digital rhetoric

invisible colleges, emergent colleges

A few weeks back at the C’s, Collin’s presentation mentioned the "invisible college," a reference to the precursor to the Royal Society as a predisciplinary network of academics. As Collin suggested, such invisible colleges continue to exist, particularly in loosely organized disciplines like rhet/comp. We don’t really have a paradigm a la Kuhn; no normal science for us. Blogging networks and other social media relations are probably good examples of modern-day invisible colleges. That said, perhaps we are not necessarily moving toward more disciplinary-institutional identities as we no longer require the material capital of formal organization as group-forming and maintenance have relatively low costs. Then again, there are reputation issues to consider. In any case I don’t want to go down that path today.

Instead I want to think about this in relation to the idea of emergent cities. Robert Axtell and Richard Florida have an article modeling the emergence of cities. They write:

cities emerge from the interactions of agents and firms. When many such firms have the same location, in our model, we call the resulting agglomeration a ‘city.’ Cities, in the model, have no agency, but are able to attract people from other cities to work within their population of firms. Cities are also able to house new firms, as when an agent decides to start up a new firm and stay in its present location. A finite set of locations is assumed, and the initial actors locations are random. People can join firms, adopt firms locations, or create new firms either in their current or a new random location. Thus, cities emerge through the interactions of purposive agents through the institution of the firm.

I’m not qualified to speak to the validity of their methods. I’d be
interested in hearing what anyone else thinks. However I am interested
in this conceptually and what it means for discourse networks.
Basically the premise of Florida’s creative class argument is that
innovative and creative professionals (who drive our economy) prefer
(perhaps even need) to group together to share ideas, conversation, and
creativity–even across professional boundaries. As such, they head for
these mega-regions where a critical mass of diverse, creative people
may be found.

This brings me back to the invisible college. If one were to employ
distant reading methods (as Derek is working with), you might be able
to track the relationship within and among invisible college networks
in trackbacks, comments, citations, keywords–things like that. (I’m
speaking hypothetically here; I don’t know if one could actually pull
this off in technical terms.) Anyway, I think that you might find
similar emergent properties here. That is, I think you would find that
discursive practices begin to intermingle in heterogeneous mega-regions.

Now I could turn to more familiar territory (at least for me) and
speak about this kind of attraction in terms of Deleuze and Guattari.
Don’t worry, that’s just an empty threat tonite. But basically it has
to do with how singularities and multiplicities function in
non-deterministic ways to unfold materiality. Of course it is a little
disconcerting because it takes agency out of our hands. Florida’s model

does the same, even though he glosses over that fact. He speak of
"agents" with rational decision-making processes, but the results are
always the same in his modeling: so where is the agency, eh? Not in the
big picture, that’s for sure.

Anyway, I’m edging in this direction. If Two Virtuals focused on
subjectivity in the network, now I think I want to move into larger
scales of composition.

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