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Visualising assemblage

I've been hesitating for a long about putting this up. But I hope that someone will give me some feedback on it, and it may help those who - like me - spend a lot of time trying to work out what exactly an assemblage is.

The most comprehensive definition that I found is in A thousand plateaus:
On a first, horizontal, axis an assemblage comprises two segments, one of content, the other of expression. On the one hand it is a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another; on the other hand it is a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies. Then on a vertical axis, the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away. (Deleuze & Guattari 2004: 97-8)

deleuze guattari assemblage diagram visualisation
The two segments on the horizontal axis are in "reciprocal presupposition" (Bogard 2009: 16) - they exist because of each other, but neither causes the other. On top, the territorialisation seeks to define boundaries and stabilise the assemblage. The arrows leading out from the bottom are the lines of flight, cutting through the assemblage and engendering new ones.

Manuel DeLanda also discusses assemblage extensively in New Philosophy of Society, noting in particular the "relations of exteriority" - i.e. that the constitutive components are discrete and linked in contingently causal relations that do not imply 'logical necessity' (2006: 10) - and that an assemblage only becomes one (as opposed to a collective of interconnected components) when there are emergent properties that affect the constitutive parts (ibid.: 38). He adds a third axis "defining processes in which specialized expressive media intervene" (ibid.: 19), but I haven't included that above.

In terms of methodological insights, it is worth considering the original French word that has been translated into ‘assemblage’: agencement is a word that designates something that is put together with a particular goal in mind, a desire to construct something which has an order to it (see also Palmas 2007: 1-2). An assemblage, as apprehended by the analyst, can only ever be partially understood and - because it is traced back from its effects - the danger is to see telos in its apparent direction. One should not however assign teleological essence to something that has already moved on.

For example: Rain is not bound to finish in the ocean, and rivers have no purpose - nonetheless, there is a clear causal pattern that results in a riverbed that carries rainwater to the ocean. The river territorialises the land it flows through, enabling the growth of plants, supporting fauna, and so on. The river is an assemblage of earth, water, fish, gravity and more, and its operation is rhizomatic - it is never the same, and may overflow its banks or change direction at any given moment in response to movements of deterritorialisation or lines of flight engendered by, for example, an earthquake; or human pollution.

A blog is an assemblage too. This blog, as you see it, has been put together by me, and suggested by the affordances coded into it by a collective of programmers. I created it and I can delete it, but it also escapes me: there are copies in archives online, and it operates autonomously - displaying itself to you right now, with components recording the time you stay on this page, which website you linked here from (if any), what browser you're using, etc. It offers you the possibility to comment below, but recently I also have to delete multiple spam comments daily - both your comments and the spam are 'lines of flight', they are deterritorialising movements that reduce my own terrtorialising influence.

Anyway, I would much appreciate any comments on the visualisation above. Or anything else. Thanks :-)


References
BOGARD, W. 2009. "Deleuze and Machines: A Politics of Technology?" In: Deleuze and New Technology (eds) D. Savat & M. Poster, 15-31. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
DELANDA, M. 2006. "New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity". London & New York: Continuum.
DELEUZE, G. & F. GUATTARI 2004. "A thousand plateaus?: capitalism and schizophrenia" (trans B. Massumi). London: Continuum.
PALMAS, K. 2007. "Deleuze and DeLanda: A new ontology, a new political economy?" presented at the Economic Sociology Seminar Series, Department of Sociology, LSE, 29 January (available on-line: http://khup.com/download/32_keyword-callon-the-laws-of-the-market/two-versions-of-assemblage.pdf, accessed 22 November 2010).

Advertorials and "The constitutional guarantees of the modern"

This is an experiment at exploring the intersection of the advertorial and authenticity as an example of modern ontology as outlined by Latour. It's rather theoretical and academic (i.e. quite dense :-|), but I found that there seemed to be a parallel between the way in which Latour described the co-construction of nature and science, and the discourse of authenticity vs. 'commercial' blogging. I would love to hear any feedback from anyone out there who likes to use Latour.

"First guarantee: even though we construct Nature, Nature is as if we did not construct it." (Latour 1993, p.32)


The authentic blog, is seen as something natural - the blogger just has to ‘Be him(her)self’, and the rest flows. The advertorial, on the other hand, is patently not an authentic product.

This apparent contradiction can be resolved in two ways. First, advertorials are accepted as a logical desire to benefit from the work put into the blog, and to refuse money that is on offer would be seen as illogical. The blogger, by doing an advertorial, is obeying - in a sense - the 'way of the world'. It is a necessary evil, a social contract, that limits the freedom of the blogger for an appreciable benefit. Second, the skill of constructing an 'authentic' advertorial is recognised and appreciated – and the inherent authenticity reinstated.

"Second guarantee: even though we do not construct Society, Society is as if we did construct it." (ibid.)


The clients in all instances insist on vetting the final advertorial; in some instances there has been an inability to come to terms, but in general, the clients get what they want. Sometimes they ask that the advertorial not be disclosed as such. From my interviews, it is also clear that most bloggers have come to rely on the extra income, and also to feel obligated in some measure to their agent; thus, most admit that they will avoid being negative - i.e. if they have nothing good to say, they avoid saying something bad also.

"Third guarantee: Nature and Society must remain absolutely distinct: the work of purification must remain absolutely distinct from the work of mediation." (ibid.)


"Purification" is the creation of "two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of nonhumans on the other." (ibid., pp.10-11). The purification is maintained and effected by the reassertion of the right of the blogger to do what she wants, and the right of the reader to read what he wants. In this way, either can point to the other as the 'agent of contamination', if need be. The mediation, or translation, is the assertion of authenticity performed either textually by the blogger, or by the reader returning to read the blog and, perhaps, leaving comments or linking from their own blog.

Latour, B., 1993. We have never been modern, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Social Network Analysis of the Social Media Club - Kuala Lumpur

SMCKL is a group that meets occasionally to explore matters relevant to social media and industry. The most recent one was about social media monitoring tools, and featured three presentations by comScore, Brandtology and JamiQ. They were interesting, but I was surprised that nobody was talking about social network analysis - so I thought I'd do a little demonstration here.

There was much tweeting going on before and after the evening, which was also an occasion for people to meet and network. Using NodeXL, I gathered all the tweets with the hashtag #smckl: in all there were 71 tweeters, and 757 'edges' (i.e. links in the form of 'Followed' relationships, 'Mentions', or 'Replies to'). The following examples only take into account the Followed relationship - i.e. I am only showing a link between tweeters when one follows the other.

A question for social media monitoring has to be: how influential is any particular tweeter? Here I'll look at two ways of visualising that.

Followers
A common measure is how many followers a tweeter has.
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

In these images, the size of the profile picture is proportionate to the number of followers - the bigger the profile picture, the more followers. Also, the more central the tweeter is, the more ties s/he has with the other tweeters. The person in the middle is the most embedded in the network - with the most ties to other people, directly or indirectly; on the other hand, as you can see, there are some really on the edge - with only a couple of lines attached them to the denser cluster in the middle. They are outliers, less likely to be influential within this group.

The first picture was very dense, so I have filtered out all tweeters with less than 500 followers
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

and with less than 1000 followers.
nodexl social network analysis sna visualisation twitter social media malaysia

Again, a pattern emerges of a denser cluster in the middle with a few outliers. What this suggests is that most people at the SMCKL evening already know each other. But not all: I said above that outliers are less likely to be influential within that group - it's important to note here that the person with the most followers (@victorliew) is an 'outlier'. This suggests that he could be an important 'bridge' for this group to connect to another group. The question would be - who is he? And why are so many people following him?
Continue reading "Social Network Analysis of the Social Media Club - Kuala Lumpur"

How can 10,000 unique visitors mean an audience of 100?

A distinct advantage of internet advertising is the ability to accurately measure the audience (through page views), and to know precisely how many people took an interest in the ad by clicking on it. 'Click fraud' (simulating different people by repeated clicking) is detected by automated software, and 'unique visitors' (based on the IP addresses) deals with the problem of the same person refreshing a page in order to simulate a different person.

This is how Google has made billions of dollars, so it must be pretty reliable overall.

However, how can 10,000 unique visitors equal an audience of 100? To answer this, we have to consider the network within which the ad is displayed. For this example, let's imagine a random blog advertising network - called 'BlogAdNet': BlogAdNet works by registering thousands of blogs, all of whom allocate space on their blog for advertisements to be automatically displayed as and when BlogAdNet wants to. They then go to potential clients and say, for example, 'Our network of blogs receives 10,000 unique visitors a day'; but this does not necessarily mean 10,000 different people. Imagine a very dense network of 100 bloggers, all of whom visit each other's blog every day - each blogger reads 99 other blogs every day. 99 x 100 = 9,900. So, the 10,000 unique visitors could in fact be 100 people, plus one other person (imagine BlogAdNet doing regular monitoring) visiting all the blogs.

I've used NodeXL (a useful social network analysis (SNA) tool that integrates with Excel), to think about a few examples that demonstrate how SNA can give more insight into the behavioural aspects of blog readers. Represnted in an SNA graph, the dense network of 100 readers would look like this (except that I've scaled it down to ten users to be easier to see):
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

Everyone is connected to everyone else, and nobody is more 'influential' than others.

However, this would be very unusual. Most networks are clustered - using the above ten blogs, I've chosen A, B and C as the 'top bloggers': everyone visits them, and they always visit each other (but don't visit the other). DEF always visit ABC, and each other. GHI are a similarly clustered sub-group. And J, who is visited by nobody (aww) always visits ABC (like everyone else), and also D, F, G and I.

Now, the same network, based on the same calculations, looks like this:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

The size of the nodes are based on the 'in-degree' - i.e. the number of incoming visitors. So A, B and C are the biggest, and J the smallest.

You can also calculate 'Betweenness'. In a network, it's not only the direct connections that matter - someone 'between' you and another person may be relaying your thoughts, or enhancing your reputation.
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

So, the node J is now bigger than the other two sub-groups DEF, and GHI. So, in theory, J could be seeing something on A's blog, and then telling others about it; or starting conversations in their comments section and acting as a 'bridge' between sub- groups DEF and GHI. Or maybe J is just a lurker, who never says anything? The only way to find out would be to go and look at what J does. This points to one of the limitations of SNA - you can detect the presence of a link, but you don't always know what it means in practice.

The Eigenvector Centrality calculation combines the above, looking at the number of connections each blog has, and the degree of the blogs it connects to:
social networks analysis sna blogs malaysia

E and H are now smaller, because they have less overall connections. J remains apparently influential, but the lack of incoming links is not reflected here.

OK, I've got to stop this, and get on with writing my thesis!! :-|

Some conclusions

The density of a blogger network tends to depend on a few factors such as: geographical location, shared cultural features, blog genre, gender, and interest. For example, Malaysian bloggers/readers are more likely to read other Malaysian blogs; or female bloggers/readers interested in fashion and makeup will read blogs that focus on that. The density will be increased when they go to events together, when they link to each other, and so on.

If you want to measure influence on the internet, relying on classic data that is based on non-contextualised quantities is not enough. For example, if you say ‘There are 5,000 mentions of new product X since we launched the campaign’; this does not tell you the relative importance of each mention. You can combine that with unique visitors: ‘5,000 mentions of which 200 were on blogs that receive more than 2,000 daily unique visitors’. But still, what if all those 2,000 visitors are part of a densely clustered network who mostly read each other’s blogs?

The subjective and 'thick' understanding of the contextual meaning of links still needs human eyes. But they can be helped by automated processes that, for example, detect key words, emotional content, etc.

What do you think? How important can SNA be in elucidating these more subjective social aspects of online interaction?

I’m still learning about SNA, and don’t know much about what happens in social media monitoring companies, so if anyone has any corrections or advice, please use the comments section below. Thanks! :-)

A historical chronology of English language blogs in Malaysia

OK, the title pretty much says it all :-)

To get an overall view of the history of blogs in Malaysia, and my fieldwork, I've made a table.

Of course, this only represents what I know of, and the events and so that I was able to attend during my fieldwork. There are many many thousands of blogs out there, and I can never hope to cover all of what blogs have been to all bloggers over the years.

So - I'd really appreciate any feeback! Anything I've missed out, got wrong... please tell me!

It's too long to post as a table (or rather, I don't know how to convert the Word table into html), so I've uploaded it as a pdf.

Just to give you an idea of what it looks like, here's a screenshot - click on the picture to get the full version!
history of malaysian blogs

The virtue of practice

In Moral Philosophy there are four main strands:

• Utilitarianism: i.e. 'the greatest good for the greatest number'
• Egoism: i.e. 'I know what's best for me, and that's all that matters'
• Kantianism: i.e. 'there are certain things that are right, and that's that'
and
• Virtue ethics: i.e. 'learn to live the right life, and you will be good'

From what I have learnt of ethics, I find virtue ethics to be the most satisfying. It is inclusive, allowing one to pick and choose from the other three methods of determining morality, and it is practical - emphasising the difficulty of living morally, the ability to improve oneself and to learn from mistakes.

In the 'Western' tradition, Aristotle (a great man in most ways, though unfortunately also the root of much of EuroChristian sexist dogma) introduced this ethical method via his famous 'Golden Mean' (see e.g. MacKinnon 90). For example, you are walking down the street and you see a starving beggar: you would be miserly ('illiberal') not to spare a bit of the excess money you have, but stupid ('prodigal') to immediately sign over your bank account and house to him. What would be the virtuous thing to do would be to give him what you can spare.

In other words, adopt the 'Middle Path': which brings us to Buddhism and Confucianism. These religions/philosophies emphasise the ability of the individual to choose to act morally, and the need to learn to do so through actions.

From what I understand of Buddhism, it basically advises people to understand that suffering (a consequence of immoral action one might say) comes from desire, and one can avoid this by learning to reject the impulses that come from desire. This can be done through a slow process of meditation and practice (e.g. physically getting rid of all possessions to avoid getting attached to them).

Confucianism focuses less on the individual I would say, but again there is a strong emphasis on practice: with a famous passage stating (basically) that in order for a ruler to enable a virtuous kingdom, he (for women weren't involved here either...) has to start by practicing virtue himself (“The Great Learning” qtd. in Velasquez 161).

And a note on gender: Gilligan's famous approach argued that women tend to have a different way of making moral judgements. Key words are 'concrete', 'relational': i.e. placing moral dilemmas in their practical environment and judging from there (Rachels 163-4). Which, perhaps incidentally, ties in with the feminist insight of making the personal political.

In anthropology the importance of understanding human behaviour as 'practice', promoted by Bourdieu and others has come to dominate; and the fundamental method of anthropology - participant observation - seems to be gaining converts in all kinds of disciplines and areas (cultural studies, market research, ...). As a method, it promotes understanding through living - i.e. practice. A parallel necessary understanding is that researchers need to understand how they too affect the ongoing practices of what they are seeking to understand: known as being 'reflexive'.

So, to conclude this somewhat rambling post: morality is developed through practice, and honest reflection upon one's own position. Practice, as a method and as a theoretical standpoint, is emerging as a paradigm in many disciplines. Reflexivity is also central to ethnographic practice.

Therefore, I suppose, one can argue that social science methodologies have mostly shed the idealistic modern/scientific notion that neutrality and objectivity are attainable, and instead moving to an ethical stance that has its roots in virtue ethics.

++++++++++

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production. Essays on Art and Literature. Ed. Randal Johnson. UK: Polity Press, 1993.
MacKinnon, Barbara. Ethics. Theory and Contemporary Issues. 3rd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2001.
Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy. A Text with Readings. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth 2005.
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