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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).

Pecha Kucha Kuala Lumpur

16:46
I was kindly invited by Niki Cheong to take part in a 'Pecha Kucha' event organised by the British Council - this is an evening where people get to talk about what they want, but they are limited to twenty slides with one image on each one, and each slide moves forward automatically after twenty seconds.

It's a great idea, but I mistakenly thought that it would also make the planning of the slides a lot more straightforward. Not at all! For someone like me who tends to ramble on and likes to talk only with notes and then ad-lib a bit, restricting myself to twenty seconds per slide is tough.

But I did it (though it was late, sorry organisers). I decided to talk about the ancient past, and the future of social media. It's made me well nervous, and then I went over to look at Niki Cheong's website (check it out, it has all the relevant information) and saw the list of luminaries who will be speaking too, and I've just got more nervous! Argh! I just don't feel too confident about the slides... I like the idea, but I don't know if it's going to work.

Anyway, here's one image to give you an idea
tambum rock paintings Ipoh malaysia

Yes it's prehistoric rock paintings. What has that got to do with social media? Well, come along and find out! :-) Click here for the Facebook event page.

17:01

++++++++++
The 15-minute blog post.
I like to blog, but I can't afford to spend a lot of time on it. Solution: limit myself to 15 minutes per post.
One link, one picture maximum.
All comments, critiques and corrections are welcome. Thank you.

Language and logic

Another day is coming to a close, and I have been wrestling with an annoying problem with my blog for the last hour or so (it is somehow still linking to a pdf that I deleted). I also realise that I haven't posted since Sunday. The problem I had reminded me of something I wrote back in 2001 when setting up a website for my Masters - so, in 'filler post' manner, I am pasting here :-) I never used it in my Masters dissertation, but it always stuck in my head, so why not post it here now?

It's a bit unpolished, and I edited it slightly. But here it is:

*****


Western civilisation is closely linked with the totalising approach that is represented by the scientific discipline. The modern computers are based on transistors that are now so small that thousands of them are contained on one silicon chip. Transistors operate on a binary system whereby the transistor can be either in an 'On' or 'Off' position; computing logic is based on a series of questions relating to statements to which the answer can be either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. These are run at an unimaginable speed through the arrays of transistors and come out with the type of program that I am using to type these words. It is tempting to draw a direct line back to the Aristotelian syllogism, where A cannot be also B. Within the binary system there is no room for uncertainty or grey areas, all probabilities and possibilities will be expressed in terms of quantitative statistical mathematical probabilities. It is this unforgiving logic that is at the root of the information technologies – the technology that is a product of the social system from which it is drawn, a product of it and thus it also will contribute to the reproduction of the type of system that produced it.

An anecdote from my preparation of the website illustrates the way in which the engagement in particular practices may teach particular types of logic. For a few days I have been coming back to a problem I had with my online questionnaire whereby for a reason I could not fathom, some of the answers were being correctly reported in the summary sheet, while others weren’t. Finally, through a process of trial and error, I discovered that it was the label I was giving some of the questions, e.g. : "Q3.1", or "Q4.2_other", that was the problem. Specifically, it was the dot between the numbers that made the difference, this was not mentioned in the instruction manual which says, in relation to this point:
"List/Menu Assigns a name to the list or menu. This field is required, and the name must be unique!"

The name must be unique, but it does not say that if it has a dot in it then it may/will not work. This is the kind of technical shortcoming that is often described as a ‘bug’, errors that are seen as integral to a computer program but would never be acceptable in most other consumer goods that are put on the market. It may also be that it is way in which Dreamweaver has encoded the actual instructions in HTML for this particular element of the graphical interface does not correspond with how the other program – a ‘CGI script’ – operates. The latter is what is run when the questionnaire is filled out and then the ‘Submit’ button is pushed. In fact I have no idea what the real cause is, the only apparent cause that I see is the errant dot, but the reasons why that dot is causing a problem are probably multiple and even if someone were to explain them to me, it is likely that I would not understand it.

The reason why I tell this rather anodyne anecdote, the type of experience many people have had, is that it seems to me that in grappling with the software, I am obliged to start to think in a specific, probably Cartesian, manner. I am learning a language, and a particular type of logic. – if, in my 'travels' in cyberspace I was to meet up with someone who had used the same software then we would have a common understanding that may enhance or otherwise influence our interaction.

I’m moving towards a techno-determinist argument here: i.e. the programme has a ‘language’ that will influence my interaction with another person. However it is in the strength and inevitability of the potential causal link that I would like to place my argument. I have learnt a different logic, let’s assume, but I will use it according to my own interpretation of what is necessary and important for myself. This will be based on previously learnt behaviours and ingrained habits/practices. I may have learnt a new logic or language, but whether it actually affects my practices will depend on how much it clashes with previously learnt thought processes and the extent to which I perceive that taking on this logic will enable me to further my interests as defined by my social upbringing.
*****

Bloggers, transparency, truth and personhood

Thanks to Suresh, I saw this letter in The Star, and it got me thinking about a few points about Malaysian political discourse, and discourse on blogs
MOST, if not all, bloggers demand transparency from everybody else, especially the Government and its agencies.

This is a classic attitude that treats all bloggers as one homogenous group. In fact, most bloggers hardly talk about politics at all; although the most visible are those who are reported in the MSM such as RPK, Rocky or Jeff Ooi.

However, it is true that there is a strong ethos of openness in blogging – i.e. that people should be allowed to say what they want. On the other hand, most bloggers will agree that they are allowed to censor comments any way they want. So, there’s a bit of a dilemma here – where some commenters will loudly complain that they have been censored, and others respond by saying ‘It’s my blog and if you don’t like it, &%@# off!’.

There is a fundamental difference with the MSM though, in that anyone can start their own blog – so the opportunity of freedom of speech is not channelled through the bottleneck of corporate, political and social imperatives that are inherent in the various media that make up the MSM. On the other hand, it’s clear that not all blogs have the same audience, so there is not a true equality of access to the public sphere; if I publish a post on this blog, maybe 50-100 people will read it eventually – but if I put a comment on Rocky’s Bru, thousands of people will probably read it.

The letter goes on to argue that “Most of the bloggers, whoever they are, do not practise what they preach” because they use pseudonyms, and let commenters be anonymous or use pseudonyms too; and also says that most comments are “useless and utterly distasteful”, and concludes
They cannot be transparent and truthful if they allow just about anyone to post anything just to disparage anyone.

Bloggers in Malaysia have not grown up; they are still the spoilt brats that they were before. And they have also started to believe in the filth their commentators write.

As long as they do not have the decency to write truthfully and get those who comment not to use pseudonyms, they cannot demand that others be transparent.”

It’s a curious argument. Transparency and truthfulness are being seen as two side of the same coin. In relations to governance issues, transparency means being able to trace actions to particular persons – for example being able to see exactly who approved such-and-such a government contract, or what are the exact terms of the road toll contracts. This means that people can be held responsible for decisions that affect the public interest: whether they want to be honest or not, their truthfulness is guaranteed by the transparency of the system they work within.

However, in relation to a blog, is it necessary to know who said something in order to assess its truthfulness? Reading this blog, you can find out that I am Julian Hopkins, but does that make any difference to my arguments in this post? This is why newspapers will normally allow letter-writers to use a pseudonym, although they do require them to supply a name and address. When bloggers do not write truthfully, they are often exposed to the severe criticisms of other bloggers, and possibly the MSM or even the legal authorities. True, an anonymous blogger may slander someone and hope to get away with it – but as anyone who pays any attention to blogosphere goings-on knows, online anonymity is not as easy as it seems.
And they [the bloggers] also have the guts to say that they deserve the right to post comments by their readers, whom they don’t know personally other than the identities that they had registered their email accounts with, which may not be genuine.

Why do these readers, too, have to hide behind pseudonyms in the first place?

Is it because they want to tell everybody that they are not truthful, and worse, they cannot be trusted. No wonder they have to hide their true identity and present a false one.

So, the argument in this letter seems to be: ‘bloggers’ should not be trusted as voices in the public sphere because they may hide their identity. This ties ‘truthfulness’ to personalities, and (possibly) sectional interests; ‘transparency’ is also tied to ‘truthfulness’ so what the person is really saying is – ‘If I don’t know who you are, I won’t believe what you say’.

This sentiment also pervades the blogosphere, I think: the most influential bloggers are those who are not anonymous, precisely because people are less likely to trust an anonymous person.

The ideals of the democratic public sphere always want to have us judging ideas purely on their own merits – but in practice most of us will want to know who is saying something in order to make a judgement. Just look at how much elections are based on personalities and not policies.

Anyway, to round up this somewhat rambling post, where I’m not sure what I want to say, I guess I can conclude by saying that the potential anonymity of blogs do threaten this habitual association of personalities and trust, and thus generate a strong reaction. Perhaps, in Malaysia where much of politics revolve around patronage and sectional interests (race, region, religion, etc.) – which are often embodied in the person, blogs are even more of a threat to the established system. And thus generate stronger reactions.

Blog name change

As you may have noticed, I’ve changed the name of my blog from the boring old ‘julianhopkins.net’.

‘anthroblogia’ is meant to combine ‘anthropo’ (as in man/humans), blogs, and -logia (as in ‘the study of’); this is what my goal is, basically, to study how people and blogs interact.

Obviously, it also is meant to evoke ‘anthropology’, and also perhaps to evoke a sense of a place, as in ‘Elbonia’ (or wherever).

I also had a logo planned for my blog when I first started it, it looks like this


Any idea what it’s meant to be? … OK, I’ll tell you - it’s ‘anthropology’ spelt in binary, i.e. ‘digital anthropology’ :-) This was my first idea of a blog title, but I found that digital anthropology as a term is already ‘taken’ – it seems to be more about using digital resources for anthropology rather than looking at the anthropology of digital technology.

I’ve put the logo in as my ‘favicon’, thanks to useful instructions from maro^gal.

The impetus for changing the blog name came from two sources, really. First of all there was a blog post (which I lost the link to, sorry – it’s a Malaysian blog) which was talking about how to do a good blog, and the blogger said that people who had their own name as the title of their blog were unimaginative losers (or something like that). Well, the unimaginative part certainly struck a chord with me, and I started to wonder what I could change the name to. Initially, I had decided upon the name with the idea that blogs are extensions of a person’s offline self online, so calling it by my name made sense – a way of saying ‘This is me online’.

The other thing was that this blog was included in a list of the Top 100 Anthropology Blogs; well, I was chuffed, though there are legitimate doubts about the list (e.g. “Top 100 Anthropology Blogs”? No, I don’t think so.) – but also what struck me was the title my blog was given, “Julian Hopkins”. Perfectly fair way to call it but, once again, pretty boring and – more importantly – it really gives no idea at all what the blog is about.

One possible consequence is that I may lose my first place in Google searches for ‘Julian Hopkins’: I’m not too bothered about that, except that it’s a useful way to tell people how to find my blog and, although I didn’t do any fancy SEO to make it happen, it can make me look very internet-knowledgeable which can help my credibility on occasion. Overall, I’d prefer to be first place for searches for ‘blog anthropology’, for example, but that would take more work…

So, here you are, welcome to the reinvented, rebranded, improved and laboratory tested


:-D

Blog Wars - Ethnography and Content Analysis of Blogs

This is a poster I produced last July for Monash University Sunway Campus (where I am studying). It's using the same material as a paper I presented in August, but focuses mainly on the Social Network Analysis (SNA) potential for combining with content analysis.

I am self-taught as regards SNA, so it is well possible that I have made mistakes. If I have, please tell me as I'd love to know.

blogs malaysia blogwars research social network analysis sna
--Click on the picture to get the larger version - you will have to zoom in and out in order to get the full view and to be able to read it.--

I have anonymised the data, but Malaysian and Singaporean bloggers may recognise the bloggers involved.
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