Monday, November 21, 2011


While the activity of capital in modernity has long been documented as diverging markedly away from the ideological suppositions that discursively support it, the profoundly networked nature of this activity has yet to be fully articulated. The late-2000s financial crisis exposed the extent to which the public/private divide has been transgressed, and, in turn, demands new descriptions of how institutional economic relations are constituted in late capitalism. Public subsidies for industries and commodities, regulatory capture, corporate financing of political campaigns, corporate lobbying, and corporate influence in higher education curriculum are part of an ecosystem of public and private relations whose processes are inextricably bound up in one another.

Drawing on critical theory and a number of rhetorical and communication theorists, I demonstrate through the case study of Goldman Sachs’ role in the late 2000s financial crisis, how corporate financial institutions’ activities can be understood as net-work, or complex assemblages that require new models of analysis to effectively understand. In particular, my research demonstrates that Goldman Sachs’ activity cannot be effectively understood in a vacuum from the assemblage of public and private institutions whose activities contributed to an ecosystem—perhaps what Deleuze & Guattari call a ‘multiplicitous unity’—of economic struggle. Goldman Sachs activities in the crisis functioned in direct opposition to other institutions’ financial success; complex financial instruments wielded by Goldman Sachs—especially credit default swaps—spliced their success (capital gains) onto the processes of failure (insolvency) in other American and European institutions.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Theorizing Spinuzzi: Spliced Institutional Networks and Ideo-logic

Reflecting on Spinuzzi's work, I was frustrated with his conclusion which hoped to see knowledge workers better armed to cope with the changing demands of an increasingly technological and globalized economy. More specifically, my frustration was with the seemingly limited scope of his theoretical framework - that the "splicing" of net-work(s) was applied only to techno-rhetorical situations within workplaces, not among and between larger institutional net-work(s). Perhaps Spinuzzi isn't interested in this sort of analysis but after his initial articualtion of actor-network theory, I was eagerly anticipating some sort of application to larger, primarily corporate, structures.

Spinuzzi's work and actor-network theory in general I find fascinating because of their potential to provide understandings of how capital has accommodated and incorporated technology, not only into its material processes, but also into its ideological ones (if that's the right word).

Capital's modern functioning is characterized by activities that run very much counter to its ideological suppositions, with a primary one being that competition is the impetus (and result) of corporate activity. As Spinuzzi explains, technology has enabled corporate institutions to splice themselves onto larger net-work(s), both among private institutions and between public ones, essentially circumventing the "ideo-logic" (if that's a word) of competition. As Spinuzzi's history of Bell Telephone Company provides, the ideo-logic of competition has long since failed to explain corporate activity in modernity as technology has transformed the nature of inter-corporate relationships. In the interest of capital accumulation, cooperation simply makes more sense, as centralized corporate structures (this centralization itself enabled by technology) wield more power via organizational, communicative, and financial techno-knowledges. Corporate structures have also spliced themselves onto public/government net-works, creating elegant connections to individual actors (legislators through campaign financing, agency actors through "agency capture") and even sub-networks (subsidy and tax structures, privatization of social programs). Actor-network theory opens up some serious discursive space about capitalism and its ideo-logics, technology and corporate net-work, and democracy's net-work as well.

Splicing I find to be the best description of corporate activity in modernity, that is, the history of modern capitalism is one of accretion and accumulation: corporate organizations purchasing others, in a way, "purifying" the activity of capital through centralization of power in the interest of capital accumulation. Perhaps I'm taking actor-network theory's applicability too far, but "brands" (the ideological construct) also seem akin to "genres", that is, "brands" could be understood as typified responses to recurring market situations.

I don't want to maunder on, but I was excited by Spinuzzi's work (if not the text itself) - his dialogical approach and interrogation of activity theory and actor-network theory proved illuminating to my interests which initially seemed too disparate to be relevant.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Normative and Nowhere to Go

I found this week's readings to be the most difficult of the semester thus far, not only because the material was quite unfamiliar to me but also because it is much more research focused, rather than theory-based. In particular, the case-study methodology is alien to me and, as such, I found it difficult to work through.

In my academic pursuits thus far, I have not had to perform any "hard" research nor even read much research conducted by political scientists. Material for class has been primarily theoretical and this is the space where I've grown comfortable.

It seems in theoretical writing, the "player-agents" (as described in Moeller's and Christensen's System Mapping) and normative assumptions of the authors are much more apparent, even overt. I have a more difficult time grasping a text when the "should" is couched beneath the descriptive - research appears to move at a glacial pace, moving the dialectic (dialogic?) in a steady direction, while theory has the potential to change thinking in a much more disruptive way. Of course, this understanding over-compartmentalizes "theory" and "research", as the two are much more interconnected, perhaps even "interwoven" (as per Spinuzzi), then my characterization allows. I come to the table "normative and ready to go", so to speak, with my truths plain on my sleeve which is definitely problematic for a number of reasons. However, when doing these readings, I couldn't quite understand the implications of the research - what does contributing to research methodologies for genre-field analysis do? I understand the problem with the "seed" conceptualization via action theory - that the abstracted germ obscures the means by which ideas/production occur - but I'm not a researcher and I don't know how to contribute to the network through splicing or interweaving. By this I mean that I'm not a player-agent (I don't have a stake in the outcome of the interactions being discussed [National Science Foundation Grants]) and I'm certainly not a genre-agent as I'm not in a position to contribute knowledge to the dialectic (dialogic?) on networks. I guess what I'm struggling with is application of the material, but in a broader sense. I need a prior question to be addressed and a genealogy to be performed - what is "good" about network theory / genre field analysis? What things does it presuppose? Ultimately, I guess these questions just reflect my lack of knowledge in rhetorical/ technical communication theory...

I don't mean this post to be read as a critique of researchers or be a really silly post lamenting my some odd-man-out feeling that I would have as an undergraduate political science student ; I'm sincerely wondering what I can do. Is the inability for old-school marxism to provide an understanding of how labor-networks are evolving/becoming-spliced symptomatic of the broader phenomenon of globalization? Is the increasingly rhizomatic-ized nature of labor networks a better description of globalization? Should workers resist incorporation into rhizomatic-labor networks? Should the state be called upon to reinvigorate the boundaries of (perhaps now antiquated notions of) divisions of labor? Is technology the cause of the integration of labor networks? Ahhhh, I'm normative and have nowhere to go.