Predestination or Free Will…for Networks?

John Calvin & David Grewel: Like-minds?

Religious theorists have asked this question for centuries about the spiritual realm and now network theorists are joining the mix in regard to the nature of the global and social Network system. Have networks always existed (Latour) or do networks formed in the information age now define its current social structure (Castells)?

The understanding of networks directly affects how we interpret globalization, domination, inequality, and how free we are to “choose” to adopt certain dominant global norms. David Grewel argues in his piece Network Power and Globalization that networks seem free also have elements of buried force that explain how the “dynamic operating in globalization nevertheless reflects a kind of domination” (89). Grewel does not disregard the importance of economic dependency or military control in indirect control, but categorizes globalization as empire.

We establish this dichotomy of choice and powerful influence through norms that ultimately contruct “network power.” Grewel defines this as “a group of people united in a particular way that makes them capable of mutual recognition and exchange” (91). Network power requires critical mass and effectively eliminates other choices as it reaches critical mass. In other words, the more people jumping onto one network, the fewer people are likely to remain in alternative networks. Network power chooses the network “market winners” in a way. Grewel perceives this as created fewer choices for free will to be exerted because they existed before a dominant network took power. He does not seem to address the possibility that new competitive networks could enter the market and provide better alternatives to the dominant ones, likely because the dominant networks are tied up in an array of bureaucratic policies. Grewel uses the WTO as an example of a “priviledged point of access” (91) and argues that Nation-States that want to stay competitive must effectively adopt WTO policy (in full) to compete.

While this is done through formal consent and signing of treaties, the WTO requires countries to accept its terms in full. Part of the reason is to ensure compliance and create necessary boundaries for fair trade. But it leaves no room for alternative styles of trade and eliminates certain sectors like agriculture (94). Now that the WTO governs nearly all international trade law, what choice does a country have if it wants to trade internationally but to accept provisions of the WTO?

Grewel points to the costs that new standards require, as well as the frequent perceived cultural loss by changing from standards that play an “important role in people’s identities or culture,” such as linguistics (96). These changes greatly affect minority cultures and marginalized populations that do not have equal access to adapting to these changes.

Grewel then opens the door for a compromise through oppenness, compatibility, and malleability (97). While the analysis provides more space for entrants to adopt culturally-sensitive standards through the WTO that are more compatible with their current standards, Grewel does not set out a solution for dealing with human rights policy in these trade agreements. While revision should be easy to do in any network system as a way to respond to outcomes, network power (the dominant) should also be careful not to allow nations to opt-out of imperative human rights requirements, which underline the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.

This article and other network scholars consider language and metrics as the biggest challenge in network power. As networks dominate through globalization, they fear these losses as also a loss of choice and liberty. But networks must invite diverse opinions without compromising on fundamental rights. In other words, Grewel’s opt-out system may be the optimal solution for cultural protection in a network power system, but Nation States should be called to account in an international system not to opt-out of recognizing and honoring the fundamental human rights of their citizens.

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