Social Networks / Issue Networks
Net-work is Format Work: The Issue-Network as a Site of Politics and the Challenge of Making Info-Technology Part of Civil Society by Noortje Marres
This draft memo shifts our attention from social and information networks - finding friends and sharing knowledge - to issue networks, and the role they play in civil society. The author argues that "making acquaintances and spreading the word" may not be the best way to understand and engage the politics of civil society - and the role of technology in these networks.
In other words, the framing - defining, labeling and translating - of issues is central to political action. In issue-networks, people are connected by virtue of the issues at hand. (This is not unlike the principle behind meetup.com - that strangers will come together because of shared interests.) Furthermore, in issue-networks, the stakes are framed collectively. But issue-networks also, of course, modulate people's political positions and practices.
Sounds good so far, but what does this have to do with information technologies? The author states that social networks (and their associated knowledge networks) are seen to be the arena in which global civil society and information technologies come together. However, the author argues that the informality and amorphousness of these networks makes it difficult to account for, and engage with, the formal (centralised and institutional) aspects of politics. In other words, people may be playing on different - and sometimes incompatible - fields. (Clay Shirky began to hint at this when he questioned the role of social software in the Dean campaign.)
However, this is not to say that politics do not require social and information networking; clearly there is much interconnection. The author simply argues that issue-networks provide a broader perspective on the politics of civil society - as well as a useful means for understanding the role of information technologies in these politics.
Again, the difference at hand is that social- and information- networks are seen to act in alignment with, or parallel to, information technologies. Issue-networks, on the other hand, involve more of a mangle, or an intertwining with info-tech.
The strength of this approach is that it allows us to re-evaluate the role of technology in politics. How do particular technologies enable or disable the framing of issues? How are people allowed to intervene in these discussions? In these ways, technology cannot be considered either utopian or distopian - and, perhaps more importantly, it can never be understood as neutral or separate from political action. In my opinion, until we answer these questions - and design around them - we don't stand much of a chance of making the world a better place with communication technologies.
The Govcom.org Foundation in Amsterdam is conceived as a project to map debates on the Web on important social issues.
The Issue Crawler software locates 'Issue Networks' on the Web. An Issue Network is a set of inter-linked organizations dealing with the same issue. An Issue Network is located through 'co-link analysis' of issue-oriented web pages, one method used in network analysis, applied here to the Web.
Issuenetwork.org | Describing the types of networks we seek and analyse
Infoid.org | The Web Issue Index of Civil Society
Why Map? The Techno-epistemological outlook by Richard Rogers
Preferred placement: Knowledge politics on the web edited by Richard Rogers