3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 2 of 3


Neutrality is under fire, or, at minimum, “not finalized” (whatever that means), possibly, even dead. I am surprised, in light of discussions of postmodernism over the intervening decades, that we humor the metanarrative of human emancipation embedded in “net neutrality” in the first place.

Is neutrality over? Maybe Tim Wu’s hopes will not last so long after all. Alternatively, if we’re talking about “political neutrality” amidst news outlets, again in the US, that bird also appears to have flown the coop (that, or the bias is so deep we cannot even tell anymore). Maybe neutrality was always something of a modern dream. Maybe it was always just a hypothetical philosophical position. Maybe only “neutral countries” Switzerland have it figured out.

For our guest, Andrew Russell, there are a couple issues worthy of consideration, namely, that “[a]s a political slogan, “net neutrality” has proven to be enormously effective” and also that “fundamental human values that are obscured with the self-righteous rhetoric of “neutrality.” It is a smokescreen, neutrality, and we are probably ostensibly better off without it, and, to wit, well aided by acknowledging the basic reality that neutrality is, at best, a farce, and this apparently applies to wireline and wireless internet service providers (ISPs).

While most of this discussion is about ISPs, could another argument be made — not necessarily on a grander stage — for content of internet sites? I am primarily thinking of this in postmodern terms, probably Jean-François Lyotard above all, with his sweeping commentary and re-assessment of the role of truth and truth production circa 1984-ish. With incredulity for metanarratives and grand, over-arching theories, I wonder what Lyotard would have categorized Wu’s notion of “net neutrality” as an essentially unquestioned good. Whether called “language-games” or “phrase-regimes,” the rise of (let’s say) micro or nano-narratives has taken the place of grand narratives, and reflect a multiplicity of meaning-making in diverse, incommensurate, and incompatible systems of meaning, truth, and propaganda. While it is going to seem “quaint” to some, the notion of “net neutrality” seems an awful lot like a metanarrative, and none more a match than the old (useful, but rusty) metanarrative associated with human emancipation. One of the base justifications for net neutrality in the first place is that its alternative would stifle the emancipatory — whether it be economic, political, personal, or other — potential of unfettered access to and ability to share information.

As the status of truth positions scientists as less prominent purveyors of truth as compared to yesteryear, and as the “filter bubble” looms large, descending voices that this can be circumvented or, at minimum, nothing to get too worried about seem like no less quaint or neutral when the neutrality of the net is held as a gold standard among ISPs . In the end, that we humor the metanarrative of human emancipation embedded in “net neutrality” discourse in the first place surprises me. Post-neutrality in post-modern times should raise plenty of eyebrows, although alternatives to emancipation as a justification for neutrality may provide much-needed utility, because, apparently, neoliberal wags  seeking to destroy net neutrality read Lyotard…

15 thoughts on “3:1 — Post-Neutrality — Post 2 of 3

  1. I wonder how much “net neutrality” has (or even could) functioned as a metanarrative vs just a kind of rallying-call that people than projected a variety of things on?


    • Good question(s); one at a time. First, the “human emancipation” part is more of a “grand narrative” than a metanarrative, per se; in Lyotard’s terms, grand narratives like human emancipation through advancing secularization or class struggle are massive, abstract sweeping generalizations and/or descriptions of wide swaths of history. In this particular context, human emancipation through freeing information or making access equal, and so on, function as a base justification for net neutrality (which then, in turn, plays on a grand or high-modern narrative). This is, in some ways, quite in line with a recent comment you made (don’t recall it exactly, but it was) about “why not just talk about something specific — a machine or event?” (instead of playing with these generalizations, metanarratives, and platitudes, etc.


    • Second, “rallying-call that people then projected a variety of things on” — I understand net neutrality as an idea with massive political appeal primarily in that it is a kind of “target” that people can rally-around or identify and challenge. Not entirely sure about the “projecting on” part, although it would certainly be reasonable to suggest that people intimate meanings onto an idea that may or may not have been part of the originators (interpretative flexibility in STS requires this of me!). Unless, and this is no more or less reasonable, are we saying that net neutrality is just a subspecies of freedom, and we all love freedom in the West, right!?


      • ” be reasonable to suggest that people intimate meanings onto an idea that may or may not have been part of the originators” I would suggest that not only have/will they but in some sense they couldn’t but do otherwise (one could approach this via Derrida that in principle no-thing is outside of the realm of interpretation and that The Author-itative Intention isn’t retrievable/verifiable so much as it might have ever existed, or via folks like Mol on how technologies when moved to new settings and put to different uses by different people, and so on, are in some sense {more or less potentially an empirical/pragmatic matter how} different).
        so my suggestion is along the lines of tracking qualities of assemblages/technologies/acts and their effects (including receptions/re-uses).
        what if we treat speech-acts (writ large) as something akin to other things we construct and use?


        • Ohhhh surely — that is fine by me. I don’t have a problem with grafting some sort of discourse analysis onto my materialist predilections (in theory, in practice, or ini principle). In this particular case, you’d have a nice set of arguments, I’d gather, regarding Net Neutrality as a thing — in part, a reflection of its centrality in so many discussions — that can absorb and then hold (or maintain) multiple, competing, and other compatible arrangements of meaning, motive, and the like.

          here is where things might get a smidge hairy: “can we treat speech-acts (write large [or small]) as something akin to other things we construct?” The answer must be both yes, and, of course, no (wherein “no” means “okay, sure, do the speech-act-construction thing, but claiming that that is the only mechanism at play is not allowed at the risk of being reductive despite the seemingly massive inclusiveness that speech-act-construction thing invites to the table”).


          • I wouldn’t suggest they are the only thing at play but we must frame any-thing that we would like to foreground from the great blooming buzzing con-fusion right? so than questions arise about how much we might of might not be able to tell about how much such choices effect our results but would leave open all the possibilities of experimentation (RSBakker just noted on his blog that:The only way to know if a heuristic is efficacious is to put the bloody thing to work) .
            As for yer first point (this gets back around to my sense that Concepts don’t exist) I would say no to “Net Neutrality as a thing — in part, a reflection of its centrality in so many discussions — that can absorb and then hold (or maintain) multiple, competing, and other compatible arrangements of meaning, motive, and the like” I don’t think there is (or can be) such A Thing, but rather that we are creating/assembling many such things, all of which would need their own analysis (more or less depending on how different, for our purposes, they turn out to be) and that analysis would not be a look back as to how well they match up with the Origin/blueprint/etc but rather where such efforts at assembly have taken us (have in some sense helped to make).
            just printed up a copy of this article that Mol sent me:


              • sounds very heideggerian, but for me i can’t see how it would work in this case (my own take back on ANTHEM was to translate heideggerian interests into ANTish projects).


                  • oh sorry nich, just meant the call not the rally, but than the specifics matter i think in terms of media/medium and of course context. the “same” wording in a text, on a billboard, in a presidential address, etc are all different things and as Latour noted publics require assembling.


                    • very good, for me STS/ANT-ish style approaches to ‘field’ studies are excellent applications of the kinds of theorizing done by folks like Derrida/Wittgenstein/Rorty (until they sometimes go astray into abstracting arche-types from the cases as Latour has recently done), so we need to move away from theo-logical/philo-logical attempts to divine author-itative Logics from grammars/signs and attend to who is doing what with what and to what effects or something along those lines, but always keeping in mind that our interventions are inventions, so not Progress but forward moving.


  2. Pingback: 3:1 — Post-Neutrality –Post 3 of 3 | Installing (Social) Order

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