I have been thinking about the different ways communication networks/infrastructures are built. In particular, I have been trying to come up with a way to explain the relationship between built things and our understanding of built things , which is especially important when the built things are supposedly what let us communicate with one another. This is a salient point in the hype-o-rific Web 2.augh! universe, when we are constantly being told that we are building our own things even as they are being fed into some larger structure . . .
I’m playing with the idea that there are both models and representations of communications infrastructures, and that each plays a role in some kind of construction or innovation. How do they fit together? I’m not sure.
Models can be mental or regulatory models- bottom-up models, top-down models. Policy models. The model responds to the question: how is this system supposed to work? New models are sociotechnical in nature, and have economic and cultural aspects. A model can be and often is physical, but even new mental model – a new way of doing things, thinking about things, and structuring things. In previous generations of communication infrastructure a model was imposed from above. But Wi-Fi, and other kinds of ad-hoc communication infrastructure models, developed from below (and connected to representations of WiFi as emancipatory technology. However, the models can be applied in other representational contexts other than the ones in which they were developed; for example, the model mesh networking is now used in a different representational context.
Representations are cultural. We represent models, but representations might also create models – as new ways of thinking create new ways of doing. These are where we find differences in interpretations of models. Representations respond to the question of “what is this? What am I supposed to do with this?” Representations help us distinguish between change in models and change in what models MEAN. This is most obvious when we consider the case of sharing. A representation of sharing is not exactly the same as a model of sharing, but at the same time, it might be a way of eventually producing a new kind of model. For example, the representational connection between “free WiFi” and “open networks”, which involves an invocation of the other kinds of “free” and “open” representations appears to be creating a mental model of open infrastructure – unlike existing models (how, I can’t exactly explain).
Both representations and models are tangled up together. Untangling them means creating a distinction that rejoins that of the distinction between discourse and practice. This is dangerous stuff for someone who advocates the consideration of sociotechnical systems. However, I want to retain them to help to explain how cultural influences (in the domain of representations) interrelate and influence socio-economic and technical factors (in the domain of models) as various kinds of communication infrastructures develop.
Interesting. But the distinction you make between models and representations, is it a model or a representation (or an immanent truth)?
My question is: “why do you need this distinction?”
“Either you extend the argument to everything, but then it becomes useless”interpretation’ becomes another synonym for “objectivity’
Thanks! I was kind of expecting this response :-). In fact, I was wondering to myself this morning whether I needed the distinction at all, since if you carry the logic far enough, everything has the potential to be a representation (which is I think what Latour is arguing) – or at least, that the theory (model) is a representation in and of itself.
In short, for the moment I think I need the artificial distinctions to figure out what is going on more generally – which way the flow moves.
In your article the professor asks:
“Tell me, if some X is a mere “case of’ Y, what is more important to study: X which is the special case, or Y which is the rule?
S Probably Y but X too, just to see if its really an application of well, both I guess.
P I would bet on Y myself, since X will not teach you anything new. If something is simply an “instance of’ some other state of affairs, go study this state of affairs instead
When you say model – do you mean modularity – as in template – or do you mean – architecture/framework or schematic?
And by representations to you mean views & lenses or abstractions/simplications of that reality? For example a cartographer cannot map the world as it is, as that would be a recreation of the world, but a cartographer abstracts parts of the reality of that world into a visual representation of the world or part of it. A cartographer may model how and what needs to go into that map but the map is the representation of that model.
I have the same problem with communication infrastructures, as the physical side somehow is never up front – but dang – the physical is very important. The last mile of the communication infrastructure is wireless some suggest, and that is because the big stuff has already been done. If the big stuff gets super controlled do we loose the freedom in the last bit? And as michael would perhaps say, usage creates that new model of the free infrastructure – model in the way you use it here – so more use – critical mass – thus less likely the overt control.
very interesting to see this discussed in another discpline – language is so interesting in each area.