Flowmaps, the Imaginaries of Global Integration

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Author: Brian Holmes

Originally published at: https://pzwart.wdka.hro.nl/mdr/pubsfolder/bhflowmaps/

How did the globalizing world of the 1990s become visible as a unified political-economic system? And what happens, when a world becomes visible?

In 1996, the sociologist Manuel Castells took this high-angle view on global integration: "Our society is constructed around flows of capital, flows of technology, flows of organizational interaction, flows of images, sounds and symbols. Flows are not just one element of the social organization; they are the expression of processes dominating our economic, political and symbolic life." (2) Castells focuses on the ways that managerial elites have constructed a world-girdling space of commercial and industrial operations, articulated by electronic signals circulating in real time. He describes the technological innovations that underlie this space of flows, as well as the social formations that uphold it. He does not claim that it is the only relevant social space on planet earth, but he does claim that it is dominant – and foresees its domination extending far into the future.

Three years later, in an article entitled "Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism," the activist-academic Harry Cleaver took an opposite, subterranean perspective, not from above but from below the territory of everyday experience: "As a metaphor for thinking about the ceaseless movement that forms the political life and historical trajectory of those resisting and sometimes escaping the institutions of capitalism, I have come to prefer that of water, of the hydrosphere, especially of oceans with their ever restless currents and eddies, now moving faster, now slower, now warmer, now colder, now deeper, now on the surface. At some points water does freeze, crystallizing into rigidity, but mostly it melts again, undoing one molecular form to return to a process of dynamic self-organizing that refuses crystallization yet whose directions and power can be observed and tracked. Thus too with 'civil society.'" (3)

These two perspectives on the global integration process are opposites: they sketch out an antagonism, a field of cultural and political conflict. Yet they share the image of flows, along with a reference to computer communications. This is a characteristic zone of overlap, of negotiation, in which the imaginaries of the contemporary world meet and diverge. The maps that issue from this imaginary space of flows both express and actively influence the development of a globally interacting society; but to grasp them and to understand their implications, one must look at into the fields of representation and experience from which they arise.

Integration as rivalry

For Castells, the flows of global integration are primarily electronic, informational; they coordinate productive activity through hubs and nodes distributed in a network of cooperation and competition extending across the world. The regional centers of the United States, Europe and Japan – what economist Kenichi Ohmae dubs the "Triad" – make up the densest part of the network, which functions in real time. Connections between the hubs, and particularly the "global cities" of New York, London, and Tokyo, are the backbones of this global space, while smaller localities gain importance through the specialized contributions they can make to the overall system. (4) The space of flows comprises all the exchanges that link together the world's places and populations, including those of raw materials and industrial goods, as well as movements of people: but information is the primary layer of the system, tending toward autonomy from the rest. This autonomy of the informational sphere is mirrored – or demanded – by the emergence of managerial elites, whose interests are transnational. They press for the creation of homogeneous spaces of communication and exchange, which have the effect of separating them from place-bound populations. "Articulation of the elites, segmentation and disorganization of the masses seem to be the twin mechanisms of social domination in our societies," writes Castells. (5) In his view, postmodern architecture, with its seamless mix of styles and periods, represents and embodies the "timeless time" and the "spaceless space" in which the elites measures themselves against each another: a dynamic experience of global rivalry, overriding traditional routines and even biological sequences. (6)

Descriptions of the world as a fully integrated real-time network still sound futuristic. Yet they are grounded in basic economics: the growth of international trade since the 1980s, the expansion of foreign direct investment (FDI), the purely immaterial operations of a worldwide financial sphere (stock, bond and currency markets). In analyzing these aspects of the information age, Castells draws in key passages on a book by François Chesnais, La mondialisation du capital [The Globalization of Capital]. Published in France in 1994, this book was among the early attempts by the Marxist Left to grasp the industrial and financial transformations unfolding on a global scale. And it opens with a map, showing the hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion at work in an integrating world.

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The World Oligopoly, 1994 (7)

The projection we see here is, ironically, a variation on the Dymaxion map created in the 1950s by the radical utopian designer Buckminster Fuller. In his eyes, ordinary maps caused humanity to "appear inherently disassociated, remote, self-interestedly preoccupied with the political concept of it's got to be you or me; there is not enough for both." (8) The Dymaxion map was conceived to eliminate the north-south distortion of the common Mercator projection, as well as artificial divides between the continents. Conflating the ideas of "dynamic + maximum + tension," the word "dymaxion" was understood as equivalent to Fuller's ecological motto, "doing more with less." In the 1960s he would develop the idea of a "World Peace Game" to be played by teams of citizens or diplomats shifting global resources across an immense version of this map, with the aim of developing humanity's cooperative capacities through simulations on a world scale. (9) But in the map that Chesnais presents, the Fuller projection is used to show how the major nodes of the Triad – or the "world oligopoly" – are integrated into a single, densely connected space of competition and cooperation, where major industrial and financial groups of each region constantly seek to "do more with more," that is, to infinitely accumulate more capital. At the same time, the earth appears divided into three regional systems, each differentiated hierarchically according to degrees of access to the major flows of money, trade and information that constitute the world oligopoly.

This flowmap is recent; it corresponds to a very specific historical phase of capitalist development. Within the tightly regulated national environments of the post-WWII period, all the way up to the late 1970s, international investment had typically required the implantation of a full production and marketing chain in each country where commodities were to be sold (the "multidomestic" pattern of industrial expansion). Industries therefore remained national in scope, allowing them to be regulated within the frameworks of national social-solidarity programs (known as the "welfare state"). The flowmap shows how a regional or continental pattern has since emerged since the 1980s, allowing design, production, assembly, and marketing to be spatially dissociated. The actors of this process – carrying out what Castells called the "segmentation and disorganization of the masses" – are the great industrial and financial groups (megacorporations resulting from waves of mergers and acquisitions). Chesnais remarks that "industries, conceived as productive complexes, are far from being integrated on a global level"; rather than a "global factory" which distributes productive operations worldwide, what he finds are tiered production systems developing in Europe, North America, and East Asia – regional or continental centers each exploiting a nearby periphery. "On the other hand," he remarks, "a global market is integrated, to a degree never before known in the past. That holds in particular for the OECD countries, where the world's effective demand is concentrated." (10) The global market is shared among major firms in each industry; they compete within abstract "spaces of rivalry," occupied by a limited number of large players whose dominant market positions allow them to exclude newcomers. Thus the term "oligopoly" – the economic equivalent of oligarchy, or the rule of a powerful few.

The policy mix that made all this possible is known as "neoliberalism," because the free-market philosophy of its proponents (Hayek, Friedman) refers back to the enlightened, laissez-faire "liberalism" of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century thinkers, with their trust in the self-regulating market and overriding concern for the liberty of individuals. (11) Such a philosophy gives the impression that globalization is the result of private initiative (gifted technologists, risk-taking investors, genius-level CEOs). But the integration of regional production complexes to a unified world market obviously required bilateral and multilateral negotiation between states, particularly for the elimination of trade barriers in the framework of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), leading to the foundation of the World Trade Organization in 1994. Driving this process were enormous quantities of private capital accumulated in the Triad countries during the boom years of postwar growth (1945-73), notably in the form of pension funds, which concentrate huge masses of retirement savings. Corporate actors also had their role: Japanese manufacturing companies, which had become fantastically profitable in the automobile and consumer-electronics markets, pursued wide-ranging strategies of overseas investment; American multinationals, reluctant to bring their profits back to the national tax collector, had been constituting the stateless "eurodollar" market since the early 1960s, which would later be swollen by the windfall profits of the OPEC countries. But another factor pressing toward systemic change was ballooning government debt in the developed countries, whose elites had become increasingly unwilling to finance the entitlements of the welfare state. The elimination of controls on crossborder financial transactions was a way for governments to attract capital, in order to finance deficits incurred by military expenditures and public services. New rounds of trade deregulation in any one country would inevitably be imitated by the others, to keep the big investors from leaving to greener pastures.

The American Federal Reserve initiated the process in 1979-80, by raising its interest rates and making its Treasury bonds entirely liquid – that is, exchangeable at any time on private secondary markets – so they could serve as an attractive medium for speculative investment from abroad (particularly Japan). The other developed countries followed suit, entering a competitive game that reshaped their economies; and one should remember that France, having elected a socialist government and embarked upon policies of nationalization in 1982, was rapidly hit with capital flight and forced to reverse those policies. IMF-inspired austerity programs, cutting away government services to eliminate Keynesian deficit spending and the inflation it brings, became initiation rites for those who wished to enter the new world economy (few now recall that the prototype austerity cure was applied to Britain itself in the mid-1970s). Thus the door was opened to the creation of an integrated world financial sphere, which gradually took over important functions of governance, as foreign direct investment became the indispensable lever determining the paths of development-for-profit. Although national solidarity systems redistributing wealth between the social classes did not entirely disappear in any of the developed countries, a tendency emerged for the Keynesian national welfare state to give way to what one sociologist has called a "Schumpeterian postnational workfare state." (12)

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"Financial core," Bureau d'études, World Monitoring Atlas (13)

This ungainly phrase – with its three keywords, "Schumpeterian," "postnational," and "workfare" – refers to a state-form stressing entrepreneurial innovation within a highly competitive transnational framework where prices and labor practices cannot be unilaterally regulated. The public power therefore concentrates its efforts on developing a highly educated professional and business class, while gradually abandoning the role of insuring the well-being of the citizens and focusing instead on the police functions and coercive machinery required to keep the peace in a social environment marked by increasing disparities of income. Only this kind of state can effectively engage with what now must be called "transnational state capitalism." The national scale then declines in importance before the emergence of regional or continental blocs (NAFTA, EU, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, etc.); and all these political units are subjected to the hierarchical patterns of capital, information and resource flows depicted in Chesnais' map. The governance of these flows can only be conceived within an intricate worldwide system of relations between different actors, including states, but also corporations, investment funds, powerful individuals and family lineages, regulatory bodies functioning on different scales, think tanks and influence networks, media groups, armies and secret services, prominent educational institutions, transnational religious groups or social movements and so forth. It is in this sense that neoliberalism produces a networked world.

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Bureau d'Etudes, World Government (14)

The map of "World Government," developed by the French conceptual art group Bureau d'Etudes, attempts to show this kind of network both geographically and sociologically. You see the European Union at the left, with the Russian State quarantined in a microbubble above it; you see the American state surrounded by its strategic partners, with its economically powerful Japanese ally above and the Saudi state and Opec consortium in a black bubble below; and you see the Asian giants India and China in a larger zone above the Russian one, unsure how to catapult themselves into the complex structure of rivalries to which their massive populations and productive capacities nonetheless destine them as major players of the future. But in the open center region there is additionally the fully deterritorialized financial core of private banks and investment funds, centering around the two giants: the American institutional investor, Fidelity, largely owned and controlled by Edward C. Johnson and his daughter Abigail; and the more aristocratic and secretive British holding, Barclay's plc, controlling Barclay's Global Investor. The essence of transnational state capitalism, or "world government," is grasped when one realizes that the legal, communicational and technoscientific architecture necessary for the development of a global market can only be developed by complex and labyrinthine collaborations between aspects of the predominant territorial states and relatively independent actors from the corporate sector. Of course, the complexity of these collaborations means one could go on with this discussion at length, in the attempt to measure the relative weights and influences of Exxon, Opus Dei, the House of Westminster, Moody's, the Bank for International Settlements, etc. The force of these maps is in any case to represent a totality which demands specific analysis in order to grasp its potential to function as a whole. Maps of specific technological infrastructures then complete this picture, such as the map of the Internet constituted for the Next 5 Minutes conference in late 2003.

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Global finance is the brain of contemporary capitalism, and fiber optics, its planetary nervous system. Built on the foundations of the world-girdling telecommunications systems installed in the 1980s, the financial architecture would take a quantum leap in the 1990s, after the demise of the Soviet Union, when the need to manage an enlarged world market, combined with an unforeseeable boom in popular Internet use, suddenly made IT and telcoms into prime objects of stock-market speculation. In this dynamic, finance takes itself as its own object, engaging in a process of exacerbated self-reflection ("the bubble"). Yet the same dynamic contributed to the spread of worldwide communications tools beyond the financial and corporate realm, according to a pattern which in not entirely reducible to the logic of markets and profit. Great hopes and a significant number of new political and cultural practices arose around the Internet, and more broadly, around the rhizomatic model of the network, in the latter half of the 1990s. These utopian thoughts, and their real embodiments, will be the focus of reflection in the upcoming section. Before beginning the discussion, however, we should consider another quote from François Chesnais, concerning the role of English as the dominant language of world communication:

"This role is inseparable from the almost unequalled power of the United States over the entire range of the media industries (where English serves to cement a 'culture'). That power, in its turn, in inseparable from the position occupied by the United States in the telecommunications industries, where military investments as well as the interconnection with a financial globalization centered around them give the US a decisive advantage in competition. The dream that is globally projected from Hollywood or Anaheim (the small Californian city where the corporate headquarters of Disney are located) is the dream of capitalism and of the total commodification of all human activities to which it aspires and towards which it tends. All multinational corporations therefore gain from it, along with the full range of social forces attached to the extension and consolidation of the power of capitalism over the entire earth." (15)

In an unforgettable phrase from Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon writes: "To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization." (16) Half a century later, Fanon's phrase demands we ask this question: To what extent, and with what consequences, have the world's populations assumed the electronically mediated culture of global integration? How heavily does the new immaterial realm weigh upon those who have chosen or accepted to speak its language? In the syntactical structure of gobalization, industrial and financial flows are inseparable from centralized military command, networked communication, and the broadcast news-and-entertainment media. It is through these standardized vectors, and through the almost inconceivable diversity of the groups and individuals inhabiting them, that the integrated planetary system "thinks" – or dreams...

Meshworks and resistance

The maps we have been considering so far are at once thematic and geographical. They show how a particular state of scientific knowledge, or better, technoscience (including advances in communication, transportation, information-processing) combines with a specific organizational form (market-led development) to produce a worldwide pattern of social relations. Productive energies, both human and technological, are marshaled up by the corporate groups and their far-flung outsourcing networks, cast into the forms required by the regional compromises of transnational governance, then directed toward the goals determined by a global market, which in turn yields price and volume signals that inform subsequent production. Chesnais' map, backed up by a strong Marxist reading of globalization, defines this process in terms of center and periphery. A hierarchy of power, determined by the possession of capital at the centers of accumulation, enforces degrees of subordination which are expressed geographically: integrated, annexed, exploited, abandoned, or newly colonized regions. The strength of this cartography is to expose and render visible a crime, an assault upon equality. If Chesnais' flowmap were outfitted with a zoom and attached to a totalizing database of social relations, we would find the same kinds of inequality reproduced in each country, in each city, in each company and finally in our own lives. Yet in the classical Marxist presentation, the whole process could just as well be seen from outer space, or reduced to two abstract formulas: M-C-M' for industrial production (money used to produce commodities which are sold for more money) or M-M' for finance (money itself which is sold – or "loaned" – to get more money). This map, which makes the new world-system visible as such, is in fact a reconstruction from the Left of the dominant map of the present. Indeed, it is the mirror image of a map of domination. And although it is made with the aim of provoking a political conflict over the course of world development, its underlying logic leaves room for only one new thought, which is in fact a very old one: the thought of workers becoming conscious of themselves as a class. The thought of the proletariat, able to stand in dialectical opposition to the owners, able to take over and redirect the development of the industrial state. But this single thought runs counter to the extensive diversity of the earth and its cultures, and to the very project of achieving individual and collective autonomy, which each time produces difference.

Identifying the actors, processes, itineraries, and objects that constitute the new system of transnational capitalism was essential for the early movements of resistance, which were (and still are) confronted by scales of organization far beyond their immediate grasp, both perceptually and conceptually. It was (and remains) necessary to represent, in the greatest possible detail, processes whose articulation is deliberately hidden under veils of organizational complexity, and obscured by the shift to a transnational level of governance, which simultaneously maintains and sidesteps the legal parameters of the nation states. Work in the classical vein of Marxist analysis therefore was (and still is) fundamental. But if anything has been learned by the Left since the 1960s, it is that a comprehension of the largest scales goes hand in hand with engagement at the smallest: in the relations of specific territories, communities, bodies, ways of thinking. And thus one further ask: what made it possible, at the scale of the individual or the intimate territory, to grasp this new representation, to transform it into embodied movements, to transmit it to others and even to contribute to it?

To answer this question we can approach the map of global flows as a diagram of power in the Deleuzian sense – "a cartography that is coextensive with the whole social field." (17) This notion of the diagram, which Deleuze developed from Foucault's work on the microphysics of power, does not simply designate a static grid, a preconceived template for the application of a unified force. Rather it describes a productive matrix, a dymaxion space: a dynamic field in which tensions are maximized at an almost infinite number of heterogeneous points. Each of these "points" – human beings, but also their material objects and inventions – is caught in singular and evolving relations to others, relations of power which involve both constraint and freedom. From the interplay of these multiple relations, each with its own productive powers and its own margins of maneuver, distinct patterns of overall functionality emerge and crystallize; they are codified within the deterministic social sciences (including the Marxist ones) as the stratified "laws" of what in reality is a contingent historical configuration. In excess of the strata, the dynamics of each period arise from what Deleuze calls strategies – which can also be understood as forms of social experimentation.

Thus we shall have to maintain a distinction between the geographical representation of networked power – a determinate network map which attempts to identify and measure the forces in play – and an undetermined network diagram, which opens up a field of possibility or of potential strategy. Concerning the diagram, we shall additionally have to note that its particular structure lends it a specific character, one that varies with the epistemic thresholds separating different periods. Indeed, the difference between Chesnais' map and those of Bureau d'Etudes is that when all the interpretative language is stripped away, what the first makes visible is geography, land mass circumscribed by national borders, and the other, the pure meshwork of a reticulated system. Deleuze describes the diagram of power as "highly unstable or fluid... constituting hundreds of points of emergence or creativity." The aim is to indicate the openness, the possibility for intervention that inheres to every power relation, precisely because of the limited but real power that must flow through each of the participants. This was precisely the aim of Foucault's work on microphysics, as developed notably in Discipline and Punish. Yet at the same time, Deleuze says that each given diagram is "almost blind and mute, even though it makes others see and speak." (18) In this blindness and muteness of an underlying and always partly unconscious relational structure one may also recognize the feelings of dislocation and disorientation, compensated by the outpouring of hybrid, morphing images and chattering "postmodernist" discourse, that accompanied the initial phases of the globalizing process in the 1980s – at that threshold of systemic change, when, as Jameson remarked, an aesthetics of cognitive mapping was so absent from the scene, and so urgently needed.

The Brazilian psychoanalyst and art critic Suely Rolnik, who worked with Deleuze and quite closely with Félix Guattari, has written with rare precision about the paralyzing effects of a dissociation between the inner experience of surging, transformative sensation – or the experience of otherness – and the representation of the world in sharp new contours that hew close to the real, helping us to situate ourselves, to struggle and resist the imposition of new procedures and forces. She invites us to see a diffuse, generalized form of artistic invention as something like the spark that leaps the gap between sensation and the creation of newly operative representations; and she points, simultaneously, to ways that contemporary capitalism continually works to thwart this process, either by holding people in the depressed, devaluated state of what she calls "trash-subjectivity," or by exalting the power of creation as a pure virtuoso performance which revolves only around itself, cut off from any possibility of resistance, and serving primarily to shore up the anxiously uncertain status of a would-be "luxury-subjectivity." (19) The aim of her writing, however, is not to portray these alienated subject-positions as a destiny, but rather to point beyond them, to the transversal moments when the mobile energies of subjective sensation are able to grasp themselves in maps of an actual world, creating new and more useful representations, and more importantly, shared territories, transversal spaces of coexisting differences. These are moments, not of aesthetic contemplation, but of social and artistic invention. One might then ask these crucial questions: How do people sense the emergence of a new diagram of power? How do they come to recognize it, to inhabit it? What happens when a specific diagram, integrating millions or even billions of individuals in a functional pattern, finally becomes visible and speakable as a map, as a representation? And what changes when the map appears, not as an inexorable law of surface, but as a malleable structure, open to the development of a strategy? What kinds of counter-maps then arise, what kinds of artistic expressions, what kinds of social and technological experiments? How are they practiced, upon what territories, and by whom?

In many different respects, 1994 marks a turning point in the global integration process, a threshold of visibility and sensation. In that year the GATT negotiations, which had begun in 1946, were brought to completion with the GATT 94 treaty, leading one year later to the establishment of a permanent institution: the World Trade Organization. The same year saw the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, come into effect, giving formal treaty status to a de facto process of continental economic integration. Galvanized by these developments, an international coalition of environmentalists, human-rights groups and labor advocates founded the International Forum on Globalization (ifg.org), a San Francisco-based think tank that would play a key role in disseminating an informed critique of the global integration process. The campaign "Fifty Years is Enough," calling for the transformation of the Bretton Woods institutions created in 1944 (World Bank, IMF), was also launched that year, while in London a woman of South African origins, Ann Pettifor, began the debt-relief work that would lead to a major North/South campaign for the cancellation of Third World debt: Jubilee 2000, which eventually circulated the first global petition (24 million signatures). But 1994 was also the year that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded and the first International WWW Conference was held, in response to the increasing success of the Mosaic browser, a visualization tool for the Internet. And January 1, 1994 was above all the date that the Zapatista rebellion emerged in Chiapas, Mexico – ultimately helping to provoke the so-called "tequila crisis," the first major financial collapse from the extended binges of the globalized economy.

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Subcommandante Marcos (20)

The crucial importance of the Zapatista insurgency could be summed up in this way: it added a new "thought" – or a new "dream" – to the planetary mind. The surface expression of this radical novelty is the idea of "swarming," a notion popularized by Kevin Kelley (of Wired magazine) in his 1994 book Out of Control, and developed in a more specific way by the infamous Rand Corporation researchers, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, in The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico, published in 1998. As we read there, "swarming occurs when the dispersed nodes of a network of small (and perhaps some large) forces can converge on a target from multiple directions. The overall aim is sustainable pulsing – swarm networks must be able to coalesce rapidly and stealthily on a target, then dissever and redisperse, immediately ready to recombine for a new pulse." (21) On the most obvious level, this notion evokes a self-organized direct action, something like what later happened on the streets of Seattle in 1999, where individuals in constant one-to-one communication are able to move in a pattern that seems chaotic from the outside, but hides an effective purpose. Yet in a deeper and more real way, the "social netwar" that Arquilla and Ronfeldt describe takes place not on any battlefield, but in the complex sphere of "public opinion." It is waged by communities, activist groups, NGOs, politicized journalists, concerned citizens. It is "neo-cortical warfare," whose ultimate stakes are "epistemological":

"A netwar actor may aim to confound people’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of their culture, society, and government, partly to foment fear but perhaps mainly to disorient people and unhinge their perceptions. This is why social netwar tends to be about disruption more than destruction. The more epistemological the challenge, the more confounding it may be from an organizational standpoint. Whose responsibility is it to respond? Whose roles and missions are at stake? Is it a military, police, intelligence, or political matter?" (22)

In the case of the Zapatista insurgency, Arquilla and Ronfeldt show how an initial strategy of armed guerrilla action, which was calculated in classical Guevarist fashion to lead to a generalized rising and a seizure of state power, rapidly found its real strength in successive mobilizations of national and international "civil society," using word of mouth and every available means of modern communication (e-mail, bulletin boards, video cameras, faxes, cellular phones...). These virtual mobilizations were inseparable from physical presence by a wide variety of actors on the streets in Chiapas, in Mexico City, and in front of Mexican embassies across the world, the aim being to keep the subject prominent in the broadcast media, so as to maintain scrutiny on the Mexican army and build pressure for peaceful negotiation. The Rand researchers point to the importance in this achievement of a broad range of issue-oriented NGOs, organized around indigenous peoples' rights or against NAFTA itself, and to what they call "infrastructure building NGOs," such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and its Mexican affiliate, La Neta. They also indicate the role of the radical Catholic diocese in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, and generally of church-related Mexican NGOs, in providing a "physical point of contact... for transnational activists." All these observations reveal enhanced capacities for self-organization within civil society movements whose roots, in many cases, stretch back to the late 1960s. Yet surprisingly (or perhaps not so, from a team of military analysts), there is no real treatment of the "epistemological" disruption effected by the Zapatista rising, or of its complex echoes or prolongations throughout the world.

Harry Cleaver, himself a Zapatista supporter through key Internet lists and archives, makes a remark that could help here: "The conceptualization of networking used by the theoreticians of 'netwar' does not quite grasp the reality being evoked here. A 'net' is a woven fabric made up interlinked knots – which in social terms means interlinked groups. This is applicable enough where there are easily identifiable, cooperating groups, such as NGOs. What is missing, however, is the sense of ceaseless, fluid motion within 'civil society' in which 'organizing' may not take the form of 'organizations' but of an ebb and flow of contact at myriad points." (23) As alternatives, Cleaver mentions the Mexican image of a woven hammock that adapts to each person's body, his own notion of the "electronic fabric of struggle," and Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome – before finally developing the metaphor of oceanic flows that I quoted at the beginning of this chapter. What attracts him in this latter metaphor is the image of subsurface currents, the vast processes of intermixture, the temporalities of crystallization, liquefaction, evaporation... But perhaps the epistemological disruption that erupted from a multitude of localities into the electronic networks in the mid-1990s can become practically clear if we look back on the remarks of an activist, appropriately named Andrew Flood, in his account of a workshop at the second Zapatista "Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism" – usually called the second Encuentro – held in Spain in 1997. To begin, he recalls an idea from the call to create a network of communication among the diverse resistances, as it had been stated at the close of the first such encounter, a year before in Chiapas: "This intercontinental network of alternative communication is not an organizing structure, nor has a central head or decision maker, nor does it have a central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who speak and listen." He then goes on to recount the way the activists approached the question of coordinating the flow of information:

"Much of the discussion around the internal organisation of the network took place in a visual manner that is not easy to relate in words. We started off by rejecting the traditional pyramid structure of news media where local sources feed up to region level, which feed to national and perhaps the global level before news trickled down again to other regions. In discussing what a network without a centre could look like but in recognising that some people have more time and resources to dedicate to the flow of information then others, we came to use the human brain as an analogy. Here the many nodes have major paths that carry information between them but it is possible for any two nodes to form a connection and for any connection to improve in speed and the amount of information it can carry if this is needed. Therefore many minor paths also exist. There is also a two way flow of information and feedback on the information that is sent." (24)

Beginning with the material image of thought itself – the image of the human brain – the activists try to picture the pragmatic functioning of a collective mind/body which does not subordinate the part to the whole, nor predetermine the becoming of the whole or any of its parts. The idea is to permit relatively stable and effective flows of exchange to emerge and intermesh, without closing off any new pathway, any possibility of initiative or invention. In a world where commercial and governmental communications media create the truth of each event through its massive, meticulously channeled transmission (television, newspapers, radio), these activists dreamt of a one-to-one exchange whose model is an intimate conversation between singular people, informal and open – but whose extension that would be potentially infinite. Here is the epistemological rupture with a mass-mediated society, whose communicators (or custodians of truth) are delegated by an electoral process or selected by market criteria. And the fact is that this conversation, though extremely small at the outset – like the workshop Flood describes, which brought together about a hundred people – was able to expand with extraordinary speed. From the 1997 Encuentro in Spain emerged the idea for the People's Global Action network (PGA), which would play a key role in sparking the first Days of Global Action, in 1998 and 1999. With these actions began the great cycle of demonstrations around the world that have done more than anything else to put the processes of global exploitation "on the map" of political consciousness, along with their specific actors (the transnational corporations and the interstate institutions, such as the OCDE, WTO, IMF/World Bank and G8). Here we have an experiential mapping process which takes place not through abstract schemas, but through the ebb and flow of conversations, and above all through collective, networked marches. Social experiments, dissenting imaginaries. The topography of moving bodies. Cartography with your feet.

Cover, We Are Everywhere (2003) (25)

Which is not to say that the PGA, or more broadly, the Zapatista networks, occupied any privileged position in what came to be called "the movement of movements." What seems rather to have occurred is that a vast meshwork of NGOs and social movements around the world came in the course of a few years to accept and trust what is basically a model of continuous translation, whereby ideas and proposals arise in one language and locality, are translated for the needs of that locality into a number of different languages, then spread across the world through a variety of specific pathways, to be retranslated, not at each "endpoint," but rather at each phase along the way, into local languages and actions. This diagrammatic model, in turn, permits a new and more supple match between map and sensation, experimentation and representation. If the Zapatistas are important in the spread of this experimental process, it is because they explicitly formulated the notion of "One no and many yeses" – that is, the refusal of a unified system of oppression, effected through diverse struggles with differing solutions and long-term goals. And, with the progress on various democracy agendas at the national level by social movements and NGOs, culminating in the end of the one-party system in Mexico, they proved it worked. In germ here was a renewed conception of autonomy and direct democracy, along with a renewed conception of solidarity – since resistance to the unified system of oppression affecting distant others can again be located on one's home ground, even in the so-called "rich" countries. Only these lived energies of autonomy, direct democracy and solidarity – which are all relations between human beings, articulations or imbrications of otherness – can give any meaning to a map like the one developed by Chesnais on a representational plane, which crystallizes the very real obstacles in resistance to which these forces discover their own consistency and dynamics.

In all this there is a clear relation to the more abstract notion of the rhizome elaborated by Deleuze and Guattari, with its heterogeneous multiplicity and refusal of the One:

"Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.... It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject or object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n – 1)."

Can the One be refused (subtracted) by the addition/affirmation of the many? Can the object of a single "no" dissolve into a plurality of yeses? What the question reveals is that the tactical urgency of swarming and pulsing around a target is inseparable from a much larger experiment, namely, the constitution of a transnational potential for relation, self-organization, collective reflection, action – a capacity for a kind of instrumental experimentation, an inseparably human and technical process of play and exploration, where the achievement of each concrete goal, the fulfillment of each punctual campaign, calls no end to the longer-term creation of an autonomous social formation on the scale of global capitalist processes, using latter's characteristic tools (Internet, individualized media) but remaining outside any hierarchical modes of operation. The emergence of this meshworked social experimentation – with its recognition that cooperation can mean, not integration and homogeneity, but instead further diversification – marks the return of the profound antibureaucratic aspiration that runs throughout the revolutionary cultures and philosophies of the 1960s and 70s, in their efforts to go beyond the functional integration of Stalinist parties and unions with repressive capitalist governments. The word "civil society," though it may designate in theory a position outside the hierarchies of state and market, is too brittle and conceptually thin to express this unstable intermingling flow of desires and designs, of material circumstances and political possibilities, with all its convergences, divergences and moments of absolute, irreducible singularity. Thus the metaphor of the hydrosphere, with its cycles of freezing, thawing and evaporation, its meteorological eddies that lead from the ocean's depths to sudden snowbursts, scattered showers, cloud formations, beads of sweat, curls of tropical steam. Yet at the same time, everyone involved in the ecology of this planetary communicational mesh is well aware that the experimentation depends, not entirely, but crucially on the existence of a modern technological assemblage: the Internet. Can the characteristic instrument of global integration be used to transform the direction and meaning of the very process which it seems to be propelling? Can its unifying language speak the diversity of a multitudinous world civilization? This, perhaps, is the thought or the dream that slowly formulated itself in the planetary mind of the 1990s. And the outlines of this dream can be read in the maps of that great translation machine, that "Imperial infrastructure" whose normalizing functions I will describe later on: the ultimate meshwork, the Net.

File:Piet Zwart Institute - Flowmaps, The Imaginaries of Global Integration files/a.gif

Cheswick and Burch, Map of the Internet (26)

Consider this map, made in 1999 by the researchers Hal Burch and Bill Cheswick of Bell Laboratories. Beginning from a single server, Burch and Cheswick used a traceroute program to record the paths taken by packets to all the existing networks announced in the routing arbiter database, which is a central registry of assigned Internet addresses. The data set that this program produces takes not a rhizomatic but a tree-like form, branching vertiginously outward as the pathways to almost 100,000 Internet nodes gradually diverge. This data is then laid using an algorithm that places clusters of nodes according to various attraction/repulsion criteria, assigning colors to variously chosen features (in this case the map distinguishes major Internet service providers, what Burch and Cheswick call "the city-states of the Internet"). No one familiar with the intrinsically paranoid military culture that pervades the American technological establishment will be surprised to learn that this mapping project was initially developed in response to an attack scenario imagined by the Rand Corporation, in pursuit of the original DARPA obsessions of the Cold War: the survival of a communications network subjected to an enemy attack which destroys a number of its relays. (27) In fact, Burch and Cheswick seem to be fascinated by falling bombs, and have produced an animated map of the Serbian network, after it and untold numbers of civilians were pounded by American explosives in what Thomas Keenan referred to as "the first Internet war." (28) Yet one can read something more here than simple security obsessions. This map expresses the irresolvably ambiguous evolution of global communications.

File:Piet Zwart Institute - Flowmaps, The Imaginaries of Global Integration files/a.jpeg

Pollock, No. 8 (1949)(29)

Indeed, what does this Internet map evoke most immediately, if not the improvisations of Jackson Pollock in the late 1940s and early 50s, creating a map/territory on a horizontal, experiential plane by interweaving his own pictorial gestures with the rhythms and chromatics of jazz? An answer to that question, closer to our own time and to the textuality of the Internet, might be found in the meshwork sketches of the literary critic Roland Barthes, who conceived writing as an intersubjective cacophony, "heard" most clearly in a bar in Tangiers, where the not-so-distant echoes of William Burroughs' cut-ups would mingle with voices offering hashish, heroin, homosexuality or other transgressions which have also become tourist attractions in the complex evolution of planet earth. (30) The synaptic intricacy and expressive colorism of the Cheswick-Burch is no aesthetic accident ("a peacock smashed into a windshield," as its creators say); rather it is an engineer's half-involuntary translation of the utopia of spontaneous expression and cooperative exchange that comes over and over again to culmination, within the exacerbated rivalry and individualizing competition of contemporary capitalism. Here lies an insight to the fundamental ambiguity of the language, indeed of the civilization, that Internet users have assumed over the past decade. In fact – beyond all simple "facts," but still obscurely within the insane paradigm founded by the Cold War – what the Internet offers today is at once an intertwining shopping mall-cum-bureaucratic nightmare conceived by the perverse collective genius of twentieth-century civilization and a repository of undiscovered latencies which will never reveal the "ultimate meanings" of their possible connections. For the Net is both a tree and a rhizome. It is a perfectly logical structure, whose routes can be mapped (logged, tabulated, surveilled) and whose feedback potentials can be charted out in advance; but it is also the terra incognita of global communication, whose intertwining textualities form one of the most vital spaces that has ever been wrenched open by the revolutionary imagination. It is a totalizing map of strategic planetary resources, hierarchically arrayed in recognizable patterns of regional interconnection, yet constantly underwritten and overwhelmed by the pulsing energy-potentials of the network diagram. It is, inseparably, the blueprint of world government and the excess of subjective liberation: the Sovereign and the Multitude. (31)

File:Piet Zwart Institute - Flowmaps, The Imaginaries of Global Integration files/a 002.gif

Caida.org, Skitter, 2002 (32)

Consider finally two more maps, built up from the same data-sets by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (caida.org) at the University of California in San Diego – a direct offshoot of the American military-industrial complex, with support from the National Science Foundation, Darpa and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The technological process at work in these maps is quite complex. Twenty-one monitors run a traceroute program called "skitter," following the links to some 1,200,000 IP addresses. The Border Gateway Protocol routing tables, collected into a data base by the University of Oregon, are then used in order to resolve the individual addresses back to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) responsible for routing their signals. A team of researchers analyze the data they have gathered. What you are seeing are some eleven thousand ISPs, roughly 84% of all known organizations managing blocs of IP numbers. The map shows the number of outgoing connections per ISP, with lower values at the light blue edges, and higher numbers of interconnections as you move toward the mauve, red and finally yellow ISPs at the center. But the map is also organized by the geographical location of the service providers, distributed according to longitude around the circle. In this way it clearly shows the hierarchical, tripolar structure of contemporary informational and economic exchanges, with the area corresponding to the East Coast of the US presenting the highest output values, and with a similarly dominant position, within their respective regions, for London and for Tokyo. Indeed, the Caida map almost perfectly mirrors the map of the global oligopoly presented in 1994 by the Marxist economist François Chesnais.


Caida.org, "Animation of AS core over 18 months from July 2000 to January 2002" (33)

The second map displays strictly comparable data, structured according to identical principles. Yet it shows the modulation of this data over time. What we are watching in this animation are the diurnal variations in the intensity of outgoing connections, caused by the change in the numbers of people using the ISPs, and by the specific addresses which they assign to their communications. This is a record of the fluctuations of human energy, within and beyond the global division of labor. Here, the statistical regularity of the major flows corresponds exactly to what we are seeing in the static map; and yet the mobility of the connections represented is a clue to the particular agency of each person establishing specific links through the planetary machinery. Thus one receives an intimation of the idea which preoccupied the 1990s and continues to develop even to this day: the idea of a human swarm, a global mind, a planetary brain, a cooperative, self-generative system of emancipating collective consciousness, in excess of all its physical and social determinants. (34) This idea or intimation of the multitude – to use a word which is already heavily connoted, and yet still strangely open, as though latent, its significance waiting to be realized – developed throughout the last decade, at a pace with the global division of labor, shaping the products of that division, particularly in the field of communication. The concrete forms taken on by the Internet, and even more, its uses, convey the deep ambiguity of this imperial infrastructure, and indeed of the entire dynamics of globalization, an ambiguity which I shall expose in greater detail, and with a wider variety of examples, in upcoming chapters. And yet the fundamental point must be made right away. This ambiguity expresses an historical conflict which continues to permeate capitalist civilization. Its proximate roots lie in forms taken, some four to five decades ago, by the revolutionary imagination. Its current development – including the rising consciousness of a multitude of subjectivation processes in excess of the normative, national figures of the "people" – entails a transformation and mutation of those forms, as they are reworked in contemporary situations with contemporary energies. Could we then imagine new maps of the inhabited earth? And perhaps a chance to play a contemporary version of Buckminster Fuller's cooperative World Game? To explore the historical ambiguity of capitalist civilization becomes a way to grasp both the shape of the present, and certain possible evolutions of the future.


This project, part of an ongoing series by Brian Holmes, has been supported by the Research Fellow programme of Media Design Research, Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam. pzwart.wdka.hro.nl

1. Thomas Feuerstein, view of the sculpture Leviathan in the exhibition "Fiat: radikale individuen - soziale genossen," at the Leopold Museum, Vienna, September 19 to October 31, 2003.

2. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996). pp. 412-13

3. Harry Cleaver, "Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism," www.eco.utexas.edu/homepages/faculty/Cleaver/polnet.html

4. Castells refers to Kenichi Omhae, Triad Power: The Coming Shape of Global Competition (Free Press, 1985) and Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton U. P., 1991).

5. Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, op. cit., p. 415.

6. Compare Jacques Attali's vision of a "historical exploit" in his essay on the architecture of Rem Koolhaas: "The city, overcome by the chaotic forces that have taken hold of it, is simultaneously surpassed, seeking the widest distribution of its riches through the mastery of its resources and the domination of world commerce... The hypothesis of a 'surpassing mutation'... is situated in the context, not of contradiction, but of rivalry: the now-universal model of the sporting competition, a principle of unification, indifferentiation, and homogenization of all the collective mythologies." Jacques Attali, "A Surpassing Mutation," in Mutations, exhib. cat. (Bordeaux/Barcelona: arc-en-rêve/Actar, 2000), p. 279.

7. Source: François Chesnais, La mondialisation du capital (Paris: Syros, 1994).

8. Buckminster Fuller, quoted by the Fuller Institute website, http://www.bfi.org/map.htm

9. "The common assumption of ultimate war by the major political powers of our planet brought about the development of World WAR Gaming Science by the great powers’ respective military strategists. World War Gaming Science involved all terrestrial resources. My World PEACE Gaming Science changes the basic assumption of fundamental inadequacy of total life support and applies total capability toward the success of all humans." Buckminster Fuller, "Preamble and Memorandum to those interested in playing World Game," in The World Game: Integrative Resource Planning Tool (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University, typescript, 1971), p. 2, www.bfi.org/worlddesign/WG1_Title.pdf

10. François Chesnais, La mondialisation du capital, op. cit. pp. 76-77. Peter D Sutherland, Chairman, BP p.l.c. (and one of the world's richest men), underscored the relation between the tremendous growth of the world market and the decline of politically imposed trade tariffs, in his address to an organization known as the "Worshipful Company of World Traders" on April 15, 2003: "In 1950, two years after the GATT was established, world exports were worth around $400 billion a year (constant prices, 1990 dollars). Now, exports of goods and services approach $8 trillion a year. It is not merely fortuitous that in the same time frame, average customs duties in the industrialised countries have fallen from nearly 40 per cent to less than five per cent." "Tacitus Lecture," .

11. For a definition of neoliberalism and its relation to eighteenth-century liberalism, see the opening pages of the article by Bob Jessop, "Liberalism, Neoliberalism and Urban Governance: A State-Theorectical Perspective" in: Antipode, vol. 34, no. 3, July 2002, pp. 452-472, www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/soc110rj.htm

12. This is the central concept developed in Bob Jessop, The Future of the Capitalist State (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002).

13. Bureau d'Etudes, World Monitoring Atlas, folded broadsheet published in 2003.

14. Bureau d'Etudes, World Government, unpublished document.

15. F. Chesnais, La mondialisation du capital, op. cit.

16. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove Press, 1991/1st French edition 1952), pp. 17-18.

17. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (London: Athlone Press, 1988/1st French edition 1986), p. 34 18. Ibid., pp. 34-35.

19. Cf. in particular Suely Rolnik, "The Twilight of the Victim: Creation Quits its Pimp, to Rejoin Resistance," in Zehar 51 (Fall 2003), pp. 34-37; www.arteleku.net/secciones/enred/zehar/zehar2/zehar51.jsp? ORIGEN=ZEHAR

20. Date and photographer unknown.

21. David F. Ronfeldt, John Arquilla, Graham E. Fuller, Melissa Fuller, The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico (Rand Corporation, 1998), chapter 2; www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR994

22. Ibid.

23. Harry Cleaver, "Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism," op. cit.

24. Andrew Flood, "Dreaming of a Reality: Where The Past And Future Meet The Present" www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3849/report_andrew.html ; also available at artactivism.members.gn.apc.org/stories/dreaming.htm and in the book We Are Everywhere (reference below).

25. We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism, eds. Notes from Nowhere collective (London: Verso, 2003); the title of this book, a very old revolutionary slogan, has notably been used in recent times by members of the People's Global Action network.

26. Cheswick and Burch, "Map of the Internet," available at research.lumeta.com/ches/map/gallery/index.html

27. Cf. the account of the origins of the project in Bill Cheswick, Hal Burch, Steve Branigan, "Mapping and Visualizing the Internet"; the relevant section of the paper, with references to the authors' work on tracing the originators of Denial of Service attacks, is available at www.usenix.org/publications/library/proceedings/usenix2000/

28. Thomas Keenan, "Looking Like Flames and Falling Like Stars: Kosovo, the First Internet War," in Mutations, cat., arc-en-rêve, Bordeaux (France), 2000. For the animated map of the damaged Serbian network, see the middle of the page: research.lumeta.com/ches/map

29. Jackson Pollock, No. 8 (1949), www.physics.hku.hk/~tboyce/ap/0603exam2000/PHYS0603exam2000b.html

30. See Roland Barthes / by Roland Barthes (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977).

31. This is exactly the paradox developed in the work by Thomas Feuerstein, Leviathan, which presents, not a fiber-optic jellyfish but rather a physalia, which is a colony or hive made up of distinct organisms. Commenting on the crystalline structure of this collective being's "head," Toni Negri remarks: "There’s a kind of singularity here which has nothing to do with individuality. Individuality is a feature of something that lives on its own, but if I put one crystal next to another, the crystal presents itself as singular only insofar as it reflects its neighbor, and on and on, all the way back to infinity. For instance, when I talk about a multitude I’m talking, in fact, about a group of singularities. These singularities don’t exist in the way that individuals are classically thought to exist, as something with a substance all its own. Here it’s a question of singularities that only exist as parts of relationships, or only insofar as they reflect one another, or place themselves in a mutual relationship. This is what’s absolutely fundamental..." See Multitudes 15, special issue on contemporary art.

32. Map available at www.caida.org/analysis/topology/as_core_network

33. Ibid.

34. Perhaps the most far-ranging, even utopian expression of the contemporary desire for unbounded human cooperation is Maurizio Lazzarato, Puissances de l'invention: La psychologie économique de Gabriel Tarde contre l'économie politique (Paris: Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2002).