Add to bookbag
Author: J. D. Applen
Title: The Effects and Dynamics of Networks, Texting, and Power Relationships on the Construction of Identity
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
Spring 2004

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: The Effects and Dynamics of Networks, Texting, and Power Relationships on the Construction of Identity
J. D. Applen

vol. 4, no. 1, Spring 2004
Article Type: Essay

The Effects and Dynamics of Networks, Texting, and Power Relationships on the Construction of Identity

J.D. Applen


Network theory can illustrate how members of complex and dynamic non-hierarchical groups can establish their identity, produce multiple positions of subjectivity, and establish sites of resistance. The advent of new technologies such as text messaging devices allows citizens to form "mobile ad hoc information systems" or networks of resistance. Any act of resistance can be problematic as the prevailing regimes of power compel us to react against them, thus shaping the discourse that questions the prevailing authority. Given this context, Foucault's theory of resistance and Habermas' concept of a public sphere are employed in two case studies of political resistance.

Michel Foucault posits that our identities cannot be constituted simply by defining ourselves relative to one primary other and/or controlling technology of power: " If I tell the truth about myself . . . it is in part that I am constituted as a subject across a 'number' of power relations which are exerted over me and which I exert over others" ("Critical Theory" 39). Foucaultian analyses of such relations, therefore, reject "top-down" hierarchical models of power in which power is seen primarily as constraining or negating identity. They favor models in which interlocking networks of power generate multiple subject positions and modes of resistance.

These networks often are understood as abstractions—webs of interlocking ideologies and discourses. However, new technologies such as the Internet and, more recently, text messaging devices have created material networks that allow for multiple subject positions that enable resistance. For example, the activity of texting communities—networks of people sending and receiving instant text messages to and from one another—can be understood as generating points of resistance to descending modes of power and contributing to the formation of identities. The dynamics of these mobile ad hoc social networks that are continuously forming, shifting, and dissolving map Foucault's theory of power relations and how discourses sanction certain forms of "legitimate" behavior/discourse that allow subjects to acquire the right to speak and be heard, thus establishing their identities.

In this essay I discuss how network theory can be used to illuminate the ways in which members of complex and dynamic non-hierarchical groups establish their identities. I then analyze two case studies of political resistance in which text messaging played a significant role as models of these kinds of networks and activities. My analysis will be informed primarily by Foucault's theory of resistance.


To a large extent, network theories analyze the separate entities or "nodes" that compose networks and the ways in which they are linked together. In networks that link humans to humans, these nodes can be individuals themselves—e.g., citizens within a population who are concerned about their government, or the technologies used by individuals—e.g., Internet web sites. It is rare in any such system that each node has an equal number of links to other nodes. Usually some nodes have more connections, and it is because of this that, in these systems, the number of sequential points between any two nodes is smaller than one might imagine. Thus, in these "small world" networks we find a connective "design" that reduces the complexity of the system—a design that is essentially non-hierarchical and dynamic and that allows for changing positions of subjectivity and identity.

An example of this can be seen in the ways in which the positions of subjects as defined by the positive relations of power are reified in the networked structure of cities. Even though urban areas are often thought to be primarily organized by such forces as "zoning laws and planning commissions," city planning theorists also understand the "bottom-up" forces that are constituted by the citizens of metropolitan areas and that create patterns of unique neighborhoods, commercial districts, and demographic groupings (Johnson 89). The effect of a low-level activity that eventually percolates upward to produce higher-level sophistication in and increased size of a network or system is what Steven Johnson calls "emergence." The emergent behavior in which Johnson is interested has the "distinct quality of growing smarter over time and of responding to the specific needs of the environment" (20).

Employing the work of Jane Jacobs, Johnson details how networks of city sidewalks that enable strangers to come together catalyze such bottom-up kinds of complex networks. Not only do sidewalks provide a mechanism for greater safety in the city, as there are more people walking around in neighborhoods and keeping an eye on each other, they also allow for interactions between random strangers which produce exchanges of ideas and knowledge. Sidewalks, according to Jacobs, allow humans to engage actively in the design of the emerging order of the overall city:

The order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance—not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole (qtd. in Johnson 51).

Citizens on sidewalks both influence and are influenced by their neighbors in a two-way feedback network—Jacob's "intricate ballet." This mechanism allows for the clustering of distinct kinds of commercial districts and neighborhoods, thus constituting "self-organizing systems" that "use feedback to bootstrap themselves into a more orderly structure" (121). Johnson points to the organization of blacksmiths, moneylenders, and wine merchants that composed the guild system in Florence, Italy as a classic example of this kind of clustering. In fact, the silk weaver guilds of Florence are still clustered in the same part of the city in which they existed 1000 years ago, thus resisting change from the advent of new technologies and political forces manifested by urban planners over this millennium (106). Consumers learn where to find, compare, and buy certain kinds of products, which makes the cluster of small businesses in the same industry more competitive. The proximity of similar businesses facilitates an exchange of local knowledge among the craftsmen who work in them, enabling them "to share techniques and services that they wouldn't necessarily be able to enjoy on their own" (107). Similarly, the make-up of neighborhoods in some American cities have remained intact for several hundred years due to the connections made by citizens at the local level. The more random and larger the number of interactions of people on sidewalks—or the larger the bandwidth—the more pronounced is the ability of a city's citizens to resist top-down planning efforts and to be "heard" as they contribute to their city's overall organization.

The networked system of the WWW's architecture also facilitates and is facilitated by bottom-up interactions of individuals. Indeed, it is best understood as a function of the technical code deployed in the software utilized by the Internet and people working to construct each other:

. . . the Web's architecture is the product of two equally important layers: code and collective human actions taking advantage of the code. The first can be regulated by courts, government, and companies alike. The second, however, cannot be shaped by any single user or institution, because the Web has no central design—it is self-organized. It evolves from the individual actions of millions of users. As a result, its architecture is much richer than the sum of its parts. (Barabási 174)

While there are several major Internet service providers that serve as onramps to the WWW and some major commercial sites such as that have established market share early on in the history of the Web, there are web sites that have been made famous because of the choices made by patrons of the WWW. For example, in October 1999, the web site of a Turkish accordion player known as Mahir received over one million hits in two days because it was found to be so human, charming, earnest, and "imperfect." It serves as a reminder that not every web site valued by WWW users is produced by communication professionals employed by universities, corporations, or governments (Weinberger 86). The WWW is not constituted by any top-down organizing entity. While any web site that has only one incoming link has less than a ten percent chance of ever being picked up by a search engine (Barabási 174), the choices users make as to which web sites we will link from our own sites establishes what will show up on searches: "If we say that the Web is self-organizing, it's crucial to recognize that 'self-organizing' does not imply that the Web is very organized at all. . .The Web's organization is only and precisely what individuals on the Web want it to be" (Weinberger 83).

Additionally, the ability of anyone to construct a web site that, on the screen at least, is as large as any other major web site, demonstrates the potential for resistance. Any private citizen's web site takes up as much space on a screen as Ford Motor Company's web site does. Anyone who wants to tell the world via their personal web site about a product that did not meet the standards that were promised on a corporate web site only has to put the name of the company and the product being called into question in the metatags of his or her own web site to be heard. The legitimacy of and opportunity for this kind of discursive challenge does not exist in other media, as's recent failure to have its advertising shown on CBS demonstrates.

Network theory also can be employed to illustrate how individuals in groups make decisions that lead to acts of resistance in the context of large systems. In his study of the dynamics of a riot, Mark Granovetter posits that we all have varying thresholds that are based on our individual perceptions of when the "perceived benefit" of joining a riot would outweigh the "perceived costs" (qtd. in Buchanan 107). Some people have very low thresholds and would riot just to riot, while for most others there is a point of on a continuum of thresholds—low to high—that is specific to each person. What needs to happen for a riot to start and then grow is that each threshold of the next person added to the riot has to be met along this continuum until people with higher thresholds eventually throw themselves into the fray. People are influenced by others, and they also, by engaging in a riot, make it easier for those not engaged to join: "the outcome depends on the character of every person in this chain" (Buchanan 107). This means that every individual character linked in a network can have a dramatic effect on the network. Each individual's threshold is a function of his or her own personality and the preexisting expertise or knowledge he or she possesses that is relevant to the problem faced (Watts, Six Degrees 226). Additionally, people act on others and they are acted upon, and this shapes their positions as subjects. Yet, in this example, the people who engage in activity early on—those with lower thresholds—have a greater effect than those who follow. Granovetter's model suggests just how difficult it is to predict the behavior of a group by reducing its character to the average makeup of the members. There is a continuum of thresholds, and if there is too large a leap between the activation threshold of each next person in the connected chain, the chain reaction will stop and the riot will not gain momentum.

However, Granovetter's model is built on the premise that every member of a potential mob or group that might be persuaded to take political or social action has complete knowledge of everyone else in the potential pool of actors. Duncan Watts has produced a model that more accurately describes how we make decisions in the context of a group. As opposed to systems of global visibility, Watts examines how people make decisions based on word of mouth through smaller social networks that exist in larger-scale social networks. Specifically he asks, "How is it that small initial shocks can cascade to affect or disrupt large systems. . . ?" and "How do large grassroots social movements start in the absence of public communication?" (Proceedings 5766).

In Watts's analysis, every person or node in a crowd takes action when a specific fraction of his or her neighbors takes action—people cannot be assigned a specific absolute number that shows where they stand in an ordered continuum because group dynamics usually do not allow for complete knowledge of everyone's commitment to an idea or cause. Word of mouth and local knowledge are the more important factors. Watts's model also assumes that some neighbors are better connected than others, which is consonant with network systems in general and which more accurately reflects human populations. His findings tell us that for a riot, trend, fad, or social movement to gain a critical momentum, there needs to be a "vulnerable cluster" of people who are not known as innovators (as they lack perfect knowledge of the initial elements of a potential event) but who will join in when they see just one of their neighbors do so. They act as an inexorable force that slowly moves throughout a population, affecting other "early adopters" with low thresholds, until they finally affect the greater portion or "late majority" of a population (Strogatz 267). This consensus of a large group of people to take action is both a function of group members exercising "their own independent judgment" and taking in the opinions of others. This "contingent decision making" is the essence of what Watts refers to as an "information cascade" (Six Degrees 245-6).

The sociological dimensions of human interaction posited by Granovetter and Watts and the synergistic relationship between humans and communication hardware suggested by Buchanan and Barabási follow the emergent patterns of networks as described by Johnson and Jacobs. All of these networks systems allow for new and dynamic positions of subjectivity and resistance. We can apply these insights to networks that are built on the latest communication technologies.

Gerd Korteum refers to technological networks that are based on wearable computers and PDAs as "mobile ad hoc information systems" as they are "highly dynamic, decentralized and self-organizing network[s] of autonomous, mobile devices that interact as peers" (1). For example, he describes his research on wearable computers or "personal agents" that can be programmed by individual consumers to allow for the exchange of MP3 music files between two or more wearers with similarly programmed devices who come within close proximity to each other (3-4). While the only resistance suggested here might be in the acts of citizens who feel it is their right to challenge the copyright laws imposed by governments to protect the recording industry, "what is really interesting is not the technology of a specialized application...but what happens if ordinary people are empowered to use this technology and what effects might emerge when [this] technology penetrates society" (conversation with Korteum, qtd. in Rheingold 174). Howard Rheingold suggests that this potential for collaboration among people via mobile communication technologies in "the social sphere[s] in which complex verbal and nonverbal communications are exchanged among individuals in real time is precisely where individual actions can influence the action thresholds of crowds" (175). To add, it is the ease and high rate with which these communications ensue relative to what consumers/citizens traditionally experience in face-to-face contact that augments their ability both to influence and be influenced by others in the their social groups. Ultimately, the positions produced by network systems can enable new identities and spaces for human subjects. They also enable subjects to employ dynamic techniques to engage in resistance. However, as illustrated in the two case studies discussed below, the question of how much freedom we have as individuals in offering resistance in this context can sometimes be problematic.

Political Networks—People Power II

Jürgen Habermas's concept of "public sphere" is that of an established space where citizens of a democracy can come together and exchange ideas openly with a degree of rationality that presupposes that foundational ideas exist and can be represented with language—ideas such as freedom, democracy, and equality. According to Habermas, public spheres that meet these criteria have existed at certain times in history, such as during the Enlightenment, and new modes of media have produced new public spheres that have the potential to invigorate debate in a democratic society and to allow for the greater dissemination of new political discourses. However, he asserts, modern media has undermined our ability to have a rational debate; instead, institutions of modern technology—advertising, polling, media experts—and the discourse allowed by technology itself have turned any potential democratic discussion into something that is "mediated through opinion leaders" and thus is neither critical nor democratic (246).

While Habermas would suggest that a truly democratic public sphere would best consist of face-to-face conversations between equals, he warns us that we need to avoid "Athens-envy": "If the idea of popular sovereignty is to find realistic application in highly complex societies, it must be severed from a concrete interpretation of a body of present, participating and mutually consenting members of a collective" ("Vorwort zur Neuauflage 1990," qtd. in Peters 564). Here, Habermas suggests that some forms of technological connection can be made between "dispersed" citizens in a democracy who are embodied in "subjectless...forms of communication" (qtd. in Peters 564). Still, Habermas's ambivalence regarding communication technology is evident when he posits that, when it is deployed to replicate the kind of democratic assembly of citizens that was championed by the ancients, it can "exert [a] revolutionary force only to the extent that they were converted by television into a ubiquitous presence" (qtd. in Peters 566). However, in a nation that possesses a political structure that undermines the ability of its citizens to establish a "ubiquitous presence" so that an information cascade could occur and thereby allow for resistance to the powers that be, the advent of new information technologies such as text messaging devices can provide new forms and/or vehicles of "assembly."

In his article "The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines," Vicente Rafael explains the role that the texting capabilities afforded by cell phones played in the 2001 overthrow of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in the movement known as People Power II. This is to be differentiated from the first successful populist insurrection in modern Philippine history, the 1986 toppling of the Marcos regime. Those who were challenging Estrada's regime felt that texting technology enabled them to coordinate considerable numbers of middle-class citizens who were angry at their government. However, text messaging also allowed each individual to feel that he or she could transcend the concentrated mass of citizenry involved in the uprising. As such, texting technology was "idealized as an agent of change, invested with the power to bring forth new forms of sociality" (3).

It is easy to see how the advent of texting technology could be seen as liberating to Filipino citizens One of the contradictions of the Philippines is that it is an underdeveloped nation troubled by weak telephone and power transmission technologies, yet it is teeming with citizens who have taken to text messaging (3). While there exists other communication technologies in the Philippines, the low cost of texting via cell phones gives it a distinct advantage. The high cost of personal computers is the reason why only one percent of this third-world country's population owns one, thus "traditional" email is not widely used. The unreliable nature of the standard phone system in the Philippines and its relatively high expense also contributed to the flourishing of the cell phone. But, while it costs twenty cents a minute to make a call on a cell phone, text messages can be sent for free. Text messages that can be sent on a cell phone travel on a different frequency, so text messages can be received as soon as a phone is turned on or when a call is in progress. This technology allowed the citizens to feel that they could overcome the government's inept ability to organize and maintain an infrastructure, which was tantamount to triumphing over a government that was composed of corrupt and incapable bureaucrats. It gave the citizens the feeling that they could bring into play a less corrupt society.

Texting can stir up fears because it upsets the traditions of recognition and accountability. Messages are passed from phone to phone with such ease that a text's original author is impossible to identify and thus individuals cannot be held accountable (10). This is similar to received content that has been cut and pasted into messages that are passed on by users of email. Still, when a text message is passed on, it does come with the electronic signature or name of the most recent sender, thus holding him or her accountable for the content of the message. In the People Power II environment, texting technology allowed individuals to disseminate information that challenged or poked fun at Estrada and his cronies which effectively undermined them and demonstrated that "[t]he most dangerous feature of this 'weapon' is that text messages are so easily forwarded to others" (9).

Foucault rejects the idea of the author's authority because any attempt to explain ties the explainer, the author, and the subject to the limits of language. Discourse provides a medium of explanation in the way that I am trying to explain the ideas in this paper (the ideas of others that were constituted by the ideas of others), but at the same time, my ability to explain things is constrained by the very nature of discourse.

Similarly, the People Power II texters were expressing their anger by forwarding, in part, a discourse that was composed of text messages that gained their power because they were also being distributed by an established power. For example, one of the major participants in the uprising, Bart Guingona, a theater actor and director, would not forward messages that did not also appear on a Church-owned radio station, Radio Veritas (9). In effect, this gave these messages a greater form of legitimacy as they were based "on an authority outside the text messages themselves" (10). Regardless of the origin of the content of text messages, they allowed the members in the crowd to "imagine the dissolution of class differences and feel, at least momentarily, as if it were possible to overcome social inequities" (22). Like the more well-connected nodes that tend to streamline small-world networks, these particular text messages that were sanctioned by the authority of the Church became part of the body of the most forwarded texts in the network and constituted its real strength: "The power of texting here has less to do with the capacity to open interpretation and stir public debate then it does with compelling others to keep the message in circulation" (10).

Discourse, no matter how new in form and potentially liberating, follows a pattern derived from established discourses, and this is also evident in the practice of sending text messages. As Rafael explains, "[p]eople using phones for text messages have developed a shorthand. 'Where are you?' becomes 'WRU.' And 'See you tonight becomes 'CU 2NYT'" (8). To gain proficiency in the art of typing out messages on a cell phone with one's thumb or fingers, the 26 letters and punctuation marks have to be designated with a pattern of keys selected from a 10-button keyboard; one must press the 3 button twice to get the letter E. We can also see how those who become accustomed to the discourse of text messages might use shortened words and messages in general, and because of the ability of these devices to store and recall previous messages with ease, they would be likely to employ more "drastically abbreviated narrative constructions" in their own speech (8). In Foucaultian terms, these practices could be likened to a mathematician who "discovers" a "new" mathematical entity but who is led to that entity by a prescribed method of mathematical tricks and equivalences that existed prior to the mathematician's attempt to resolve a problem. Mathematical theorems always refer back to their own logical order and are independent of any outside force that makes them do anything different than their preexisting logic would allow them to report. The "author" in this case is "situated in the field of already existing or yet-to-appear mathematical discourses" (Foucault, "Author"130).

Rafael characterizes the act of texting relative to the self as "a kind mechanical percussiveness, a drumming that responds to an external constraint rather than one that emerges from and expresses an internal source" (9). Moreover, people who use texting technology can, themselves, become devices—or nodes in a network—for receiving and then sending on to others all form of messages at all times of the day. In fact, these users "assume the mobility and alertness of their gadgets" (6). Much like the symbiotic connection between humans and the technologies of network systems described above, one of the effects on the Filipino crowd that was amassed with the coordination of cell phone texting technology is that it became a "kind of technology itself" because "[t]he insistent and recurring proximity of anonymous others creates a current of expectation, of something that might arrive, of events that might happen" (16), thus creating a ubiquitous presence.

In the end, there was no change in the overall structure of the government. The changes that came about in People Power II were constitutional as the demonstrators put pressure on the government to follow through with the legal proceedings that ended the career of Estrada. Estrada was replaced with a new leader who was part of the old leadership. Those among the inner circle of the demonstrators who had much to do with catalyzing the events—the members of Generation Txt—did not so much challenge the structure of government, as they made sure that the structure of government remained intact so it could better serve what they perceived were the needs of all Filipinos (13).

Unlike Habermas, Foucault never addressed how modern communication technology might have an effect on our ability to create an identity that would allow us to resist. Additionally, he was much more skeptical, relative to Habermas, of any transcendental belief that allowed for the discovery of any absolute set of beliefs and reason that could be employed by humans. However, he does assert that we can discover a set of ethics that are based on practical reason or a "permanent reactivation of an attitude—that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era" ("Enlightenment" 42).

As opposed to seeing each passing moment as something that should be arrested and dissected in an effort to find an absolute position of resistance, Foucault employs Charles Baudelaire's depiction of the artist Constantin Guys as emblematic of modernity and to illustrate how one can fashion his or her own liberty by both respecting reality and violating it:

. . . just when the whole world is falling asleep, he begins to work, and he transfigures that world. His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom; 'natural things' become 'more than natural,' 'beautiful things' become 'more than beautiful,' and individual objects appear 'endowed with an impulsive life like the soul of [their] creator' ("Enlightenment" 41).

Employed in a non-political fashion, texting allows one to break away from a crowd, to move above it, to disconnect. But texting also enables us to see how, in fact, "Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere" (History 93). The community of Philippine citizens utilized a networked technology to organize into new positions of subjective identity—to be heard and engage in the "exercise of freedom"— yet were also, in part, affected by the power of this technology as they became a sea of nodes that kept texts in play, thus embodying elements of texting technology.

We can look at the decisions made by respective members of the anti-Estrada texting community, in terms of Granovetter or Watts's analyses, as influenced by others. We also can be skeptical in a Foucaultian sense when Ederic Penaflor Eder, a young Filipino university graduate, refers to key Estrada supporters as "the eleven running dogs," and tells us that texting was the medium in which "we" responded to their betrayal, proclaiming that "We are generation Txt [sic]. Free funloving, restless, insistent, strong and patriotic" (Rafael 11). However, this can also be seen as a creative, albeit ephemeral, use of network technology in the act of resistance as they did establish a voice that had not been heard before the demonstrations. As Rafael states: "Generation Txt discovers yet again the fetish of technology as that which endows one with the capacity to seek access and recognition from authority" (13). This use of technology can be problematic as Rafael does not consider Habermas' concern that the widespread use of a technology such as texting hardware could also be seen as a technophillic fetish that allowed people to be seduced by the very technology they believed was allowing their freedom. Peter Weibel employs Habermas' notion of fetish technology to warn against the seduction of consumers by corporations that manufacture information technology: "the customer or consumer . . . is gushed over as if he were the most free, autonomous citizen whose welfare whole states depend" (2). The public sphere that Habermas theorizes can in fact be compromised by information technology.

The crowd was compelled to resist because its members were alarmed by the power of their government. Foucault does not reject the spirit of the Enlightenment as one can use "reason" to critique the prevailing "rationality" or limits of our identities that are imposed on us to establish our independent, "liberated" identities: "My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. . . . I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make every day is to determine which is the main danger" ("Subject" 231-2).

Moreover, because of the way texting enabled the citizens of the Philippines to feel that they could undermine and overcome their government's inability to provide a proper communication infrastructure, this constitutes a worthy symbolic form of resistance. This parallels Foucault's more subtle understanding of the ephemeral workings of power and how it allows for ever shifting configurations:

Are there no great radical ruptures, massive binary divisions, then? Occasionally, but more often one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds. (History 96)

Like Constantin Guys, the individuals in the Generation Txt movement, while moving within and written by a sea of texts, were able to produce more than what Habermas would suggest as a mere "ubiquitous presence"; they engaged in a liberatory gesture, however ephemeral it might have been.

The Direct Action Network

In "Black Flag Over Seattle," an extensive account of the events surrounding the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle, Paul de Armond details how the conference was disrupted by demonstrations organized by 15,000 members of the AFL-CIO and 35,000 other protestors. The vast majority of the protestors in this second group were formed from a coalition of environmental and human rights groups that called itself the Direct Action Network (DAN). While there was a very small group of protestors who engaged in vandalism and violence, those who were associated with DAN and the AFL-CIO were nonviolent ("Black Blocs Run Amok" 1-5). Additionally, the protestors who were affiliated with the AFL-CIO did not coordinate their demonstrations with the groups who were under the umbrella of DAN.

The understanding of the different groups that constituted the Direct Action Network was that they employ non-violent methods to block key intersections in the downtown Seattle neighborhoods and move into the "no protest" zone near the convention center where the WTO delegates were to meet, thus disrupting the convention. These events were coordinated with the employment of "netwar" tactics. Netwar is a new form of conflict management that, while not engaging in violence, employs information age technologies to martial its dispersed small groups of individuals (Rondfeldt 4). This netwar evidenced in Seattle was coordinated with networks of cellphones, personal computers using wireless modems, and Palm Pilots technology that was deployed by a non-hierarchical command structure, typical of netwar organization. This is not to say that there were not some nodes within DAN that were less well-connected than others as we see in most complex and streamlined network systems; not everyone had a cell phone or a Palm Pilot. Still, DAN was composed of many cells of protestors which gave it its dynamic structure. At certain points in the ensuing confrontations, members in the smaller groups were asked to vote on what they should do next as a subgroup. The essence of the strategy employed by DAN was not to control territory or resources so much as it was to understand the dynamics of the situation and to be able to move around, to "swarm" opponents and then to react like "antibodies in defense." To do this, those coordinating the events had to possess "topview" or logistical knowledge more than territory (de Armond, "What is Netwar?" 1-2) .

The coordination afforded by the networks allowed DAN to move toward the police attacks or mass arrests and create a human presence that would make it more difficult for the law enforcement officials to continue their aggressive activities. For example, at Westlake Center in Seattle's business district, some of the protestors engaged in a peaceful sit-down demonstration. As one protestor was arrested, another standing behind in the crowd would come forward and sit down. In this situation, each protestor's choice to ratchet up his or her commitment to the movement's overall goal was made independently, as he or she was sure to risk arrest by sitting down and blocking a passageway. While there was much solidarity in DAN, one can still see this situation in terms of Granovetter and Watts's analyses; each individual had to weigh the "perceived cost" relative to the "perceived benefit." The protestors standing behind those sitting down also allowed for many more eyes to be positioned to witness the potential abuses against those who risked arrest, thus diminishing the ability of the police to engage and control the situation with excessive force.

The arrests stopped when the mechanism to transport the protestors was compromised. Those who were on the busses that were to take the protestors to jail would not get off them. While waiting to be removed, many individuals gave interviews with the press via their cell phones, and thus they were able to get their story out to the global infosphere. When they were removed from their busses, the protestors, who didn't carry any identification, gummed up the booking procedures by refusing to identify themselves.

One of the singular characteristics of netwar is that it allowed DAN to employ an "ad hoc mobilization" scheme that would make its members less vulnerable to the law enforcement tactics: "Networks, as opposed to institutions, are shaped by decentralized command and control structures; are resistant to "decapitation" attacks targeting leaders, and are amorphous enough to weld together coalitions with significantly different agendas while concentrating forces on a single symbolic target" ("The Plans for Battle" 3-4). Because this netwar tactic eschews any direct hierarchical command structure, a loss of any "leader" to arrest will not compromise the overall protest as the conversation between the many smaller cells in DAN would continue. Discussions about where the protestors should move next in reaction to the movements of the police were never closed down.

When vigorous crowd control methods are employed by police units to intimidate and disrupt demonstrators, protestors often feel that they have achieved a "moral victory" if they are disbanded and a "double victory" if in fact the application of force does not succeed ("Aftermath" 2). The latter is what happened in Seattle as the failure of the police to contain the demonstrators in certain areas of tactical importance led them to believe that they needed to use tear gas. This showed protesters that the police had lost control of their own strategy. It also angered the protestors and hardened their resolve to stand up to the police. Simultaneously, this created tensions between the civilian officials who were ostensibly in control of the police department and drew attention to the questionable legality of some of the law enforcement tactics ("Aftermath" 2). The most important outcome was that this tableau of protesting, suppression, reorganization, and protesting over a four-to-five day period that was captured by the international media came to symbolize the protestors' point-of-view: "the WTO multi-lateral trade agreements are intensely corrosive to democracy which entails a knowledgeable public participating in policy formation in meaningful ways" (1).

Effectively, this tableau of protestors who stayed on task for five days allowed a more specific message to disseminate than what Habermas might have thought possible. They constituted more than a "ubiquitous presence;" there was movement, reaction, and counterreaction in a dynamic situation by a sea of collaborating individuals working to form an emergent structure. In addition to media coverage, the protestors also used their wireless Palm Pilots to upload their "reports from the streets" to the WWW to increase the number of participants/witnesses/subjects to that of a global network within which they were embedded: "Floating above the tear gas was a pulsing infosphere of enormous bandwidth, reaching around the planet via the Internet" ("The Battle Engaged" 2-3).

Ultimately, the non-violent strategy of DAN had the effect of quelling the designs of the other groups that did not employ its non-violent, netwar tactics. The Black Bloc, a group of approximately forty "anarchists" who aimed to turn the non-violent protestors of DAN into vandals failed. They were poorly organized, few in number, and their stealth methods were fundamentally opposed to any collaborative network strategy. The AFL-CIO, while ostensibly in alliance with DAN, were also tacitly allied with the Clinton administration officials who did not want to be embarrassed as the hosts of the WTO convention. They hoped to show up DAN by boxing them in, keeping them away from the convention center, and thus marginalizing their swarming efforts. The AFL-CIO's traditional kind of protest march adopted a rigidly choreographed style and thus failed, as there was no room for improvisation. The Seattle police failed to manage the protestors and failed to win the hearts and minds of the local citizens of downtown Seattle by overreacting to the marchers and citizens with the strong-arm tactics such using tear gas and making, in the minds of many, uncalled for arrests.

The act of protesting is not as confrontational as insurrection or physical violence and more provoking than negotiation or diplomacy. However, protestors often feel that their acts are a kind

of negotiation while those whom they oppose might see them as attempting to create civil disorder.

When both sides begin to acknowledge each other's political power, this is seen as a negotiation as they understand each other's position and right to exist even though there are differences between them. When there is an insurrection, opposing sides do not have a qualified respect for each other ("Aftermath" 1). At both extremes, Foucaultian theory would illustrate that members of each group construct their identities and are constructed by the power relationships that have been established with their adversaries. While there were greater numbers of protestors, they effectively challenged the greater powers—those nations of the world who subscribed to the vision of the WTO and who sought to strengthen their grip on the world's trading practices; "the conflict was one of networks versus markets" ("The Battles Yet to Come" 1). While the protests started out as a seeming insurrection, the delegates at the WTO conference eventually came to recognize the network of protestors. The protestors were aided and shaped by practices that suggest that "netwar actors have a much greater interest in keeping communications working, rather than shutting them down" (2).


In our most cynical musings, we can see any individual who performs an action that constitutes a point of microresistance as being compelled by the will to truth, the built-in drive that impels us to challenge the regimes of power with which we are confronted: "Power never ceases its interrogation, it inquisition, its registration of truth; it institutionalises, professionalises and rewards its pursuit" (Foucault, "Two Lectures" 93). However, conflict catalyzes further investigation, technical adjustments, and explanations, thus establishing sites for further developments and the restructuring of knowledges and identities. In his study of the use of mobile phones in urban environments, Anthony Townsend makes the point that mobile phones allow for the conquering of space as the "always-accessible-individual" is better able to micromanage "minute variations in conditions between locations" (101). People are always at the ready to receive or provide information and instructions. Not only does this allow individuals to manage better their relationships with others by sustaining "order and coherence in the face of the acceleration of time" that is imposed on us by the power and size of today's contemporary institutions, it also allows for the formations of decentered groups of citizens to form their own collective resistance to these institutions (102). This can be seen in the People Power II and WTO demonstrations in Manila and Seattle as they successfully outfoxed the more staid power structures they confronted.

When knowledge is not met with resistance, it can become stagnant and might be written off as having little value. However, in these cases, new knowledge composed of new and varied discourses was constituted by the crowds with the use of technologies that could challenge what Foucault would call the "main danger." In both of these instances, we can say that, to some extent, the crowds adapted in a way where their members could be heard, and like Constantin Guys, they worked to transfigure the world and engaged in the "difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom" ("Enlightenment" 41).

J.D. Applen is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Central Florida. He teaches courses in technical communication, rhetorical theory, composition, hypertext theory, and the literature of science and technology. He has published essays for the NCTE and in journals such as Technical Communication and IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. He has also published on the pedagogical use of the novels of Don DeLillo in the composition classroom. He can be contacted directly at


Barabási, Albert-László. Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. Cambridge, MA: Plume, 2003.

Buchanan, Mark. Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks. New York: Norton, 2002.

de Armond, Paul. "Black Flag Over Seattle: Aftermath." Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

—-. "Black Flag Over Seattle: The Battle Engaged." Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

—-. "Black Flag Over Seattle: The Battles Yet to Come." Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

—-. "Black Flag Over Seattle: Black Blocs Run Amok" Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

—-. "Black Flag Over Seattle: The Plans For Battle." Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

—-. "Black Flag Over Seattle: What is Netwar?" Albion Monitor. 29 Feb. 2000. 10 July 2003 <>.

Foucault, Michel. "Critical Theory, Intellectual History." Politics Philosophy Culture: Interviews and Other Writings. New York: Routledge, 1990. 17-46.

—-. History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction. New York: Vintage, 1990.

—-. "The Subject and the Power." Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Second Edition. Dreyfus, Hubert, and Paul Rabinow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. 208-28.

—-. "Two Lectures." Power-Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980. 78-108.

—-. "What is an Author?" Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 113-38.

—-. "What is Enlightenment?" The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 32-50

Granovetter, Mark. "Threshold Models of Collective Behavior." American Journal of Sociology. 83 (1978): 1420-1443.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991.

Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

Korteum, Gerd, et. al. "When Peer-to-Peer Comes Face-to-Face: Collaborative Peer-to-Peer Computing in Mobile Ad Hoc Networks." Aug. 2001. 7 Jan. 2004 <>.

Peters, John Durham. "Distrust of Representation: Habermas on the Public Sphere." Media, Culture and Society 15 (1993): 541-71.

Rafael, Vicente. "The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines." Public Culture 15.3 (2003): 399-427. 24 June 2003. <>.

Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2003.

Rondfeldt, David, and John Arquilla. "Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future." First Monday 8.6 (June 2003). 6 Sept. 2003 < 10/ronfeldt/index.html>.

Strogatz, Steven. Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. New York: Hyperion, 2003.

Townsend, Anthony. "Life in the Real-Time City: Mobile Telephones and Urban Metabolism." Journal of Urban Technology. 7.2 (2000): 85-104.

Watts, Duncan. "A Simple Model of Global Cascades on Random Networks." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2003): 5766-71.

—-. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. New York: Norton, 2003.

Weibel, Peter. "On the Functional Transformation of Electronic Media Art in the Nineties." Sept. 1996. 11 Feb. 2004 <>.

Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002.