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Kai Eriksson - Foucault, Deleuze & The Ontology Of Networks

Kai Eriksson - Foucault, Deleuze & The Ontology Of Networks

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Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
The European Legacy
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713416679
Foucault, deleuze, and the ontology of networks
Kai Eriksson
Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland
To cite this Article
Eriksson, Kai'Foucault, deleuze, and the ontology of networks', The European Legacy, 10: 6, 595 — 610
To link to this Article: DOI:
Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 6, pp. 595–610, 2005 
Foucault, Deleuze, and the Ontology of Networks
Kai Eriksson
The concept of the network has become embedded in social thought and imagery, articulating what at root is inarticulable. The network metaphor occupies an ontological space, but this space, insofar as it is posed as a philosophical question, seems to assume a network-like shape itself. It may be particularly rewarding to read the constellations studied by Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze from this point of view, in light of  the analysis of the preconditions of networks. This paper examines how the question of the ontology of networksis addressed by these thinkers, especially with regard to the historicity of ontology.
Wolfgang Schivelbusch refers in his excellent history of railway journeys to a piece of writing by Franc¸oise Choay on Georges Haussman’s rearrangement of Paris’s roadnetwork.
According to Choay, the connecting lines of this network were like arteries,and the whole system was compared by Hausmann to that of blood circulation. It wasdivided into subsystems each of which had a center of its own. This center was nota particular place but rather a node of traffic or, as Hausmann described it, a point of reference. Schivelbusch traces the similarity between the objectives of city traffic andthose of the railway system, showing how it became possible to think of a boulevard asdividing the city like a railway divided the countryside. What is crucial here is the wayin which different systems, institutions, and metaphors constitute a conceptual model inand through which an emerging order is given shape. Railways influenced the way trafficarrangements were seen, but railways themselves were connected to the metaphor of the network.By the second half of the nineteenth century, networks thus constituted a genericmodel for considering societal phenomena. This was largely due to the diffusion of railways and the spread of telecommunication systems. However, in the nineteenthcentury, societal phenomena were conceived in biological terms, which explains whythe idea of the network was also understood mainly through biological analogies. It wascrystallized in models like the nervous system or blood circulation system, thus preventingany direct comparison to the currently prevailing topological metaphor of the network.There are nevertheless some similarities between these two network conceptions.It is interesting to see that Hausmann perceived the space organized by the new trafficlanes as cutting through Paris in a way reminiscent of the current discourse on networks.
Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, PO Box 10 (Snellmaninkatu 12), FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.Email: kai.eriksson@helsinki.fi
ISSN 1084–8770 print/ISSN 1470–1316 online/05/060595–16
2005 International Society for the Study of European IdeasDOI: 10.1080/10848770500254118
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ H E A L - Li nk  C o n s o r ti u m]  A t : 16 :44 25  N o v e mb e r 2009
The definition of a network by Manuel Castells, perhaps one of the best known networktheoreticians, was formulated in
The Information Age: Economy, Society and Cultur
, as‘‘a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point at which a curve intersects itself.’’
A network is thus manifest as a space constituted in and through the interconnections of points, nodes, and curves, which would no doubt have sounded familiar to Hausmann.This is because both Haussman and Castells share a similar conception of the space thata network designates. What is important is that the identity of places and areas is formedthrough their position and function as parts of the whole, constituted either by thenetwork of boulevards or the global financial system, rather than their intrinsicsignificance as such. The intersections of a network, therefore, do not have a specialmeaning-content as distinct places and localities but only as nodes and reference pointsthat have a certain function in the topology of the network. Thus, separate spaces, events,and meanings lose their independence and become intelligible and influential only as partsof a larger field that gives them shape.This modern experience of networks has been conceptualized in a more detailedway in modern philosophy. Yet it is also true that this experience constituted, whenviewed the other way around, a large part of the undercurrent
within which
modernphilosophy formulated its problems and undertook its conceptualizations. This is why theconcept of the network and modern philosophy, especially in recent French thought,are, to a large extent, interlinked. In fact, the transformation of institutions, practices andimages from a ‘‘hierarchy’’ to a ‘‘network’’ during the latter part of the twentieth century,on the one hand, and the articulation of French thought, as largely a radical rethinkingof the relation between identity and difference, on the other, could be seen as parts of thesame historical process.In French thought, it is especially the genealogy of Michel Foucault and thenomadism of Gilles Deleuze that seem to provide a way for thinking about ontologyeither of ‘‘power’’ or of ‘‘event’’ that is not based on a hierarchy or a closed totality.The more this ontology is determined in terms of a network, as seems to be the casetoday, the better the viewpoint developed by Foucault and Deleuze can be seen exactly asa way of approaching and formulating the ontology of networks. These are not, however,completely independent phenomena, for the thinkers mentioned have, by developing akind of network-based perspective, created prerequisites for research practices in whichthe object of analysis appears as a system of continuously reorganizing relationships. This issignificant, because the model of the network has the same objective; namely, to enableus to think about complex technological, theoretical, economic and political processes ina coherent way that nevertheless cannot be reduced to a system. It is clear that Foucaultand Deleuze are not alone in developing this viewpoint, nor can their thought be reducedto the reasons behind the normalization of the metaphor of the network. In any case,it seems to me that it is illuminating to read them precisely from this point of view, that is,from the point of view of the ontology of networks. Although it is clear that the conceptof the network has a number of irreducible origins, these thinkers have provided aseminal philosophical formulation of the ontological space that has subsequently beenunderstood in terms of the network metaphor.It thus appears that Foucault and Deleuze can help us to perceive the relationbetween ontology and the network metaphor, that is, to conceive ‘‘networking’’ and itspreconditions as a philosophical question. What is interesting, insofar as the ontology of 
Kai Eriksson
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ H E A L - Li nk  C o n s o r ti u m]  A t : 16 :44 25  N o v e mb e r 2009

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