June 12: ordering and…networking

One of the elements that seem to have emerged form the conference is the tension between trying to classify, measure and reduce networks to mechanical   behaviors and fixed categories
in his sociological analysis of  how genetic assumptions about our nature and about our social status are accepted and/or imposed, Bill Leeming mapped the overlapping of meanings, terms and assumptions (an approach he defined as modeling merography).

Ontology has 2 definitions, a philosophical and one that is specific to computer science. philosophically speaking, it can be defined as the study of being and knowing.
ontological notions can be applied to a number of aspects of reality. when it comes to society, however, here is what happens:
Leeming considered 2 statements:
1) “I see a son with his father’s hair.” this is a totally acceptable and informative statement. but what if we hear this:
2) I see a daughter with a beard like her father’s beard.

the general assumption is that women don’t have facial hair. this statement is weird and makes us uncomfortable. in fact, traditionally, the “bearded ladies”  were displayed in a circus. how do we name and locate these figures? we tend to define these individuals with medical terms (especially in writing).

For example, achondroplasia identifies a particular form of “dwarfism” (again, a medical term). according to Leeming, we reduce everything to the genes. even the language.

however, it was not always this way. notions that are now used to refer to particular individuals or to convey a particular concept, did refer to something else in the past, or didn’t quite convey the same meaning.  knowledge production and representation have always generated particular concepts based on specific knowledge available.
these concepts overlap and succeed to each other.

in order to be able to provide a general picture of how meanings overlap and transform, two dimensional maps are not sufficient though. It was only by using custom software (now a prototype) he was able to collect all concepts together and locate them on a “readable” multilevel chart to “permit to identify the conceptional and institutional steps through which genetic ontologies become distinguishable and recognized.”

 

while ordering the objects and meanings entangled through networks produces a great deal of complexity (and frustration, considering the great effort and the resources one is forced to employ to provide a visual map or any other explanatory product readable), exploiting networks as they are, as a way to propose new forms of narrative or non-narrative is equally difficult.

Jill Golick‘s presentation, in this sense, worked as a good (and messier) counterpoint to Leeming’s rigorous work of genealogy and design.
“Obsessed” with the idea of building a story just by using the social networks like FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, Youtube, etc… Golick devised a simple narrative (boy meets girl and story starts) a few simple imaginary characters as catalysts and let the audience determine the story by interacting with them through these social networks. her story proved to be a social experiment on how society, despite all the hype and the paradigm changes promised by the rise of networks in general and social networks in particular are stilldifficult to be accepted by most of us. many of us are baffled by the “lack” of narrative these new experimental narratives provide, while other voice their outrage and their ethical concerns when the character they had been following and befriended on Twitter or Facebook turned out to be fictional.