Network concepts in social theory: Foucault and cybernetics
(2021) European Journal of Social Theory.
Network concepts are omnipresent in contemporary diagnoses (network society), management practices (network governance), social science methods (network analysis) and theories (network theory). Instigating a critical analysis of network concepts, this article explores the sources and relevance of networks in Foucault’s social theory. I argue that via Foucault we can trace network concepts back to cybernetics, a research programme that initiated a shift from ‘being’ to ‘doing’ and developed a new theory of regulation based on connectivity and codes, communication and circulation. This insight contributes to two debates: Firstly, it highlights a neglected influence on Foucault’s theory that travelled from cybernetics via structuralism and Canguilhem into his concept of power. Secondly, it suggests that network society and governance are neither a product of neoliberalism nor of technological artefacts, such as the Internet. They rather resulted from a distinct tradition of cybernetically inspired theories and practices. © The Author(s) 2021.
Cybernetics; Foucault; neoliberalism; network society; power