genre) neurotransmitters, waiting for a particular exigence that would allow them to be deployed. There is also fruit to the idea that the post-synaptic receptors are predisposed to accept particular neurotransmitters, but that this can be altered by changing the strength and type of the action potential signal. The imbalance of sodium and potassium creates “membrane potential” which cannot reach stasis — an inside/outside imbalance is necessary for the communication to take place. These ideas bring me back to discussions about the rhetorical situation, which is predicated on tension and creating an opening to receive the message.
I have not gotten as far as I should have in the Castells reading. It is fascinating! Castells notion of simultaneous communication networks that are more than mere “horizontal” and “vertical” but a convergence of autonomous content creation that he terms “mass self-communication” (xxx) is amazing. This jives with the notion of the brain creating and reinforcing the pathways and potentialities. Castells says that communication (discourse?) is “self-generated in content, self-directed in emission, and self-selected in reception” (xxx) and distributed in a many-t0-many multimodal model. So individuals are the creators and they create the collective perception and reality that is a conglomerate of individual perceptions and affected by the messages they come in contact with. The question is, how do people come together as communities? How do they find commonality among their individual experiences and interpretations? Is there a way for the network to unite the fragmented post-modern society?
Annenberg Learner. “Unit 10: Neurobiology.” Rediscovering Biology. 2014. Web. 31 March 2014.
Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Vol. 1. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. 3 vols. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.
Minion Loves Bananas: http://minionslovebananas.com/galleries-images-wallpapers/
Rohan Rider: http://www.onrpg.com/articles/news/lotro-unveils-riders-of-rohan-expansion-details/