Networks won’t save us, nor will assemblages. Sometimes we contrast networks and hierarchies in value-laden terms. “Networks good, hierarchies bad!” But like any ontological truth, networks are just what there is. Sadly networks have their hierarchies. There are only networks, but they too have their inequalities, their forms of oppression. It just turns out that hierarchy, of the Platonic or Aristotlean sort with respect to essences, or with respect to the sovereign sort with respect to medieval governance (God-King-Father) turns out to be false. That doesn’t mean that power somehow disappears.
In a network, power is called a “hub”. A hub is a point through which a variety of other points in a network must pass to act. Think of airports. You live in a rural region. If you live in a rural region you must travel to this city and then fly to this city in order to get a flight to another city in, say, Europe like London or Paris. That’s a hub. A point of passage. There are hubs all over the places. Sometimes they’re governmental institutions. Sometimes they’re particular resources like oil. Sometimes they’re bosses. At other times they’re airports like LAX or DFW. Sometimes they’re particular figures. Sometimes they’re blogs. Sometimes they’re theoretical movements. So many hubs, so many forms of power. They exercise what I call “gravity”. I think “gravity” is preferable to the term “power” because it intuitively captures how power functions, while deterritorializing it from its humanist reference to social institution. Sure, corporations, governments, signifiers, etc., are all forms of power, can all function as hubs, but so too is the sun a hub.
Hubs produce what I call a “regime of attraction” within a network or assemblage. That is to say, they organize the relations between other nodes in the network. The other nodes are attracted to the hub and are obligated to pass through the node. Their possibilities or “local manifestations” come to be structured by the nodes. If you’re to build anything, for example, you have to pass through the node of fossil fuels. That’s the network we live in. That’s the hierarchy our social world is structured by. If culture has become “universal” today, it’s become universal in the Marxist sense, as a concrete universal. A concrete universal is a network in which all nodes in a network or assemblage are structured by a particular hub. Culture is universal today not because the signifier structures everything, but because the material world that industry produces affects everything from the molecular structures of inorganic beings like rocks on the surface of the planet, to all bio-life and social existence. Everything on the planet locally manifests itself in terms of the way in which we’ve transformed the biosphere through our modes of production and the flows of energy we use to run these things (fossil fuels). That’s the sense in which culture is universal, not the signifier. This is what it means to say we live in the “anthropocene”. No Lacan, the world is not “the flower of rhetoric” (the signifier), it’s the flower of oil and coal and nuclear energy and contemporary farming practices. The world is a product of the flows of energy that pass through it, not the signifiers that diacritically structure it.
There are, of course, different types of networks. We see three of them in the diagram to the right above. There are centralized, decentralized, and distributed networks. A centralized network is what we now critique as “transcendent”. It was always a network, never a genuine transcendence (as in the case of Plato or theism), and never fully successful. These networks were the medieval “great chains of being”, the Oedipus, patriarchy, and more recently systems of party politics or the Stalinist state-form. They were machines that required all other nodes in an assemble to pass through one point: God, the king, the father, the dictator, the president, or the party. They were always a network. At the other end of the spectrum we see anarchy or what communism should be. Communism and anarchy are synonyms. Sadly neither has ever been realized except at small scales. This is the dream of all genuine politics: a network without hubs. If you’re advocating a party politics then it’s clear you have no understanding of communism. You’re in a secular and contemporary version of the 12th century. And then there’s what we have today: decentralized networks, where governments, certain privileged signifiers, certain substances like fossil fuels, certain actants like corporations, other actants like parties, etc., function as hubs organizing the gravity that determines the movement and relations of all the other nodes or actants. We have a variety of actants fighting to be hubs, rather than dreaming of fully distributed networks… Except the anarchist/communists, and who listens to them? The aim of being a hub is too enticing.
It might be that just as a genuinely centralized network is a conservative/totalitarian/authoritarian fantasy, a truly distributed network is an anarcho-communist fantasy. Oh well, these would be normative ideals. Normative ideals exercise their gravity as well, so we shouldn’t sniff at them. About politics, we can minimally say this at least: to the same degree that networks will not save us, politics is nonetheless the activity of shifting and demolishing hubs. A politics either aims to reinforce the power of a hub (reaction, authoritarianism, traditionalism), to demolish or produce new hubs (revolution), or to abolish hubs altogether in the name of forming a distributed network (anarcho-communism). There’s really not much more to be said.