Syllabus for Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary

Columbia University
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

A4515: Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary  Fall 2013

Professor                                Kazys Varnelis

The purpose of this seminar is to come to an advanced historical understanding of the changed conditions that characterize our networked age. As a history of the contemporary, the seminar is organized around a series of topics tracing a genealogy of present-day culture, focusing on the network not merely as a technology with social ramifications but rather as a cultural dominant that connects changes in society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology. It's a primary thesis of this course that the network is not an innocent technology but rather a social construction that serves to naturalize and exacerbate uneven growth and the distribution of power.

Topics to be addressed include network theory, changing concepts of time and space, the rise of networked publics, contemporary poetics, new forms of subjectivity, and methods of control. Throughout, we will make connections between architecture, urbanism and this insurgent condition.

The theme for fall 2013 is Uneven Growth and responds to a MoMA exhibition that will open in October 2014. Students will be welcome to participate in the workshop at MoMA leading to the exhibition and are encouraged to pursue the topic of Uneven Growth in networks in their research projects.

RequirementsParticipation: 20%

Each class will consist of a presentation by the instructor on selected themes, followed by an in-depth discussion in seminar. Students are expected to prepare all readings in order to facilitate a discussion in which all students participate. Active participation by all students in each session is required. 

Tumblr: 20%

Each student is expected to maintain a tumblelog on and to post at least twice a week. Beyond mere reblogging of information pertinent to the course, the tumblelog will form a record and commentary upon their research during the semester.

Research Project: 60%

For a research project, students have an option of either undertaking a curatorial project or an essay. Either is due on Monday, December 16.

The curatorial project will explore the topic of uneven growth in networks. The Netlab’s specific focus in this exhibit is research on the future of uneven growth in Hong Kong but students are encouraged to explore uneven growth as a constituent of networks.

Both design and scholarship are integral to the term project, which should take the form of an exhibit catalog as might be found in a museum. A carefully curated and designed book will be accompanied a 2,000 word essay (roughly 10 pages double spaced, 12 points) on the curated material. If students choose to write an essay, they should turn in an essay of roughly 4,000 words (roughly 20 pages double spaced, 12 points).

Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure.


All readings will be available on-line.






An Overview of Networks

Manuel Castells, “Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.

Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Control Societies,” Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 177-182.

Charlie Gere, “The Beginnings of Digital Culture,” Digital Culture (London: Reaktion, 2008), 21-50.

Optional: Kazys Varnelis, “Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, 145-163.



Network Theory

Albert-László Barabási, “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Small Worlds,” and “Hubs and Connectors,” Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 25-63.

Nicholas Carr, “From the Many to the Few” The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149.

Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, October 2004,

Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality,” Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet.


Mark S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973), 1360-1380.

Duncan J. Watts, “The Connected Age,” Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19-42.




Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,”

Saskia Sassen, “Electronic space and power,” Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.

Alexander R. Galloway, “Physical Media,” Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 29-53.


Saskia Sassen, “On Concentration and Centrality in the Global City,” Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor, eds., World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 63-78.

Stephen Graham, “Communication Grids: Cities and Infrastructure,” in Saskia Sassen, Global Networks. Linked Cities (London: Routledge, 2002), 71-92.

Kevin Phillips, “Preface,” “Introduction. The Panic of August,” “Finance: The New Real Economy?” Bad Money. (New York: Penguin, 2009), xi-lxxiv and 1-68.



Postmodernism and Periodization

David Harvey, “Fordism” and “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation,” in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.

Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146  (July/August 1984): 53-92.

Jeffrey Nealon, “Once More, With Intensity, Foucault’s History of Power Revisited,” Foucault Beyond Foucault, 24-53.


Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface,” in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983), ix-xvi.

Jean François Lyotard, “introduction” “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984), xxiii-xxv, 71-82.





Jean Baudrillard, “The End of the Millennium or the Countdown,” Economy & Society 26 (1997): 447-55.

Bruce Sterling, “Atemporality for the Creative Artist,”


optional: Robert Sumrell and Kazys Varnelis, “Personal Lubricants. Shell Oil and Scenario Planning,” New Geographies 02(2010), 127-132





Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control,” Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.

Marc Augé, “Prologue” and “From Places to Non-Places,” in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.

Hans Ibelings, “Supermodernism,” Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.

George Simmel, “Metropolis and Mental Life,” Donald N. Levine, ed. Simmel: On individuality and social forms, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971), 324-339.


Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things,” Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357–363.




Uneven Growth Workshop, MoMA






Kenneth J. Gergen,“Social Saturation and the Populated Self,” The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.

Brian Holmes, “The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique,” Transversal,

Jeffrey Nealon, “Once More, With Intensity, Foucault’s History of Power Revisited,” Foucault Beyond Foucault, 24-53.

Warren Neidich, “From Noopower to Neuropower: How Mind Becomes Matter,” Cognitive Architecture:From Bio-politics to Noo-politics; Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information(Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 538-581.





Yochai Benkler, “Chapter 1. Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge” and “Chapter 4. The Economics of Social Production,” The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 1-28 and 91-127.

Bill Wausik, “My Crowd. Or Phase 5: A Report from the Inventor of the Flash Mob,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2006), 56-66.

Bill Bishop, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 1-77.


Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).





Geert Lovink, “Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse,” Eurozine (2007),

Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002), 7-48.

Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), excerpts.

Jordan Crandall, “Showing,”





Joseph A .Tainter, “Introduction to Collapse,” The Collapse of Complex Societies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1-21.

Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1977), 13-32.

Charles Perrow, “Normal Accident at Three Mile Island.” Society 18, no. 5 (1981): 17–26.




Thanksgiving Break / No Class