Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker – The Exploit: A Theory of Networks

Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker

book – Univ Of Minnesota Press – ISBN: 9780816650446
Manuel Castells once offered the provocation, “the network is the message”. Networks, he claimed, have become the dominant mode of organising the social. While discourse on networks has only proliferated since Castells, there has been little critical engagement with the network form in its own right. In “The Exploit”, Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker address this concern by offering a topological, political ontology of networks. Networks, they remind us, are not inherently emancipatory; they can be centralised, hierarchical and undemocratic. But such outcomes must be considered anew, as transformed within the network form, which has its own mode of control: protocol. “Protocol is twofold; it is both an apparatus that facilitates networks and a logic that governs how things are done within that apparatus”. Protocol is both a set of rules or codes that enables, modulates, and governs a specific network (such as TCP/IP for the internet) and also the general logic of governance for all networks – or what Deleuze would describe as a diagram. In this sense, to be in a network is to be governed a priori by protocol: no protocol, no network. This loss of an “outside”, which echoes Hardt and Negri’s description of Empire, leads to the question of an immanent counter-politics: “Protocological struggles do not center around changing existent technologies but instead involve discovering holes in existing technologies and projecting potential change through those holes.” This process is called an exploit. The Exploit thus offers a political theory of networks; how they are controlled and how they might be transformed. The book successfully combines precise ‘material’ analysis, broad theoretical engagement and speculative thought. Such breadth makes for hard going in some sections, as the authors move between cybernetics, political philosophy, bioinformatics, and technical descriptions of internet protocols to name a few. In the age of the network, however, these fields are increasingly aligned.

Nathaniel Tkacz