Habits of Living:
Networked Affects, Glocal Effects

A mobile, international and interdisciplinary inquiry into the networked conditions of our times. Staring last fall in a workshop in Bangalore, and coming to Brown this spring in the form of a international conference (before heading next to Oslo and Luneburg), this project examines how networks produce ways, conditions and habits of life and living.

Project Overview:

"Networks" have become a defining concept of our epoch. From micro-blogs that foster new political alliances to unprecedented globe-spanning viral vectors that threaten worldwide catastrophe, networks allegedly encapsulate what’s new and different. Not surprisingly, most analyses privilege technology as the unifying power behind networks: the term "Twitter revolution," for instance, widely used to describe events from Moldavia to Egypt, erases local political concerns in favor of an internet application. Although understanding universal characteristics of networks is important, this emphasis also risks making the concept of a "networked society" a banal cliché, incapable of addressing the differences between various "networks," or the odd transformation of networks from a planning tool—a theoretical diagram, a metaphorical description—into actually existing phenomena, into lived experiences.

To renew the conceptual power of networks, Habits of Living: Networked Affects, Glocal Effects—a global collaborative project of which the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University will be an important locus—concentrates on changing habits of living. Habits are crucial to understanding networks not simply as broad organizational structures, but also as structures created through constant actions that are both voluntary and involuntary. Habits are closely aligned with "affects": unconscious emotional responses to environmental stimulants that are central to the formation of individual perception. They are "glocal": local actions that spread globally, but not necessarily universally; they spread the effects of local actions elsewhere through specific trajectories.

Why Habits of Living?

To many, the new defines new media: what matters is the latest gadget, the newest app, the most recent viral video. To call something new, however, is to guarantee that it will one day be old, and so it seems we are always catching up, always trying to innovate at the bleeding edge of obsolescence. Often, so exhausted by this effort, we seek to get off the grid entirely, dreaming of a space and time protected from the new. But, is the “new” really what matters most about new media?

This project wagers that what’s most fascinating and important about new media is the ways in which it lingers, the ways that it moves from the hot new gadget that we desire to the everyday smartphone that organizes our lives. That is, what matters is how it structures our habits of living. Habits are central to this project because habits are "man-made nature": they are automatic, seemingly instinctual and at times uncontrollable actions that are learned and historical. Habits link individuals to society through repeated actions that also tie a person’s inner state to their outward appearance (a habit is traditionally a type of clothing). To focus on habits is thus to move new media and the study of networks more generally away from catastrophic events to the profound effects of the everyday temporalities of life.

Workshop: Surrogacy
(Bangalore, September 26-29, 2012)

The first workshop of the Habits of Living project was hosted by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India. It was a Thinkathon (Thinking Marathon, if you will) on Surrogacy: Bodies, States, Networks which focused on the relationship between surrogate structures and contemporary networked life. It was attended by a range of multidisciplinary scholars and practitioners from the Global South. The discussion revolved around how the conceptual currency of the term "network" is failing as a critical solution in neoliberal times and how we might renew its criticality. We delved into discourses pertaining to the form of the digital object, the alleged universality of technology during the Arab Spring, and the new eventuality of social media. Participants brought up a variety of local examples for critique, including commercial surrogacy centers in Gujarat, crowdfunding for transnational art collectives in Kerala, the North-East Exodus from Bangalore, the Shanzhai Spring Festival Gala in China, microfinance and e-philanthropy (Kiva), and Indonesia’s ban on Lady Gaga. Some of the crucial and thought-provoking questions were directed towards the “spectacle imperative” in networked societies, the “digital obscene” in amateur porn videos, Asian regionality and global media logics as observed in case of the Busan/Pusan Film festival. The practice of local critique also generated the nature of archiving as a global concern. Given the promise and anxiety over digital data storage that characterizes everyday life, the evolution of the framework on distributed archives was certainly a key moment in the workshop. Multiple disciplinary perspectives ranging from feminist science studies to studio art and international law, and the interdisciplinary conversations that emerged during the workshop, are part of the compendium that can be found at http://cis-india.org/raw/digital-humanities/blogs/habits-of-living.

Site coding: Andrew Lison