Intra-Competitive Networks

In modern politics and organisations more generally, the Weberian bureaucracy of clearly-organised hierarchies, lineated systems of control and a series of standardised processes, rules and outputs has been increasingly superseded by the advent of the network, a system of loose control configured more by ideological coherency and the inculcation of values. As Mintzberg describes the evolution of organisational environments, as complexity increases (i.e. the level of knowledge and information to be processed is greater) there is a growing trend toward decentralisation (to work constellations based on expertise and experience) and organic structure based around informal mutual adjustment and work group autonomy[1]. This can be seen in the fields of human resource management, media, think tanks and regulatory organisations acutely.

In these network topologies relations of interiority that defined the traditional bureaucracy are replaced or deconstructed by relations of exteriority. “While those favouring the interiority of relations tend to use organisms as their prime example, Deleuze gravitates towards other kinds of biological illustrations, such as the symbiosis of plants and pollinating insects. In this case we have relations of exteriority between self-subsistent components such as the wasp and the orchid relations which may become obligatory in the course of coevolution”[2]. As DeLanda’s metaphor illustrates, relations of interiority relate to lockstep processes that develop a standardised, coherent whole whereby if parts are subtracted, this relationship of wholeness disintegrates. Exteriority instead suggests a loose relationship that allows for coevolutionary tendencies. In this, if a part of the relation is subtracted the nature of the combination may change, but it is not inherently destroyed (rather it is deconstructed, destabilised or reformed).

“The other dimension defines variable processes in which these components become involved and that either stabilize the identity of an assemblage, by increasing its degree of internal homogeneity or the degree of sharpness of its boundaries, or destabilize it. The former are referred to as processes of territorialization and the latter as processes of deterritorialization”[3]. Here in DeLanda’s definition of assemblages, we can see the distinction between the exterior relations of the network compared to the interior ones of a bureaucracy or similarly standardised organisational format. The intra-competitive networks that I have discussed previously[4] are akin to these assemblages, producing relations and policies that have the potential for stabilisation or destabilisation.

Their intra-competitive element comes from their network format. Instead of entering into relations of subordinate-superior, the degrees of professionalisation and expertise are taken as the foundations to establish rank. Because these elements are subjective and subject to re-evaluation over time, they are extremely fluid in determining one’s position and as a result create competitive pressures whereby expertise and professionalism have to be constantly maintained. This is normally through a re-emphasis of their ideological loyalty and a substantiation of their values (which match the ideological coherency that defines network membership). Such ideological coherency can be seen running through the various organisational formats I’ve described, from the biases of corporate media, the merry-go-round of think tanks and lobbying organisations and the homogeneity of political parties to the determinations of HR departments and regulatory entities.

The pathologies of corporate media produce a strange ideological coherency that is tacit throughout the production of stories and the maintenance of their viewers. In America, media is at its most polarised in terms of the cultivation of its audience. Fox News for the Republicans and CNN and MSNBC for the Democrats. The skewed narratives and obvious biases would suggest that they are at each other’s necks. Yet the underlying pathology is that of cultivating audience niches, maintaining high viewing figures and producing/developing stories that stoke a reaction. Both Fox News and MSNBC are designed to do this. “Mainstream media are owned and controlled by a small number of large, multi-media and multi-industrial conglomerates that lie at the very heart of US oligopoly capitalism and much of whose advertising revenue and content is furnished from other conglomerates. The inability of mainstream media to sustain an information environment that can encompass histories, perspectives and vocabularies that are free of the shackles of US plutocratic self-regard is also well documented”[5]. We can see this with the Russiagate narrative that dominated US news networks for the past 3 years. The Trump campaign engaged in forms of deceit and lying to manufacture electoral support. The Internet Research Agency produced social media-based ads that garnered high viewer rates and had varying levels of success at convincing people of the veracity of fake news stories. These grains of truth were developed into hyper-partisan spectacle that were fed by junk reports (like the Buzzfeed dossier) and sensationalism, all for the sake of producing alternate narratives that segmented the media market and maintained viewership niches. Intra-competitive networks rewarded the partisanship of these stories by rewarding journalists who produced the greatest spectacle and affirming the ideological righteousness of those who either wholly supported or wholly denounced such narratives (and in the process removing considered reporting and nuance from the picture).

Political parties follow a similar tack. The post-war developments of politics has followed a systemic track from ideological opposition between two or more political parties with distinct electoral bases formed within class systems and the oppositions of organisational hierarchies (management vs worker, operator vs supervisor, etc.) to a system of life politics and regulatory arbitrage[6]. As Mair noted[7], the development of the European Union was representative of this shift, as a system of commitology and value plurality become the way of doing politics. Political parties became useful as unfixed value markers rather than representatives of a series of stratified interests. Richard Hunsinger notes this pathology in the private prison industrial complex in America and the rise of border prison camps. “CoreCivic and GEO Group also heavily involve themselves in political lobbying. The proximity of these corporations to Trump and the GOP often takes center stage in public discourse, but left out are the many contributions they make to Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee received $350,000 in contributions from private-prison industry lobbyists during the 2018 midterm election cycle alone, and there are still instances of individual Democratic candidates accepting gifts and contributions from lobbyists for the industry. What is clear is that capital’s investment in the infrastructure for genocide has bipartisan support and that the false politics represented by the electoral spectacle must not cloud that reality. America’s failing representative democracy is now infected with a resurgent nationalism that erects itself as a psychological support to the contradiction between capital’s free global movement across borders and the simultaneous restriction of similar movement of labor”[8].

Both Democrats and Republicans are fully supportive of a profit-based system of exploitation of migrant labour to maintain agricultural productivity and provide an extant labour supply for lower wages. More anecdotal evidence for the emergence of political parties as elements in these intra-competitive networks comes from the shared occupational and educational bases of politicians. They are dominated by the professions of law, banking and consultancy, and in the case of the UK have a strong basis of being privately educated and following the track of PPE through Oxbridge. The process of determining and nominating candidates furthers this homogenising process, as unorthodox views are quickly whittled away for political party candidates in winnable seats. What is wanted is an easy-on-the-eye, non-ideological mouthpiece who will repeat the same mantras at every doorstep, neither inflaming opinion nor belittling voters. Thus the development of easy-to-understand slogans with strong repetition qualities. “Get Brexit Done”, “MAGA” or “New Labour, New Britain”.

We can also see how these narratives can change when the voter dynamics have shifted. The politics of the median voter must be understood in this sense not as an ideological centrism, but as a shifting ground of political arbitrage where significant events or breaking points produce opinion metrics. Trump capitalising on increased anti-migrant attitudes and a shift away from free market thinking in the party base (and supporting organisations). The Conservatives moving away from overt Thatcherism and Cameronite centrism in the 2019 general election, thereby developing a coalition of red heartland voters, shire voters and the suburban electorate. These are examples of this shifting phenomena and how the intra-competitive networks within modern political parties can quickly reform and reconstruct coalitions, as they maintain a corporatised, non-ideological basis through which candidate selection and narrative construction is mouldable to changes in the median. The value plurality and assemblage-quality of networks is amenable to this, as values are not to be based on material characteristics (class, industrial position, workplace, etc.) but on lifestyle choices and consumption patterns. Thus the ability to integrate corporate spin doctors into the heart of media organisations and political parties.

Human resource management departments represent a different element of these networks, but contain ideological coherency and exterior relationships to its core constituencies. The nature of human resources that developed from the 60s and 70s is seen in a precursor system, that of the technostructure defined by Galbraith and Mintzberg. The technostructure is an adjacent part of the wider organisational system. Traditionally there existed the line structure, with the operating core at the bottom (where inputs are processed into outputs), the middle line (containing middle managers) and the strategic apex at the top (containing the central committee and/or CEO). This is the typical bureaucratic system, with clear superior-subordinate relations and vertical lines of communication and information processing. However as the complexity of work grew and the development of other organisational matrices that externally effected business organisations (regulators, trade unions, professional associations, consultancy firms) rose, the requirements to integrate analysis work and a staff of people capable of dealing with external relations were needed. Influenced by the analysis of theorists like Taylor and Chandler, work analysis developed to understand the bottlenecks within production and distribution systems and how productivity was being reduced. From these analyses came new management systems that minutely regulated the activities and processes of operators (and other organisational members), reducing unproductive activity. However as these theories solidified and developed, the focus on people management also grew, with the recognition that productivity wasn’t just reduced by poorly-designed work systems but also by worker motivation, alienation and involvement.

Here the rise of HR can be seen as the move away from technical analysis of work toward people-centric analysis. With it came narrative developments such as equity-and-diversity, self-actualisation, autonomy and performance management. The initial relation of the line functions to the technostructure remained with the development of HR functions. Many HR managers and staff are externally recruited, creating a semi-autonomous unit within the organisation that is responsible for company policies and performance reviews. A functional separation is enacted whereby the policies and attitudes of HR departments are influenced by cross-cutting ideological narratives developed in business schools, professional associations and training courses rather than company cultures. With this we’ve seen the metastasisation of HR management into the previously mentioned media and political fields, as well as university administration and R&D sectors.

Think tanks and regulatory organisations are a parallel system of intra-competitive networks to media and politics, becoming an integral part of the policy-making procedures of most economies and creating an exchange of ideas and people between these different sectors. Within the UK think tank world, there exist interlocking committees and people exchanges between themselves, creating a similarly homogenising process akin to political party selections whereby ideological coherence and value loyalty are rewarded, allowing members to increase their influence and exchangeability. This dynamic can be seen in free market think tanks like the IEA, TPA and CPS, as well as between the Fabian Society or the IPPR and the Labour Party. In regulatory organisations, the effects of lobbying and the predominance of expertise (so defined by the extent to which regulators have private sector experience) create a revolving door between regulators and regulatees in the private sector. Regulatory agencies are now more than just competition authorities or parliamentary/presidential servants, becoming an integral part of policy-making and being data-processing factories and public-private partnerships in their own right.

“As the success of regulation critically depends on ‘resources’ provided by the regulated sector, agency independence is not absolute. Three types of resources can be distinguished: financial resources, information, and legitimacy”[9]. These three resources create interdependencies informed by exterior relations, where regulatory agencies are reliant on regulated sectors for funding, the provision of information so that regulation is effective, and trust (so that decision-making isn’t hampered by communication breakdowns). “To acknowledge and satisfy these dependencies, the regulated industry is involved in the regulatory process in various ways. Firstly, the regulated sector normally plays an advisory role, with companies being asked for information, feedback and their opinion in individual cases as well as in general consultation procedures (see Pagliari and Young 2014). Secondly, in some cases, the sector participates in the decision making, with industry representatives sitting on the agency’s executive board. More often, though, representatives are found on advisory and/or supervisory boards. In addition, IRAs tend to have executive board members with extensive experience in the industry. Thirdly, the industry may take part in the implementation of regulation; for instance, by means of so-called enforced self-regulation or management-based regulation, where companies apply more general regulatory principles to their own situation”[10].

The interdependencies between representative and constituent that defined the bureaucratic relations (of media, politics, human relations and regulation) have become distorted, being more fluid and flexible in their implementation strategies and relations. As a result, their ability to stabilise has also become more fluid and contingent. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when many of these institutions were near-hegemonic, these fluid dynamics were the new norm. The supersession of class politics by life politics was seen to have buried the friend-enemy distinction, instead favouring a politics of plurality, flexible values and dialogic committees. A competitive media environment better served different constituencies, funnelling news to different segments and making everyone part of the media landscape. HR departments were seen corporate equalisers, pushing the empowerment narrative into the heart of different economic sectors. And regulatory agencies and think tanks were seen to decentralise policy-making frameworks, opening them to alternative narratives and further separating policy from politics (and therefore unproductive conflict).

However since the 2008 financial crisis and the development of national populism, these dynamics are under increasing strain, with many seeing in them the roots of our current crises. HR departments have unnecessarily politicised business functions, introducing empowerment narratives that favour group-based politics at the expense of R&D and innovation (as with the Google walkouts a couple of years ago or the equity-and-diversity agendas increasingly prevalent in universities). Regulatory agencies have removed policy-making from political oversight, making it obscure, legalistic and unresponsive to dispersed public pressures. The everyman nature of the median voter theory in political parties has produced a politics of consensus that does very little (happily pushing policy onto those regulatory agencies) while the friend-enemy distinction of politics has fragmented into political breakages and conjunctures that entail further fragmentation (such as the divisions inherent in the Euro crisis, Brexit and US politics). The competitive media environment has further contributed to this political fragmentation, as media narratives serve constituencies at the expense of attaining objectivity. With this, much of the populist fervour and opposition can be seen as the attempts to construct parallel networks to compete against and crack open these intra-competitive networks. I would place within this the attempts of Corbyn-supporting media outlets (Novara Media, The Canary) to construct an alternative media ecology that served their own base. The rise of Podemos and the Five Star Movement as parties attempting to repivot the political landscape so that populist demands could be implemented through policy-making (technocratic) methods[11]. Brexit as a reneging of the economic/social liberal consensus, constructing a cultural sovereignty to combat the prevailing logistical sovereignty that defined the centrist consensus of the past three decades[12]. With these developments, intra-competitive networks may increasingly become inter-competitive networks in a political/organisational ecology of fragmented conflict, where different fields and sectors (media, political parties, regulatory agencies, HR departments and others) are caught in consensus vs. alterity disputes that fragment the socius along multiple dimensions.

[1] Henry Mintzberg, The Structuring of Organizations

[2] Manuel DeLanda, The New Philosophy of Society

[3] Manuel DeLanda, The New Philosophy of Society




[7] Peter Mair, Ruling the Void






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