Into the Post-Network Era

“‘Segmented, polycentric, ideologically integrated networks’ (SPINs): By segmentary I mean that it is cellular, composed of many different groups…. By polycentric I mean that it has many different leaders or centers of direction…. By networked I mean that the segments and the leaders are integrated into reticulated systems or networks through various structural, personal, and ideological ties. Networks are usually unbounded and expanding…. This acronym [SPIN] helps us picture this organization as a fluid, dynamic, expanding one, spinning out into mainstream society”[1]. Networks as unbounded and expanding give a good picture of what the defining paradigm is within the network era. An integrated, increasingly connected global society that, instead of containing the bulwarks of industrial organisation and bordered nation-states caught within rigid international blocs, has an interconnected series of junctures and circuits (of global cities, airports and international trade routes). It is, as I described before[2], a dialectic relation of deconstruction/reconstruction, where the nature of things like community, industry and citizenship are a bricolage display of decentred variables that can be picked and chosen. It is best represented by the professional association and the logistical firm, both being fluid networks of value chains, human capital, social associations and horizontal communication channels.

But the network era is now seemingly sclerotic, lurching from crisis to crisis as seen across the movements from the Dotcom bubble to the 2008 recession to the coronavirus depression. “The pandemic has made clear this festering problem: the US is no longer very good at coming up with new ideas and technologies relevant to our most basic needs. We’re great at devising shiny, mainly software-driven bling that makes our lives more convenient in many ways. But we’re far less accomplished at reinventing health care, rethinking education, making food production and distribution more efficient, and, in general, turning our technical know-how loose on the largest sectors of the economy”[3]. Productivity slumps and wage stagnation have defined economic growth since the 1980s, with some growth in the early 80s and mid-to-late 90s but within a wider picture of inertia. The primary vectors of innovation have emanated from the software and technology industries, but their concentration within monopolistic platforms, search customisation and telecommunications has produced little high-productivity innovation, instead feeding corporate behemoths that can swallow up innovative products and applications and outsource production and labour costs.

However a call to build as a means of reinvigorating the productivity and wage growth seen from the 40s to the 70s is unlikely. Besides the specific context of that growth, the more general issue is one that Tyler Cowen has identified as picking the low hanging fruit. This isn’t just applicable to technological or productive innovation, but also to scientific discovery and the generation of ideas. The areas with the most innovative potentials have been sufficiently mined over the past three to four centuries. And when Andreessen talks of innovating in areas like healthcare, higher education and climate change, these are not panaceas of productivity. Healthcare, education and other care activities have productivity limits due to the nature of the work, limiting both scalability and expansive growth. Certainly more investment and best practice can be developed, as the sclerotic messes present in both the American healthcare system and the NHS testify too (as well as the highlighting of care workers’ importance in the coronavirus pandemic). However this only takes these sectors so far. Taking them beyond these limits presents greater potential for these activities to become Taylorised, bureaucratising standards, hierarchising the pay structures (which are themselves limited) and reproducing British care home scandals and the current university system, where they act as little more than degree factories for the production of basic employment standards.

In the areas of climate change and food production systems, the potential for scalable growth is also limited. While some people may wax lyrical about the potential for autonomous electric cars, zero carbon cities and alternative food systems, these are themselves extremely energy intensive. Lithium batteries are hardly a renewable resource compared to fossil fuels, and the international farming and shipping systems for meat and produce require significant de-complexification if carbon targets are to be met and long-term sustainable environmental equilibrium is developed. These areas are not ripe for the repetition of post-war growth, but instead present new challenges that require a new economic and social vocabulary. There will be no return to the Fordist industrial ethos or a repetition of the centralised Keynesian state, as the entrenchment of globalisation and the growth of associative governance and network organisational forms have made this nonviable. The problems Rotman notes are actually problems that complexify and challenge the network era, and suggest emerging responses of a post-network nature, that border networks, delineate and complicate global systems and rewrite the way networks systematise and scale.

In contrast to Perez’s post-ICT global vision of greater integration and cooperation (“the best promise of massive market expansion would seem to be in the incorporation of more and more countries to global growth, investment, production and consumption”[4]), the emergence in the stagnation of the network era of trade wars, networked tribalisms and nationalisms, and diffuse platforms, suggest a fragmented world of multipolar orders rather than a further interconnected global society. The emerging post-network era would seem to be “a return to the physical, for what is central here is substance, material, things, everything that belongs to the ‘real world’, including the human body. This is precisely what ICT – and several theories from the ICT era – distanced itself from by overcoming space, privileging ideas and communication; the key word was frequently ‘virtuality’”[5] (Drechsler is speaking of nanotechnology as the emerging techno-economic paradigm to replace the ICT organisational form, but its wider applicability to post-network formations is evident in the way it talks of a return of the spatial, much like the increasing turbulence of the stagnating network/ICT era is bringing back the national sphere as the centre of economic and social thinking and displacing the temporal concerns of supply chain governance and decentralised/distributed corporations, creating a tension between spatial and temporal organising methodologies). “This would speak for the formation of physical clustering of production as well as of life, for the necessity of gathering at specific places, and thus for matters of space and, in effect, their power, for bigger problems in the context of migration, demographic shifts, etc. The relevance of a governance structure that coordinates, balances, but also conserves, in other words, that of a classical state of an Aristotelian conception is thus likely to grow remarkably”[6]. This suggests both an extension and intensification of the collibrative governance of the network era, but within a context of greater bordering and bloc formations, such that in balancing and conserving interests (both national and international), there is greater competition and conflict at both levels (the development of inter-competitive networks[7] at multiple scales).

At the geopolitical level, this resembles a neo-medievalism of fragmented polities engaged in various games of cooperation and conflict that are to some degree collibrative i.e. balancing interests against each other to produce quasi-amenable outcomes. Negotiating the best of the worst scenarios in other words. “A kind of hyperfragmentation”[8] seen in cosseted religious groups, European ethnic enclaves and networked tribes. A networking and stacking of borders upon borders. And this is not just visible at a geopolitical or sociological level, but at an organisational level with the emergence of platform companies becoming facilitators of governance and a defining ontology of exit. This suggests a multi-level conflagration of methods, that go beyond simply defining a post-network era to connecting Perez’s techno-economic paradigms with wider ideas of cyclical systems and epochs.

Previously I’ve written of the socio-economic epoch emerging from the 1960s onwards as the intertechnic. This is a successor conflagration to the neotechnic era theorised by Lewis Mumford. “In the neotechnic, electricity in all its remodelling potential was still chained to power supplies reliant on coal, gas and oil. It became foundational to the war economy of centralised, factory line production done at speed. Communication and knowledge, while increasingly seen as embedded, fragmented and segmented elements, was still chained to the manufacturing process and the linking of logistics, industry and finance as semi-stable forms of capital. The intertechnic was an evolution upon this, where human capital not as the technical knowledge of the worker, but as the semi-processable methods by which organisational ecologies create and sustain interaction frameworks and maintain institutional semblance, has taken central position in employment relations. Where logistics, finance and manufacture have become self-referential, intra-codified modes of production and exchange increasingly autonomise and become illegible. Here the financial trader, the logistics manager or the shop floor worker have limited understanding of the processes at play around them. Knowledge flows of these kinds are growing beyond individual and institutional cognition. The blurring of lines between social production and profit, such as seen in the production of data and its confused identity as either commoditisable streams or communicatory flows. The neotechnic presented clear patterns and boundaries outlining the firm, the market and the government. The intertechnic blurs these beyond recognition as methods of public and private governance and ownership collide in meshes of partnerships, competition, and meta-systemic negotiation and compromise”[9].

The intertechnic, as an evolution and overtaking of the neotechnic epoch, is an evolution of the global dynamics seen in the neotechnic and the industrial techno-economic paradigm. One of the concurrent trends of Mumford’s epochs is that as they move from the eotechnic to the paleotechnic to the neotechnic, they scale upwards to new spatial levels. The primary organising space of the eotechnic was the local and regional. For the paleotechnic it was national, urban and imperial spaces. For the neotechnic it was global, internationally organised spaces. In the intertechnic, it is logistical and virtual space. This maps onto the techno-economic evolutions of industrial to network organisation. There has been an increase in globality and interconnectivity in the evolutions of both technic epochs and organisational paradigms.

Here we must distinguish between paradigms and epochs. The former is comparable to Kondratiev waves or Perezian cycles whereby the prevailing common sense of business organisation and governance change as entropy develops within their modes of action. The industrial conglomerate of the post-war era had a series of deficiencies (communication bottlenecks, lack of flexibility, fragmentation of strategy across different business lines, a fracturing of the managerial nexus depending on which part controlled which section, subdivision versus board of directors, etc.) which became increasingly exploitable as the world became more globalised and fluid in its trade barriers and governing structures. Thus, the rise of the network form where corporations became networks where sections were outsourced, nodalised and the structure became lean and diffuse. Epochs are where the prevailing technological infrastructure produce a contingent series of variables that create selections and choices. This is captured in the distinction Ayache makes between possibility and contingency: “the distinction between possibility, as always defined relative to a fixed context, and contingency, as the capacity of changing the context”[10]. The epoch or technic period is one of potentiality and capacity (capacity to alter systems and reinterpret events). The paradigm is the concretisation of this capacity into real-world situations i.e. the actual creation of the context. While both are interrelated, they have the possibility of being significantly disconnected from each other in terms of the relations of choice nexuses, meaning mismatches between the technological infrastructure (and its related contingencies) and the possibilities present within an organisational paradigm. For example, Mumford predicted the neotechnic epoch as one dominated by the electrification of production and an associated decentralisation of productive units away from the factories of the early industrial era to workshop-type systems such as those described by Kropotkin or (to a lesser extent) those that developed in Japanese supply chains. Instead, the organisational paradigm of conglomerates developed and hybridised with the electrified production techniques, leading onto the industrial complexes of the mid-20th century.

In this reading, there is a connection between the ICT/network paradigm that has emerged cyclically from the failures of industrial organisation, and the intertechnic epoch as a technological choice architecture that presents different paths for possible social organisation. The latter encompasses the former to a degree, much as the paleotechnic encompassed the centralised, vertical organisation of trusts and joint-stock companies through requiring capital-intensive hierarchical companies to fund and run the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Or as the neotechnic encompassed the segmented, oligopolistic conglomerates of the 20th century. Instead of electrical production decentralising and rationalising industries (as Mumford suggested), it allowed for a combined approach of heterarchical and hierarchical control as the organisational form of the firm changed from a vertical structure to a six-part Mintzbergian configuration, where alongside the central managerial hierarchy existed a technostructure (HR, technical managers, consultants, etc.) and support staff that sat horizontally to the central structure.

The intertechnic has allowed for the emergence of the virtual organisation (that constrained by time rather than space) and the primacy of logistics and financial engineering (distributed supply chains, algorithmic trading, shadow banking, geography as a series of nodes in a network, etc.), coinciding with the network era as the contextual parameter of epochal contingencies. The post-network era, as that emerging from the entropy of the network era, is itself encompassed in the intertechnic as well as a challenge to some of its logics. It is encompassed as it is an evolution of network forms of organisation and social action. It is not a rejection of the network form wholesale, as representations of the post-network era (networked tribes, emerging nationalisms, super-empowered individuals, memetic warfare, adhocratic firms) have degrees of networked connectivity.

However, as the paradigm evolves and wilts, new forms for socio-economic action necessarily emerge, taking elements of the previous paradigm and spinning them out into new possibilities as the prevailing order becomes entropic (within the contingent framework of the wider intertechnic epoch). The post-network form is then also a challenge to the prevailing contexts of the intertechnic, altering core logics and thus emerging new paradigmatic conceptions that redefine or resituate the intertechnic as an epoch. As the network era has stagnated, maintaining oligopoly structures that have hybridised with networks and lean production/supply chains to develop a corporate architecture of data control and limited transparency, recreating the industrial complexes through mass data gathering and strict IP regimes, a disconnect between epochal contingency and organisational possibility emerges. Hall describes such a situation as innately entropic: “an attempt to conserve an order that has become obsolete requires an intensification of ‘delusional’ mechanisms that distance society from reality and eventually deplete its ability to operate. Thus, society moves from productive to conservative to moribund. Depending on the political will and political power of the institutions driving the transition from productive to conservative, this death can be very quick and destructive (see French Revolution) or can potentially be delayed for a very long time (‘zombieification’). Indeed, the period just following the transition from productive to conservative (open to closed) can be experienced as highly positive (a ‘golden age’). However, once a society moves to full closure — like any entropic environment — its fate is (largely, although never absolutely) sealed”[11]. The post-network era is an attempt to move beyond the entropic context and invigorate a new paradigm of realised potential.

The transition to the post-network era is being encapsulated in the jurisdictionalisation of information flows into zones and frameworks. The fragmentation of the network itself. “The non-transparency concepts of anonymity, opacity and zones brings us closer to the concept of an information order. Scott Lash explains ‘postmodernisation means the replacement of social structures by information and communication structures…no longer is social class determined by access to the mode of production but by access to the mode of information. Social inequality is then decisively now a question of access to global flows’. Hence, ‘the global information culture depends on power for exclusion. This means mainly exclusion from the loop, from the means of information, from the global flows of information and communication. The principal actors in the national manufacturing society were nations, institutions and organisations. In the information order, relationships are less within a country than between global cities in different countries. The importance of relations of production internal to organisations is now paralleled by new relations of production and communication between smaller and more amorphous disorganisations’”[12]. Rather than the dichotomy of those inside vs those outside the loop, the post-network form is the very disorder of this dichotomy into opposing/perpendicular organisations.

The formative control of information flows can be seen in both sovereign and private contexts with issues of data flows across borders and control bleeding outwards into privatised zones and splinternet firewalls. Beyond the national control infrastructures of China or Russia, the nature of post-network sovereignty is a rewriting of the form of sovereignty, moving into organisational forms including platforms, corporations and/or stigmergic formations. And beyond this ordering, it is the disordering of information flows through false narratives and hacking, from the Internet Research Agency’s disinformation campaign in the US election to the spread of conspiracy theories and propaganda through social media ecologies. The network form was premised on the expansion of globality and an associated accelerative temporality (and into a state of polar inertia, “a pre-eminence of time over real space”[13], which is representative of its stagnation). As previously mentioned, the post-network form is a return of the spatial into the temporal conflagrations of the networked. Spatiality here are the porous borders of firewalls, the fifth-generation warfare of disinformation (staging the space of warfare against the temporality of information flows) and the creation of a messy governance with new sovereign/sub-sovereign entities, defined not by a system of interconnectivity and integration but by a system of fragmentary and partial exits.

Platforms and their infrastructures are defining features of a system of exit, as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and cloud platforms construct dissociative interfaces and alternative governance structures that both disrupt and increasingly undergird significant sections of economic and political decision-making. Platform-type companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Wal-Mart, GoDaddy and Comcast already have systemic functions within the US and international economies through their entrenched connections with third-party suppliers, insurers and capital funds. This presents new vectors for control and for systemic risk, as telecommunications and technology platforms become central hubs for the flows of information. “A shock to any individual firm could ripple across every sector. Focusing on Amazon, just one of its core businesses, Amazon Web Services (AWS), has grown from $12 billion in 2016 annual sales to more than $25 billion in annual sales in 2018, providing cloud inter-net services to millions of customers, such as households, firms, and government entities. The potential for systemic effects of a sustained shock to just its AWS service is notable”[14].

This is a representation of the move from the networked forms of organisation (the distributed corporation, the interconnected supply chain and smooth spaces of logistics) toward the post-network form of striated geographies. It is no longer a series of points connected via nodes and lines of communication but a patchier system of configurability, “a world without antipodes and without hidden aspects, a world in which opacity is but a momentary interlude”[15], with these interludes being the instantiations of momentary but systemic disorders as trustless security systems and deeply entrenched semi-sovereign platforms are affected by manipulation, hacking and economic crises that require further consolidation and the onboarding of further risk as these companies become too big to fail. For the network era, as Virilio notes, “the old agglomeration disappears in the intense acceleration of telecommunications, in order to give rise to a new type of concentration: the concentration of a domiciliation without domiciles, in which property boundaries, walls and fences no longer signify the permanent physical obstacle. Instead, they now form an interruption of an emission or of an electronic shadow zone which repeats the play of daylight and the shadow of buildings”[16]. However this power of interruption has grown in the globalised world, as the infrastructural weaknesses of a global system requiring integration across and beyond the cultural sovereignty and connections of nation-states has been perforated by the rise of new nationalisms and identitarian interests, the growing crises of climate change and the asymmetry between the high-speed flows of information/telecommunicative intelligence and human perception (breeding new forms of alienation and a growing conflict between logistical and cultural perceptions). “We slowly learn to let go of certain things (of nationalisms, of monotheisms, of economic psychologisms, strong genomic and semiotic ontologies) and negotiate instead a deliberate and strategic dissolution — on-planet, off-planet —into whatever and whoever comes next”[17]. However this negotiation is increasingly a conflict between old and new sovereign forms, between human and informatic perceptions, and within a multiplicity of networked borders and blockages.

Post-network forms move beyond the network-hierarchy dialectic into striated, bordered modalities of communication and information flow. In their instantiation of Silicon Valley exit, they are a nascent techno-sovereignty or islands of autonomy, ensconced within American foreign policy and intelligence objectives yet at the same time opposed to outside limitation. This is not so much the California ideology of techno-libertarianism but the creation of enveloping folds, containing particular cultures or niches (Amazon monopoly control over consumer culture; Facebook control over the construction and dividualisation of identities; Twitter as the changing of dialogic networks into new media landscapes; the proliferation of smart mobs and adhocratic instantiations within the fields of closed potentiality defined by techno-monopolies and their sovereign implications). As Edmund Berger elucidates[18] with regards to Huawei, this techno-sovereignty can be seen as the nascent expansion of (Chinese) imperial ambitions, systematising sovereign objectives through the platform format. This is the movement of government to governance, the construction and spread of interests and the limitation of their liminal possibilities as Moten & Harney would say. The implementation of a Huawei-led tactile internet furthers the fissuring nature of post-network forms, as techno-sovereignty creates new borders and moves beyond the smooth lines of networks into the jagged lines of network space (control over IP addresses, routing functions and dialogic capabilities). Relating back to building, we are no longer in the industrial phase of infrastructure but in the post-national phase of infrastructural control.

“When content providers will own both terrestrial and space transits, it will have a huge impact on the structure of the Internet as we know it. We have to confront the possibility that the Internet may manifest itself into multiple autonomous Internets with the global public Internet becoming only a tiny small part of it”[19]. This encapsulates the modalities and risk reduction strategies of the post-network era. Already these sovereign conflicts between platforms and governments have emerged in the Google vs China debacle, as well as the conflict between Huawei and the US government regarding 5G infrastructure. This is the emergence of logistical, informational and infrastructural platform zones that striate global governance. “For example, instead of today’s division of organizational acumen as drawn above, perhaps some new Cloud platform will be based on a combination of aspects drawn from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google at once. Perhaps one is based on individuation and display, App ecology, object logistics, and global infrastructure. Perhaps another instead draws on visual communication, hardware and physical touch, third-party cloud services, and search, while a third is based on fabricated currencies, enclave aesthetics, retail virtualization and compression, and cloud-based robotics”. “A political and cultural momentum toward generalized secession, not one-worldism, seems to drive what we might see as the nomos of the Cloud”[20]. Huawei already note this growing segmentary nature with regards to security, seeing a growing need for platforms to integrate users into “trusted systems”[21] through emerging blockchain and smart contract technologies as well as existing technology platforms’ attempts at integrating their customer bases through memberships and targeted advertisements, creating user typologies that act as a form of ersatz citizenship. Amazon’s “procedural individuation” and Prime memberships, Google’s “information cosmopolitanism” and Apple’s “cult brand/leader and enclave aesthetics”[22] embody this growing post-network trend of platform-as-governance sovereignty.

Similar dynamics are noticeable within the world of financial governance and the growing spaces of alterity within financial engineering as the tools and independence of central banks grows in the face of long-running stagnation and the coronavirus depression, and growth of shadow banking, cryptocurrencies and technocracy vs populism debates resituates financial questions and complicates sovereign control over financial flows, much as platform companies complicate control over information and telecommunication. The network era of financial regulation can be best summarised by Tsingou’s concept of club governance: “‘clubs’ are used either to mark out flexible, less institutionalized and regulation-focused inter-governmental arenas… or, following club economic theory, member-driven groupings with clear rules, club benefits and (usually) excludable club goods”[23]. They are arenas for the expression of collective interests and for defining the boundaries of expertise, constituting a form of transnational class that acts similar to the intra-competitive networks I’ve theorised. They hold significant regulatory power as seen through the G30 and the Basel Committee as well as private authorities like ratings agencies and financial industry groups, where the mixture of public and private interests bled into each other (through revolving door mechanisms and shared educational/career backgrounds), reinforce prevailing ideologies of ‘good governance’ and ‘prudential regulation’. This represents the network era, as the club governance model was indicative of the expansion of a globalised regulatory apparatus and a policy consensus.

Following the 2008 financial crisis and the ongoing stagnation, this consensus has fragmented into different financial orders and further crises, from the Eurozone to the emergence of the Renminbi as an alternate currency vehicle to the dollar. Greater levels of central bank experimentation, particularly quantitative easing across a range of markets, suggest a greater level of divergence and national autonomy between these institutions, fracturing the ideational diffusion of club governance in favour of regionalised responses that protect and support domestic interests. “These trends within the domestic and interstate political arenas may be reinforced by the weakening of the autonomy of transgovernmental technocratic networks. As discussed, officials within these networks may also encounter greater difficulties reaching consensus as the networks expand in size and heterogeneity”[24]. In other words, the ideological consensus frays as alternative pathways allow for decentralisation away from a fragile global system overly reliant on key nodes (TBTF banks and quasi-voluntary regulation).

“Other aspects of the macro-prudential regulatory agenda may also encourage greater segmentation of global financial business along national lines. Initiatives to require systemically important financial institutions to establish ‘living wills,’ for example, will likely to have the effect of forcing these firms to “ring fence” their global business in this way. The same consequence may flow from efforts to introduce countercyclical capital charges for banks. Because credit cycles vary by country, the BIS has noted that countercyclical capital charges ‘must be adjusted separately for each geographical portfolio held by an institution operating across national boundaries.’ For this reason, a number of analysts have concluded that countercyclical charges would most effectively be implemented simply on a host country basis”[25]. These trends after the 2008 financial crisis expanded the tools for policymakers as previous ideological boundaries were broken. This weakened international regulatory cooperation in favour of more overtly national and regional responses, as per new Eurozone rules regulating member nation’s fiscal parameters (i.e. bringing Southern European finances and debt levels in line with those of Germany) and the Dodd-Frank Act in the US. In this, new modes of international governance (or lack thereof) grow. Helleiner & Pagliari note two such examples, that of cooperative decentralisation and that of financial fragmentation.

Both fit the post-network paradigm of striated global space and a fragmented global politics of multiple sovereigns at multiple scales of political action. The former “would be centered upon the development and promotion of broad principles-based international regulatory standards as well as activities such as information-sharing, research collaboration, international early warning systems, and capacity building”[26]. The maintenance of a thin consensus around greater international liquidity through quantitative easing, as well as the strengthening of the Financial Stability Board, are examples of this phenomenon. These are not strong regulatory structures, but loose configurations that provide national flexibility in how they are implemented. The latter is described as the generation of “rival standards” or “sham standards”[27] i.e. international policies that are paid lip service rather than taken seriously. The growth of tax havens in the Middle East, the Caribbean and parts of East Asia are representative of this fragmentary drive. Further, much in the same way as platforms have developed sub-sovereign functions that mirror or undermine national regulatory frameworks, established financial institutions and transnational policy communities are another vector for the furtherance of an alternative regulatory agenda driven not by national or regional interests but by financial class interests. As noted, the network form of these structures will not disappear, but instead these networks will become conflictual as alternative interests and powerbases configure, striating networks along multiple axes of disagreement.

The coronavirus pandemic and associated economic crisis have only boosted these divergences, as central banks increase their quantitative easing programs as well as directly opening credit windows to financial institutions and established corporations. The Federal Reserve has even opened a Municipal Liquidity Facility for local and state governments to directly access funds[28]. The Japanese Central Bank has begun becoming the predominant buyer in a number of financial markets to prop up liquidity, including buying T bills. National governments themselves have also opened the coffers to provide expanded unemployment benefits, payment holidays and a practically new health infrastructure. Talk of austerity or budget cutting has gone out the window, and the economic downturn and its potential long-term consequences suggest there won’t be a return to the normality of simple consumer-led economic growth or the predominance of the service sector in the developed countries (at least not the in the form seen from the 1980s to now). Such direct action has led to greater populist yearnings for expanded governmental central bank action[29], going so far as to directly funding job markets and/or providing a basic income floor for citizens, particularly seeing as the last round of QE propped up asset prices and encouraged a huge number of share buybacks.

“For years anyone advocating for a better world has been told that change is impossible, because their policy plans are insufficiently detailed, and because ‘we’ can’t afford anything better than this. Economic policy in the last three weeks has moved the world close to a mirror version of the most radical dreams of the contemporary left: a world with less flying, less driving, less consumption, less oil production, but more leisure time, more assertion of community, more creativity and collaboration. A world in which wages and output, the commodified labor engine of capitalism itself, is fundamentally breaking down”[30]. Such talk suggests a new entrant into the networks of financial power, as regulation and financial engineering are re-politicised as variables open to critique and reform beyond the bounds set by regulators. “The existing patchwork of transgovernmental regulatory bodies remains constrained by its loose network-based structures and weak enforcement mechanisms as well as the increasingly diverse membership of these bodies”[31]. Such a stagnation and fragmentation have opened up these networks to greater scrutiny and upheaval as their place at the centre of financial regulations has become unsettled.

It is also open to greater undergirding by disordering which increase the levels of systemic risk within financial systems, paralleling the security risks and platforms-as-governance growth in platform companies. Two such disordering mechanisms can be seen as key challenges of the financial elements of a post-network era: the maintained strength of shadow banking and the growing divergence and experimentation around corporate capital structures. With shadow banking, we see an infrastructural tangling of different financial nexuses between private financial authorities in hedge and equity funds and the public authority of central banks and governmental institutions. In particular, this mixing shows another emergent section of sub-sovereign power that can dictate the flows of financial policy and governance, undermining regulatory cohesion in the same way platforms-as-governance undermine or undergird infrastructural cohesion. In the original development of shadow banking capacity, major central banks (particularly the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank) encouraged their development as a mechanism to provide further liquidity in financial markets. In the network era of financial governance, ideational consensus sat around the ability for central banks to indirectly govern markets through soft regulatory tools “by deploying the trinity of reserve requirements, open market operations, and standing facilities”[32], as well as by encouraging the provision of private securitised bonds alongside sovereign bonds.

However, with the 2008 financial crisis the infrastructural power of shadow banking was displaced (as were those of club governance arrangements mentioned earlier). “If shadow money is a mark of the growing infrastructural power of private finance, then the crisis of shadow money in both Europe and the US provides several insights into the limits and potentialities of that infrastructural power”[33]. Despite this unsettlement though, shadow banking interests still represent a core feature of monetary policy decision-making, and thus present one major challenge of the post-network era, that of regulating a substantial sub-sovereign regulatory nexus that is deeply intertwined with the interests of central banks (for example the ECB pushed against a financial transactions tax on repo markets as well as arguing for the provision of funds via QE for private securities). This private monetary power has a direct constraining effect on the greater autonomy of central banks vis-à-vis both state power and international governance protocols. In the striation of international governance, shadow banking represents an interconnected interest group that, much as it did in the lead up the 2008 crisis, presents large amount of systemic risk to the operations of financial markets as well as a blockage to an integrated, networked financial policy arena. With individual central banks having invested significant authority in these shadow operations, providing liquidity and moneyness so as to project monetary power (as per the Eurozone’s reliance on private Eurobonds and the Fed’s increasing need for liquidity), greater sovereign lines are seen within these interconnections. China’s use of shadow banking operations (as well as its investments in cryptocurrencies) suggests the tangling of sovereign monetary power with private regulatory authority to further striate financial markets.

The second area of risk present in the post-network era is that of the growing experimentation within company capital structures that have been aided by share buybacks and the provision of huge amounts of near interest-free credit that can prop-up even the most fanciful business models. The move toward the post-network organisational methodology is seen in the increasingly complex capital and debt structuring in modern companies, from financial corporations to retail outlets. This represents a fractured organisational form, where the only unifying element is the striations between the different subunits and outfits that artificially link them into a collective chain of activity. In the area of credit provision, we see the rise of glorified zombie companies in the form of WeWork and Uber, which are almost entirely profitless, being venture capital sinkholes which promise monopolistic control tomorrow for liquidity today. For WeWork, this has meant SoftBank providing a bailout to maintain operations.

“Mr Ayotte wrote in an academic paper last year that ‘firms . . . have [an] incentive to fragment the capital structure by creating targeted claims to subsets of the firm’s assets that some investors are more optimistic about than others . . . This strategy can minimise a firm’s all-in cost of debt financing and thus maximise the value of equity’”[34]. Such a strategy fragments a company’s capital base, borrowing against subsidiaries and their assets to fund other sections of the business. “In the case of Toys R Us, property investors lent against stores while other credit funds lent against intellectual property or international operations. By creating these specialised debt types, the company could fund itself more cheaply. But the problem with this approach became apparent when the company filed for bankruptcy. It did so under duress, as reports of its troubles had spooked suppliers before it had the chance to seriously negotiate with creditors. Once it was under court protection, it needed to move fast, so that vendors would keep shipping merchandise to stock shelves. But with so many diverse constituencies, no consensus formed on how much a reorganised company was worth, and how the pie should be divided. The company was then left to liquidate its assets, leading to thousands of lost jobs”[35]. In fragmenting the capital structure, short-term operability was maintained at the expense of long-term planning as the interests of separate sections of the company diverged. Similar issues were seen in companies like Flybe, Neiman Marcus and Carillion which onboarded large amounts of debt through loans which split its assets into distinct categories, creating “Frankenstein’s monster-like structures”[36] which hybridised profits and divided debts. As the post-network era evolves, the increasing divergence regarding accounting standards and reporting as well as the high levels of liquidity present a combined issue of zombie companies able to capitalise quickly through consumption-led projections of growth or the potential for market monopolisation (as with Uber’s drive to displace taxis). As the lasting effects of national lockdowns and abnormal business operations in the face of coronavirus continue, these trends will exacerbate as new opportunities for e-commerce and innovative consumer operations mean further WeWork and/or Amazon imitators.

The growth of sub-sovereign entities, new zones of economic and informational control, and the emergence of an ontology of exit that defines the way platforms and transnational financial groups view their capacity to maintain regulatory power represent a growing striation of the networks of the ICT paradigm. A new post-network era is potentially emerging that codifies these trends into political and economic action distinct from the previous era. One defined by greater fracturing of interests along different scalar lines, from the re-emergence of national interests and sovereign power in the realm of infrastructure and finance, to the development of new sovereign units/subunits that provide mechanisms of alterity, as well as new mechanisms of disorder and risk. It isn’t the end of the network as an organising methodology, but its partial recapturing by spatial ordering, creating conflicts between the speed of network operations and the desire for control of hubs and nodes, or the conflict between logistical and cultural perceptions.

As I wrote previously regarding the emerging protest movements in America and Europe, “this represents a change in method as they move from the network form of interconnected, national movements to a more localistic, post-network form of smart mobs and temporary zones that are caught within wider dynamics of a multiplicitous intra-elite conflict, and a culture war that creates various dichotomies at various scales. As the wider stagnant cyclical nature of socio-institutional evolution continues to fragment into various narratives with opposing actors, the organisational norm of neoliberalism (of the socially networked individual scaling up into a confederated group) itself fragments into this post-network topology of localised instantiations of loosely-formed decentralised narratives (focused around racial justice, police brutality and a governance of alterity depending on the locale)”[37].

This isn’t just present in protest movements, but in the prevailing political forms seen today. The postmodern populism of Trump, Brexit and the right-wing in Western Europe, while nominally harking back to a national greatness seen in the post-war era, is actually a sovereignty of instantiations. It is the flipping from globalised, intra-competitive networks toward inter-competitive systems within a fluid national battlespace. It is the fragmentation and fractalisation of Schmittian politics. If the network form is represented through the speed of globalised flows, the post-network is the aftermath of breakdown in the face of informational blockages and backlash. It is the reaction to complexity as previously settled narratives (surrounding social and economic liberalism, the end of history, financial regulation, etc.) are emplaced in conflicts that dispute their axioms. The post-network form represents a fractalisation of networks themselves, as their borders harden along certain striations due to the re-emergence of primal identities that predate global/post-national concepts. These identities, instead of reforming into their previous organisational methodologies, instead enter the space of networks and become nodes within them (as well as attacking established nodes). The unifying elements of the network form (its underlying dialogic unifications of globalisation, the importance of flow in lieu of control, open trade and freer movement) now are unsettled and fractured, leading to post-network conflagrations that are increasingly homogeneous in their internal dynamics and narratives. In the words of network theory, attacks on established networks (and their underlying unifications) have created cascading failures[38], reducing the strength of their heterogeneity as the narrative collapses into a series of fragmented spaces that are increasingly homogeneous and de-unified.


[1] David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework About Societal Evolution

[2] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2020/09/30/beyond-building-networks-as-constraints/

[3] https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/04/25/1000563/covid-19-has-killed-the-myth-of-silicon-valley-innovation/

[4] Carlota Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital

[5] Wolfgang Drechsler, Governance in and of Techno-Economic Paradigm Shifts

[6] Wolfgang Drechsler, Governance in and of Techno-Economic Paradigm Shifts

[7] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2020/04/04/intra-competitive-networks/

[8] Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society

[9] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2019/03/26/patchwork-as-real-world-vectors/

[10] Elie Ayache, The Blank Swan

[11] https://medium.com/deep-code/a-prolegomena-to-any-future-politics-8eac11fd678a

[12] http://economicsofinformationsociety.com/anonymity-opacity-and-zones/

[13] Paul Virilio, Open Sky

[14] Jonathan William Welburn et al, Systemic Risk in the Broad Economy

[15] Paul Virilio, The Overexposed City

[16] Paul Virilio, The Overexposed City

[17] Benjamin Bratton, The Stack

[18] https://reciprocalcontradiction.home.blog/2020/03/28/tactile-power/

[19] Future Networks Team, Huawei Technologies, Internet 2030

[20] Benjamin Bratton, The Stack

[21] Future Networks Team, Huawei Technologies, Internet 2030

[22] Benjamin Bratton, The Stack

[23] Eleni Tsingou, Club Governance and the Making of Global Financial Rules

[24] Eric Helleiner & Stefano Pagliari, The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda

[25] Eric Helleiner & Stefano Pagliari, The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda

[26] Eric Helleiner & Stefano Pagliari, The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda

[27] Eric Helleiner & Stefano Pagliari, The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda

[28] https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-sovereign-fed

[29] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/18/central-banks-pumped-money-economy-democracy-fairer-society

[30] https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-sovereign-fed

[31] Eric Helleiner & Stefano Pagliari, The End of an Era in International Financial Regulation? A Postcrisis Research Agenda

[32] Benjamin Braun & Daniela Gabor, Central Banking, Shadow Banking, and Infrastructural Power

[33] Benjamin Braun & Daniela Gabor, Central Banking, Shadow Banking, and Infrastructural Power

[34] https://www.ft.com/content/d21be1d5-a3dc-4277-9fb4-da84a14f94e8?shareType=nongift

[35] https://www.ft.com/content/d21be1d5-a3dc-4277-9fb4-da84a14f94e8?shareType=nongift

[36] https://www.ft.com/content/d21be1d5-a3dc-4277-9fb4-da84a14f94e8?shareType=nongift

[37] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2020/06/20/notes-on-fractured-conflicts-autonomous-zones-and-siege-acc/

[38] Adilson E. Motter & Ying-Cheng Lai – Cascade-Based Attacks on Complex Networks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s