Ronfeldt, D. and Arquila, J. (2001) Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future. FirstMonday, 6(10).
Beniger, J. (1986). Control Revolution, Introduction (pp. 1-27). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
I’m with Andy’s post. I personally read Ronfeldt and Arquila’s ‘Netwar’ article (2001) and found myself thinking that there has never been a war of any kind in the history of humanity which hasn’t depended upon a social network. War cannot be waged by one individual except hyperbolically… to have a war, you have social conflict of some level, and that requires a network of individuals to bring it about.
Indeed, I hold that the concept of ‘netwar’ is nothing new at all. The vast history of human government is replete with examples of a small network of individuals gaining control of various resources and seeking to impose some kind of order or control upon the society that depends upon those resources. Combine the ideas of Ronfeldt and Arquila’s ‘netwar’ with the writings of J. Beniger’s Control Revolution (Introduction. 1986. Cambridge: Harvard University Press), specifically his assessment of the rise of the bureaucracy as a means for social control as a preliminary reaction to the industrial revolution’s impact on our culture.
Let’s look at it this way. According to Beniger, the industrial revolution led to social changes that caused the model of government to become a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy asserted control, and divorced the individual serving as a functionary from the office and duties with which she was charged. You can’t get mad at the system, because even if this one individual wants to circumvent the process, that functionary is emminently replaceable, so the role or governmental position which they fulfill completely overshadows who they are as people. Or so the model of bureacracy seems to work to me. Don’t believe me? Go visit the DMV without the right paperwork, and try to get the individual on the other side of the desk to give you a driver’s license, and see how far you get.
In a perfect world, the individual operating inside the construct or framework of the bureacracy would be supervised closely and unable to exert personal control. However, the bureacracy—whether it be the government, academia, or the great corporate engine—doesn’t quite work that way. There is always discretionary power of some level from each higher rung of the hierarchy. And there are always opportunities for the bureacracy to slow itself down, all in the name of (perfectly correct!) procedure and process. If an upper rung of authority wants to get certain things done by the lower rungs, then there will always be shifting networks of individual loyalties at work to allow, hinder, prohibit, or encourage different projects from coming to pass. We call this ‘politics’, and it’s the way that bureacracies get things done. How easily you achieve the desired result depends upon how you align yourself with the sub-network of ‘office’ politics which happens to be in control of that asset.
This is pretty commonplace, so I question why Ronfeldt and Arquila need to be so down on the concept of networks. We’ve seen them used in the French Resistance during World War II. We see them used in terrorist cells. I can also see them at work at Quinnipiac. It would be folly to think that we’re not going to come out of this program without some serious network connections in this field. One of the benefits for taking this masters to me is that I’m already getting to know a lot of current and future professionals across the different industries and applications that the Interactive Communications Masters brings. I could try to analyze specifically which structures will make the ‘Masters connection’ qualify as netwar, since after all we are going to be moving forward with intention to cause a desired result… Beniger’s “Crisis of Control” made real (1986).
Of course, to us, we’re just going to be trying to improve the standards of the interactive communications industries, and demonstrate a certain level of flexibility and professional preparedness in the face of this new and sometimes baffling communication technology. Over time, we’ll eventually see some graduates of this program in hiring positions (indeed, many of my classmates already are!), and climbing the ladder in roles in media, PR, advertising, web development, and content management. Are we to be termed ‘economic-elitists’ (or terrorists?) if we look first to each other when it comes time to reaching some consensus or attaining some lofty future goal?
Ronfeldt and Arquila make precisely that kind of assumption with their bias against networks of priority-aligned individuals in their 2001 article, Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future. FirstMonday, 6(10). I personally feel they might have done a better time of pointing out that the organization model is not the culprit of any antagonism, but rather the prevailing conditions, actions, and reactions which have led to the same.