Friday, 2 December 2011

Assemblages - a framework for social networks

As I described last month, we are collectively engaged in networks that encompass social systems and populations (macro level) as well as individual action and uniquely occurring interactions (micro level). The problem of scale is how to hold the macro and micro together without reducing the macro to a series of micro epiphenomena or erasing the micro by reducing it to the functions of social forces. As Mark Granovetter observed:
A fundamental weakness of current sociological theory is that it does not relate macro-level interactions to micro-level patterns in any convincing way" (Granovetter 1973: 1360).
Granovetter’s criticism still applies to much of contemporary social and organisational theory. Many of the “solutions” to this problem simply defer the reductionism from the macro to the meso level such as with Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration (Giddens 1986), the concept of (transformative) praxis (Bhaskar 1997), the notion of the routine within the multi-level perspective (Nelson and Winter 1977) or by different forms of conflation based on act aggregation or agent orchestration (see Archer 1995: 93-134). Network theory might offer a promising alternativeand yet network theory itself possesses the same weakness. The problem of addressing the limitations of existing network theories can be coupled with this requirement to develop a theoretical solution to the problem of scale. It is for this reason that I have built on the concept of the assemblage as a theoretical framework for network theory. While many of the features of assemblages are found in existing network descriptions, unlike existing network theories, the concept of the assemblage was not developed from fragmented theories with different supporting ontological assumptions, but devised with a clear purpose and directed towards a specific problematic within a unified philosophical scheme, though one which is complex and requires a series of steps in order to be fully conceptualised (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 323-337).