The ARPA network map — what the internet looked like in 1973

Networking and Power: L&F’s Journal #2

In my previous journal entry I started to sketch out what design management could become by positioning it between the worlds of a) business/money, and b) design/art. In this article I’ll share a few thoughts on why purposeful events are important for increasing and sharing networking power.

Why do events matter?

Networks are power.

Let’s look at two main types of network: people and knowledge:

  • People networks: your allies, collectives, contacts, friends, institutional relationships, cultural scenes and so on (we could call this social capital)
  • Knowledge networks: your ideas, concepts, techniques, business intelligence, philosophies, cultural knowledge and so on (we could call this cultural capital)

These forms of network power are entwined. They dance together. And, when combined, they distinguish your taste. They provide you with forms of distinction.

(To understand more about distinction, check out Pierre Bourdieu)

What is ‘people’ network power?

Imagine two people — Ben and Anne.

Let us say that Ben is connected to 100 people, and Anne is connected to 5.

Who has more network power?

Maybe Ben: he has the higher number of contacts…

But… what if Anne’s 5 connections are political and business leaders? And what if Ben’s 100 connections live in caves? Then we see that Anne has a higher network score. She has more influence.

In this brief example, we see that understanding network power is about ‘betweenness’. Anne is between people who are well connected. She is a gate-keeper, a key-holder and an influencer.

(The science of networks is useful for understanding network power. I have summarised the key metrics here. For a deeper investigation into how power operates within a network, check out Manual Castells)

How could we think about ‘knowledge’ network power?

Umberto Eco, was an insightful scholar and semiotician.

He owned a vast, personal, library of books.

People would visit and ask: ‘have you read them all.’

He would get frustrated. That’s not the point.

You see, his library was an anti-library.

He understood that a library is a network, and he wanted to fill his space with books that offered new paths to wander down.

A knowledge network is a sketch. A map of new lands to explore. It stimulates people with the pleasure of new possibilities. It inspires the imagination. Confuses people. Makes them aware of their ignorance. Gives them the beautiful tension of feeling lost.

Real power in the realm of knowledge networks is not about jealously guarding knowledge: it’s about humbleness. It’s about trust. It’s about embracing vulnerability.

This gives you the resilience to face multidimensional complexity. To be a sense-maker.

(This article links Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of the Black Swan Event to Umberto Eco’s library)

How to check your network power privilege

I’ve outlined two reasons why events matter: they increase both your knowledge and people network power. In other words, they are networking opportunities.

However, networks are exploitative systems.

Some people have network mobility. Some do not.

This brings us to network privilege.

Your ability to move easily between ideas and people is determined by things like your upbringing; background; family connections; racial/sexual stereotypes; neurodiversity; your way of learning; your way of representing yourself; and so on.

We should share our cultural and social capital if we want to fight inquality.

But how?

Conclustion: creating shared narratives via purposeful events

If we are driven by individual, selfish, and commercial opportunism, we will increase inequality.

We need something better.

We need to align our privilege, and direct it towards a better cause.

One example is provided by Extinction Rebellion. But there are a plurality of others. And many more to come.

The best articulation I have found is the ‘right to the city’. It’s idea is simple: the city is a work of collective art. It is our right to design it as we see fit.

In Covid Culture, we have become hyper-aware of our cities. As the singer Joni Mitchell says: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone’. Today, we have a new ‘way of seeing’ our urban environment, and a rising moral conscience to fuel its next evolution.

I’ll finish this entry by pointing to the Marxist geographer from LSE, David Harvey. Read his ‘Right to the City’, which has inspired many a revolutionary designer…

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Research Designer

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Oli Conner

Oli Conner

Research Designer

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