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.

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