The Exploit: A Theory of Networks

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“The Exploit is that rare thing: a book with a clear grasp of how networks operate that also understands the political implications of this emerging form of power. It cuts through the nonsense about how 'free' and 'democratic' networks supposedly are, and it offers a rich analysis of how network protocols create a new kind of control. Essential reading for all theorists, artists, activists, techheads, and hackers of the Net.” —McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto

The network has become the core organizational structure for postmodern politics, culture, and life, replacing the modern era’s hierarchical systems. From peer-to-peer file sharing and massive multiplayer online games to contagion vectors of digital or biological viruses and global affiliations of terrorist organizations, the network form has become so invasive that nearly every aspect of contemporary society can be located within it.

Borrowing their title from the hacker term for a program that takes advantage of a flaw in a network system, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker challenge the widespread assumption that networks are inherently egalitarian. Instead, they contend that there exist new modes of control entirely native to networks, modes that are at once highly centralized and dispersed, corporate and subversive.

In this provocative book-length essay, Galloway and Thacker argue that a whole new topology must be invented to resist and reshape the network form, one that is as asymmetrical in relationship to networks as the network is in relation to hierarchy.

Alexander R. Galloway is associate professor of culture and communications at New York University and the author of Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minnesota, 2006) and Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization.

Eugene Thacker is associate professor of new media at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of Biomedia (Minnesota, 2004) and The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816650439
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Series: Electronic Mediations Series, #21
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

 Alexander R. Galloway is associate professor of media studies at New York University and lives in New York, NY. He is the author of four books on digital media and critical theory, most recently The Interface Effect.
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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    defining networks as they are becoming essential social presences

    Authors Galloway and Thacker--with New York University and the Georgia Institute of Technology respectively--pose a dichotomy between networks and sovereignty. Sovereignty is the longtime, historical form of government and society often described as 'hierarchic.' Networks, on the other hand as any contemporary person knows, are newer, postmodern, forms of social organization--or topology--and activity. The difference between sovereignty and network is the difference between architecture and biology. The co-authors take a 'more speculative, experimental approach [resulting in] a series of marginal claims' rather than a theory to try to grasp the essential nature and actual effects of networks all the while recognizing that 'the nonhuman quality of networks is precisely what makes them so difficult to grasp'. With sovereignty, leaders--i. e., persons--and laws or conventions were recognizable formative elements. With networks on the other hand, there are no permanent nor widely-accepted leaders and no code of law or centuries of convention forming or even governing them. Yet, there are businesses and services such as protocols and institutions such as Microsoft and Google which strongly influence and in some ways determine the presence and activity of networks. The belief that networks, particularly the Internet, are naturally, intentionally, or inevitably egalitarian is misleading. The author's 'speculative' approach carries them to summaries and critiques of philosophers from widely differing ages and with widely differing ideas and even worldviews among these, Plato and Hobbes, Foucault and Guattari, Baudrillard and Virilio, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. In accordance with their understanding that they are making only 'marginal claims,' they do not presume nor work to synthesize such diversified, in some cases exclusionary thoughts. The authors' wide historical and literary learning, however, with their patent familiarity with all aspects of contemporary computer and networking technology allow for continuous illumination. The play of the diversity of the content is stimulating rather than conclusive or even much suggestive. 'Nodes' and 'Edges' are the two chief parts of the book within which the play occurs. Nodes (to simplify) are the businesses, or the sources, of networks the protocols, programs, Microsofts, Myspaces, etc. These will come and go as the field of networks evolves, just like businesses have always done. While the nodes are essential, the authors see the edges are more meaningful for those involved with networks. The edges represent networks' potentials in that they indicate the human desire and choices which give shape to the networks. 'What matters more and more is the very distribution and dispersal of action throughout the network, a dispersal that would ask us to define networks less in terms of the nodes and more in terms of the edges...' Yet, ever provisional in their approach, Galloway and Thacker imagine networks could be best comprehended 'in terms other than the entire, overly spatialized dichotomy of nodes and edges altogether.' But with this as the next-to-last sentence, they do not begin to move onto this ground.

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