Welcome to Scribd. Sign in or start your free trial to enjoy unlimited e-books, audiobooks & documents.Find out more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
2Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Thomas Swann - "If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a mobile phone, the story ends very differently": Social media, organisational cybernetics and non-hierarchical organisation

Thomas Swann - "If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a mobile phone, the story ends very differently": Social media, organisational cybernetics and non-hierarchical organisation

Ratings: (0)|Views: 628|Likes:
Published by Simon Collister
The title of this paper, ‘If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a mobile phone, the story ends very differently’, comes from a tweet by the journalist Paul Mason. Now, I’ve not actually read or seen Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think you need to to get the point of the tweet: social media, in the form of mobile phones or otherwise, change the way people organise. I want to focus on the riots of last year as one example of how this works, and try to provide a framework that helps understand exactly what’s happening when people use social media to organise during protests and uprisings. One of the key points I want to argue for is for a connection between autonomist thinking on networks and anarchist ideas about organisation.
The title of this paper, ‘If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a mobile phone, the story ends very differently’, comes from a tweet by the journalist Paul Mason. Now, I’ve not actually read or seen Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think you need to to get the point of the tweet: social media, in the form of mobile phones or otherwise, change the way people organise. I want to focus on the riots of last year as one example of how this works, and try to provide a framework that helps understand exactly what’s happening when people use social media to organise during protests and uprisings. One of the key points I want to argue for is for a connection between autonomist thinking on networks and anarchist ideas about organisation.

More info:

Published by: Simon Collister on Nov 14, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as DOCX, PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

08/27/2013

pdf

text

original

 
This is a draft of a paper currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 This is a draft of a paper
currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 
‘If you take Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and give him amobile phone, the story ends very differently’: Social media,
organisational cybernetics and non-
hierarchical organisation’
 
Thomas Swann (School of Management, University of Leicester), trs6@le.ac.uk   Paper presented at the 2
nd
 
Anarchist Studies Network conference: ‘Making Connections’ held
at Loughborough University from the 3
rd
to the 5
th
of September 2012.
The title of this paper, ‘If you take Frodo B
aggins from Lord of the Rings and give him a
mobile phone, the story ends very differently’, comes from a tweet by the journalist PaulMason. Now, I’ve not actually read or seen Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think you need to to
get the point of the tweet: social media, in the form of mobile phones or otherwise, changethe way people organise. I want to focus on the riots of last year as one example of how this
works, and try to provide a framework that helps understand exactly what’s happening when
people use social media to organise during protests and uprisings. One of the key points Iwant to argue for is for a connection between autonomist thinking on networks and anarchistideas about organisation.The riots of last year, along with other uprisings in 2011, can be seen as an example of thenew form that political action is taking. Rather than the hierarchical command form of traditional leftist political organisations, contemporary movements and uprisings are taking amore networked form. This is described by authors such as Manuel Castells (1997; 1999),Jeffrey Juris (2005), Walter W. Powell (1990) and Autonomist Marxists Michael Hardt andAntonio Negri (2004) as a set of interconnected nodes with no centre. Slime Mould is a goodexample of how networks operate. Slime mould works as a network of cells which, at certaintimes, group together to form clusters which work as a single organism. These clusters are
able to form without any special ‘founder’ or ‘pacemaker’ cells and are able to exhibit
complex behaviours such as avoiding hazards and reaching nutrients through decentralisedcontrol. Networks, then, are characterised by decentralisation, an ability to work effectivelywithout traditional leadership and the notion of emergence whereby a new form of 
 
This is a draft of a paper currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 This is a draft of a paper
currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 
organisation, the network, comes into existence when the nodes are connected and which hasbehaviours that are potentially dissimilar to those of the nodes.Social media is coming to be seen as central to the ways in which networks are organised.During the riots, people used BlackBerry Messenger especially to coordinate activities andavoid the police, and this was not the first case of such a tactical (as opposed to strategic) useof social media. In attempting to understand the exact form and structure of this social medianetworked organisation, I want to turn to organisational cybernetics.As a form of systems theory, organisational cybernetics was developed in the middle of the20
th
century and focused on how effective organisation takes the form of networks withindividual operating units having autonomy in line with the overall goals of the system ororganisation. Anthony Stafford Beer, one of the founders of the theory, argues that in anorganisation that successfully deals with the changes in its environment, these changes are ina sense mirrored in the organisation (Beer 1974)
. This is known as Ashby’s Law or the Law
of Requisite Variety. The variety in the environment, the fluctuations of states is mirrored inthe organisation, and so an effective organisation must have the ability to respond in aflexible manner to environmental changes. The way this manifests itself in the ViableSystems Model used by cybernetics theorists is as a tiered structure within a givenorganisation.The first of the five levels or sub-systems in the organisation is concerned with operations orimplementation of a certain policy. Sub-system one units have the autonomy to decide howbest to do this but must act within the restrictions of the overall goals of the organisation. Thesecond sub-system monitors what happens with each sub-system one unit and transmitsrelevant information to other sub-system one units, so that in addition to having information
over their own niche, they also have information about what is happening in other units’
niches, allowing them to better make decisions. The third sub-
system also monitors the first’s
units but to determine whether they are operating according to the goals of the organisation.Sub-system four has a complete picture of what is happening in the organisation troughmonitoring the environment and information passed from sub-system three. This pictureallows the fifth and final sub-system to determine the goals of the organisation and theoverall policy.The crucial thing to note with this model is, firstly, the autonomy afforded to sub-system oneunits and, secondly, the importance of flows of information throughout the organisation that
 
This is a draft of a paper currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 This is a draft of a paper
currently in preparation. Please do not cite without the author’s permission.
 
support this autonomy. How this relates to the riots should be apparent: individuals, armedwith BlackBerry phones, were able to riot autonomously while being connected to theorganisational network through the flow of information. People in one area were able to shareinformation about their situation with others in the network which enabled them to actautonomously in an effective way. People could share information about police movementsallowing others to move about safely, for example.One of the first things that should jump out at you about this account of networkedorganisation is that it is clearly structured around a form of hierarchy, something which isantithetical to not only autonomist ideas about networks but also about understandings of theriots. So why is this theory at all relevant? In the 1960s, there was some enthusiasm fororganisational cybernetics within the more academic sections of the anarchist movement inthe UK. Colin Ward, for example, argued (1966)
that ‘Cybernetic theory with its emphasis on
self-organising systems, and speculation about the ultimate social effects of automation, leads
in a similar revolutionary direction (to anarchism).’ This is because there is a distinction,
made by John McEwan, another post-war anarchist writer, between anatomical hierarchy andfunctional hierarchy (McEwan 1963). The former is what we normally understand by theword: hierarchical and stratified structures. The later, however, refers to forms of decisionmaking that are hierarchical in terms of order but not in terms of structure.
The hierarchy in the cybernetic model doesn’t exist in any material way and involves no
formal or informal authority or fixed roles. It is instead a model of how at different timesdecisions will be made and processes will take place within the organisation which may bedescribed as higher or lower to other decisions and processes in terms of how they impact onthem. We can see this in operation in the use of social media during the riots. While there wasno structural hierarchy, there was a level of the organisation which decided whichinformation was important to be distributed and which was relevant. When a message wassent through one part of the network, it would be resent or ignored depending on howrelevant it was to others in the organisation. Functionally, there was a level of organisationabove the level of the individual rioters, although this only existed in individual riotersstepping outside of their role as rioters and into a role of information distributers, even if onlyfor the few seconds it takes to read and resend a message.A federated model of organisation, which has a long tradition in anarchism, helps to explainhow a cybernetic model of organisation could be consistent with a rejection of hierarchy and

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->