Monday, September 24, 2012

Various Zooms on 'networks'

The readings this week were very varied and thus challenged me to ask the following question: “What ideas connect all of these articles?” Instead of thinking of how specific passages relate to each other, I chose to understand the passages’ “big idea” in a holistic and interrelated manner. One thing that I noticed is that the articles, when read in the order of Appadurai, Thrift and Gravonetter, explore the same concept of linkages and networks from very different “zooms.” Although coming from very different disciplines, angles and time-periods, each article makes a claim about linkage that can be usefully compared to understand the concepts in other articles.
Appadurai’s concept of “-scapes” takes us to a level of disjuncture in which the local and the global are deeply affected by various processes of international communication. Appadurai’s unit of network analysis is large and consists of the concept of “-scapes”, the building blocks upon which humans build their reality. Money, ideas, technologies, media-forms and people travel at such a dizzying speed that the value of networks is constantly changing. People now have things to compare their local realities to and thus their expectations for consumerism and lifestyles are no longer cohesive with their local realities.  In some cases this benefits entities that exploit the unequal footing and disjuncture at a global level. What struck me the most about this article is the way that people’s perceptions of their location in the global structure is mediated by agents that exploit difference to ensure that there is more disjuncture and economic benefit for some and not others. Networks here are envisioned forces that either pass on or subvert ideas disseminated by external forces about everything from consumption, to cosmopolitanism and ethnic identity. They are deterritorialized, yet affect people at a very local level. But how is information actually transmitted at an interpersonal  level?
Where Appadurai plants the seed for a global vision, Gravonetter enmeshes the reader in the more miniscule unit of network analysis: Person-to-person contact. Weak ties are often seen as unimportant in the analysis of network formation and relations, but Gravonetter makes the argument that they actually help to transmit more information that they are given credit for (1365). When considering the Thrift and the Gravonetter articles together, one would say that weak ties fall into the “epistemic wallpaper” (585) that undergirds reality. Weak ties exist in the hum of daily life; they are the bread and butter of existence that is often passed over for the recognition of strong and more visible ties. Weak ties and the concept of –scapes work together to describe the process by which humans are affected by various forms of large global influences, and how they are able to transmit this information to others in their daily reality. 

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