The object of study has shifted from the virtual community and the space of flows to the smart mob. When the object of study changes, so may the distinctions that dominate, particularly the schism between place-based space and place-less space, both organised and given life by networks. We would like to exploit the potential of writing contemporary network theory that suits and reflects the changes to the objects of study that come to define our understandings of network culture – a post-Castellsian network theory, if you will, that takes technical media seriously.
It is time to look for elements that can make up a network theory outside of post-modern cultural studies (which marvelled at the place-less place) and ethnographic social sciences (which reminded us of the ground). What network culture studies needs is a ‘language of new media,’ perhaps even signage, to speak in terms of Lev Manovich; what it currently has is a science-centered ‘unified network theory,’ to paraphrase the language of Albert-László Barabási.
Whilst it may come as no surprise to critical Internet scholars, the notion that networks are not random but have underlying structures remains the key insight for network scientists. Instead of posing new questions, the work that follows from that insight often seeks to confirm that structure and its accompanying patterns, across more and more network-like objects. The question remains which specific contribution critical Internet scholars and practitioners can make to opening up network thought. Such is the purpose of the network theory conference. How must we rethink network culture with a renewed emphasis on technical media and social software?