The map of the network needs pluralizing

I’ve added networkweaver blog to the link sidebar under a new category, Smart Mobs. It’s not a very active blog, yet it has a lot of fascinating, thought-provoking content. (See The Power of Network Weaving Aug.30)

Here’s Part 1 of a youtube video posted there. Part 2 is on the networkweaver blog.

I did some data entry for a network map Valdis Krebs, a member of the blog’s team, created several years ago for E4S, the sustainability and entrepreneurship organization run by my friend Holly.

Off and on, Holly and me have discussed her vision about how she develops and nurtures her network. Coming at it from the perspective of adult transformative learning (and social psychology oriented to my constructivist prejudices,) I’ve entered into our dialog at times my sense of the place distinctive aspects of personality and relationship and group awareness occupy within a vibrant human network. Although, for me, I prefer to think of this kind of social activity as constituting webs/entanglements of dynamic group relations, rather than their constituting a network, or networks.

The reason for my bias is the map of a network doesn’t depict the “3D” dimensionality of human interaction and enactment. The network maps I’ve viewed tend to reify, reduce, and erase the complexities of the underlying human relationships the map depicts. As is often the case, such a picture tilts its emphasis in the direction of representing (a kind of) flattened relational instrumentality. This is fine as far as it goes; after all, the purpose of the map is different than the purposes I can conjure!

On the other hand, in their structure, the maps I’ve seen, are–necessarily–reifying devices. There may be ways to engineer a map to depict some of the deep features of the network.

The upshot of this is: engineering again needs to be vulnerable to the infection of deeper, interdisciplinary, and, (if you wll,) “multi-modal,” analysis.This could aim to realize a qualitative model of the interplay and contingent relations discoverable when the human system is examined more closely. The point would be to elicit different manifest levels underlying the depiction of connects. This richer territory could be mapped to a different variant of the conventional map.

For example, Krebs and June Holley wrote a paper, Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving (2002-2006).

In the introduction:

Communities are built on connections. [snip] Improved connectivity is created through an iterative process of knowing the network and knitting the network.M

How are communities actually built?


Network maps provide a revealing snapshot of a business ecosystem at a particular point in time.

These maps can help answer many key questions in the community building process.

• Are the right connections in place? Are any key connections missing?
• Who are playing leadership roles in the community? Who is not, but should be?
• Who are the experts in process, planning and practice?
• Who are the mentors that others seek out for advice?
• Who are the innovators? Are ideas shared and acted upon?
• Are collaborative alliances forming between local businesses?
• Which businesses will provide a better return on investment – both for themselves and the community they are embedded in?

These are important questions. But they seem to me to beg even more fundamental questions:

What are the qualities of a right connection, and, per force, relationship?

What is the nature of, or, what are the possible natures of, leadership?

What is the nature of expertise?

What are the qualities of an innovative idea? (I’ll return to this question.)

What are the social psychological dynamics of alliances and collaborations?

(Borrowing from James Hillman; |1|) What are additional kinds of profit found in businesses and communities? (Howabout Ivan Illich’s notion of conviviality?)

What are qualities of an innovative idea?

Ideas exist within contexts. Social action exists within contexts. Relationships exist within contexts. Analysis may be used to uncover the constructionist, sociological, ethnographical, phenomenological, and other threaded dependencies given by any rich human system.

The network map is not even about the true nature of the complex system.

The conception of the map of the network needs pluralizing.

(1) As the weaver connects to many groups, information is soon flowing into the weaver about each group’s skills, goals, successes and failures. An astute weaver can now start to introduce clusters that have common goals/interests or complementary skills/experiences to each other. As clusters connect, their spokes to the hub can weaken, freeing up the weaver to attach to new groups.

This is the most prominent exposure cognition receives in Krebs/Holley. Of course, their fine paper has different aims.

Still, from the perspective of adult learning, what flows in an idealized web of relations are learning contexts and potentials for learning experiences, and, concrete learning experiences. A weaver could employ additional tools, tools beyond those which support uniting “nodes” over mutual, complementary and sympathetic interests.

One goal of such learning within the network and via the web of relationships would be to deepen reflection, instantiate critical culture, and transform the inherent, (often overly-conventional) meaning schemes. This obviously starts to rub the network in tantalizing ways and evoke novel emergent learning.


So, too, business; just add an $ to profit–profit not only for partners and shareholders. The monotheism of the profit motive can be loosened so that it makes places for other kinds of profitability: profitable for the long term continuity of liffe and future generations, profitable to the pleasure and beauty of the common good, profitable to the spirit. The double bottom line of social and ecological responsibility extends profitability only part way. The idea of profit itself needs pluralizing. (James Jillman, Kinds of Power. A Guide to its Intelligent Uses, 1995) 

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