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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, May 08, 2004
    Network Logic
    We still live in a world of powerful hierarchies. Governments take a larger not smaller share of GDP than they did 10 or 20 years ago. The military depend on tighter command systems than ever before to avoid mistakes, since the response of a warship to air attack now has global ramifications.

    Power in the global media, and power over the 'memes' that shape minds, is more concentrated than ever despite the proliferation of magazines and websites. For all the talk of the network economy most businesses are organised as fairly tight hierarchies, albeit with fewer layers, and some that used not to be, like partnerships, are taking more traditional corporate forms. Again, one of the drivers of this is globalisation, since what a subsidiary does in a distant country – using child labour, say – may have an impact on consumers here.

    The same is true in NGOs. Look closely at Greenpeace, for example, and you see a fairly tightly controlled hierarchy, not loose democracies. Within and around all of these are networks: networks for managing relationships, knowledge and information. But at their heart lie hierarchical organisations of power and authority able to act decisively and quickly, with concentrations of resources and with some of the properties of Bentham's panopticon, able to see everything from the centre in real time.

    Although networks have become much more important to the way we live, we do not live in a world dominated by networks. Networks are extraordinary ways of organising knowledge, cooperation and exchange. They are far more effective means of sharing learning than hierarchies and generally better at adapting to change. But they remain poor at mobilising resources, sustaining themselves through hard times, generating surpluses, organising commitments, or playing games of power. This is why, for example, the interesting feature of the anti-globalisation movement is its weakness not its strength, and why Al-Qaeda can inflict huge damage but cannot create.

    .... Geoff Mulgan, in the new Demos publication, Network Logic. Fascinating reading. Thanks Jonny for the link.