Digital Infrastructures and the Machinery of Topological Abstraction

Fuller, Matthew and Goffey, Andrew. 2012. Digital Infrastructures and the Machinery of Topological Abstraction. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(4-5), pp. 311-333. ISSN 0263-2764 [Article]

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Drawing on contemporary pragmatic philosophy and grounded in a reading of techniques associated with digital media as sophist practices of influence and manipulation, this paper proposes an ‘experimental’ reading of key aspects of the topological qualities of the infrastructure of the knowledge economy, with its obsessive attempts at measuring, recording and monitoring, or ‘qualculation’. Taking seriously, albeit with humour, early criticisms of actor-network for its ostensibly Machiavellian proclivities, it offers a series of playful stratagems for the exploration and analysis of power as an emergent property of socio-technical relations. Topology, in this account, becomes relevant to cultural analysis because of the way that it allows us to think together processes constructive of the intensive continua of ‘desiring production’ with the sociotechnical operations of digital media infrastructures. Different elements operative within digital media (the super-hub, the power of small numbers, recursion and relational databases) are read stratagematically – as figures of a praxis (the material practice of immaterial labour), that reveals different facets of the operations of power, while also allowing for counter-tactics to be deployed. Rather than proposing a theoretical account or an empirical analysis, the paper develops what Stengers (2011) calls ‘operative constructs’, which become ingredients for further active exploration of and thinking about the topological qualities of mediatic infrastructure. The paper addresses four different and overlapping areas of digital media from a point of view that considers the plural, compositional quality of media/power relations.

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Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


July 2012Published

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10 Oct 2013 10:22

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2017 11:05

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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