John Urry Masterclass reading notes 2

Reading notes for John Urry Masterclass at UWS starting tomorrow. On what is probably my favourite paper of his “The Complexities of the Global” (over the fold).

Introducing Complexity

Movement between mathematics and physics with social sciences, application of physics of complexity to social sciences (235).

Social analysts of modernity Giddens, Harvey, Bauman, Negri and Hardt, Castells and others have each in their own way described the contemporary global situation in terms of a ‘social physics’ (236-237)

Complex Relationality
“Complexity science investigates systems that adapt and evolve as they self-organise through time” (237)

This impacts our understandings of movement (237). No longer about absolute time, demands appreciation of time-sensitive process. Dance not dancers that are the key.

End of certainty as complexity sciences overcome ‘two alienating images of deterministic world and an arbitrary world of pure chance’ (238), emergent systems have an irreversibility of time.

Non-linear phenomena dominate inanimate world. No consistent relationship between cause and effect, minor events are not forgotten. (238) Non-linear systems work according to a number of identifiable elements

1) Negative and positive feedback systems (239). Petroleum-based automobility as an example.
2) Emerge from co-evolution and mutual adaptation. Results in mathematics of ‘attractors’ (239).
3) Bifurcation, system branches through a fitness landscape. (240)

Complex systems are potentially unstable. “tipping points involve three notions: that events and phenomena are contagious; that little causes can have big effects; and that changes can happen dramatically at a moment when the system switches.” (240)

Complexity and Marx
Marx’s writings are especially relevant to thinking through ways of analysing ‘global complexity’ (240), basically in two ways: 1) emergence of a working class and 2) the mobility of capital investment in new markets.

1) “putative globalization results from how individual capitalist enterprises maximize profits and hence pay their workers as little as feasible or make them work as long as possible. This ‘exploitation’ continues unless the state, or collective action by trade unions, prevents it. The consequence of repeated local actions reproduces the capitalist system and its emergent properties of class relations. Substantial profits are generated, so offsetting what Marx hypothesized as the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Such profits reproduce the emergent class relations of capital and wage-labour that are integral to the capitalist system.” (240-241)

“However, sustaining order through each capitalist exploiting their local workforce simultaneously results in emergent contradictions.” (241) [Leninism-Marxism on contradictions, revolutions happen in congruence of maximum contradictions.] In the ‘West’ through ‘Keynesian’ policies reduces periodic capitalist crises through public expenditure.

Capitalist competition produces workforce deprived and potential for organisation (241). Over millions of iterative actions of capitalist relations produce opposite of capitalists intend: an emergent working class.

2) Geographical limitations lead individual capitalist firms to seek out new markets (241). Local capitalist exploitation leads to non-linear emergent effects of a revolutionary proletariat increasingly organised across the globe.

This analysis was ‘mistaken’ in predicting world-wide social revolution that would begin in most advanced capitalist countries (242)

Marx’s strength was to argue that capitalism’s far from equilibrium effects emerge from ‘local’ sources of information and opportunity (242), ie above workers and capitalists responding to local conditions.

Critique of Giddens’s notion of “duality of structure” to account for agent structure duality (242-243).

Systemic character of structure-agent problems better understood in terms of ‘iteration’ rather than ‘recurrence’ (243).

“Iteration means that the tiniest of ‘local’ changes can generate, over many repeated actions, unexpected, unpredictable and chaotic outcomes, sometimes the opposite of what agents thought they were intending. Events are not ‘forgotten’ within the analysis of such systems. Complex changes stem from how agents iteratively respond to local configurations. Agents may conduct what appear to be the same actions involving a constant imitation of, or response to, the local actions of others. But because of what can be tiny adaptations of other agents, iteration results in transformations in even large-scale structures. Iteration can produce through emergence, non-linear changes and the sudden branching of large structures. Change can occur without a determining ‘agency’.” (243)

Material worlds, notions of the materiality of the social have advanced over the last 150 years since Marx, eg talk, bodies, texts, machines, architectures, etc. (243)

Rethinking the Global
Complexity help to understand the material worlds implicated in globalization of economic, social, political, cultural and environmental relationships (243)

Society as unit of analysis, Talcott Parsons, society defined in terms of self-sufficiency from environment (243-244), assumed apparent autonomy of US society.

First, complex relationality suggests there would not be such clear and effective set of internal processes constituting a reinforcing or nested hierarchy. (244) No longer bounded societies, many mobile material systems in complex interconnections with their environments.

Second, presumed an all-powerful global level as structure within which nation-agents operate. (244) However, events problematise this version of a “reductionist globalization” (244).

Social as “circulating entity” (Latour) (245). [Social as event, or abridged movement of incorporeal materialism]

“The global […] is comprised of various systems, operating at various levels or scales, and each constitutes the environment for each other.” (245) [‘global’ as baroque architecture of monad ‘material worlds’?]

Two forms of these systems, global networks and global fluids (245).

1) Global networks rethinking mcdonaldization through ANT. Same service or product delivered across network in same way. Lack of network failure (245).

2) Global Fluids are entities that are not simply networked (246), travel along routeways or scapes, but they may escape through the ‘wall’ into surrounding matter. Example of global fluid is the internet (246-7) and anti-globalization movement (247).

There are hybrid systems of global networks and global fluids (247-248), with multiple islands of order within sea of disorder.

States sought to produce order, to effect governmentality (248). States now have to contend with global networks/fluids and co-adapt and evolve in heterogeneous ways.

This has significant effects for conceptions of power. No longer co-presence, or of forcing an other to do one’s bidding, but post-panoptic and essentially the power of escape (248), of speed and mobility (249).

Complexity allows for some metaphors for describing the disorderliness of capitalism (249)

One feature of disorderliness seen through prism of Empire, as systemic structure articulated horizontally across the globe (249).

Empire too generalized more like a strange attractor, societies through iteration becoming more like ‘empires’. (250) [ie multiple machinic assemblages of sovereignty operating through their virtuality, interesting take on, for example, US exceptionalism. However, I think the notion of multiple refrains of nationalism operating within a singular global capitalist system, the position that Mel and I begin to develop in our Refrain of the Right-eous paper, is more useful. Or to put it another way for there to be more than one Empire there has to be more than one capitalism, and is there more than one capitalism? Of course, value realised in exchange relations is always ‘polluted’ or ‘troubled’ by non-economic valorisation, in fact they are inseparable.] Each society producing its other, a co-evolving multitude (250)

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