Systems V Networks

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(…) systems matter more than networks. Networks don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist and are shaped by the environments in which they exist. Networks are ephemeral. Systems exist to preserve. Systems exist as predictive agents. It’s hard to control people in networks – they have too much agency, they can do what they want. The lack of controlability makes it difficult to achieve intended outcomes in networks. When agents want a clear outcome, they turn to systems. Systems preserve power.

George Siemens, (2019). I was wrong about networks. Full article available here

Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Grudin



1984: twenty people from MIT and Paul Cashman of Digital Equipment Corporation organized a workshop to explore technology’s role in the work environment. they used the term CSCW to describe their findings

Office Automation, an earlier approach to group support, had ran out of steam. The problems were not just technical but understanding human requirements. OA practitioners needed more info on how people worked in groups.

CSCW: it started as an effort by technologists to learn from economists, social psychologists, anthropologists, org theorists, educators etc/ it became a place for system builders to share experiences and tell others about tech constraints through tele-videoconferencing, collaborative authorship applications, electronic mail.

CSCW draws from all rings and from preexisting development culture. There is however, a great interest in small groups applications. Product developers focus more on human-computer interface/ Organizational system developers fixate on functionality.

The greatest challenge of CSCW is being multidisciplinary: it represents a merging of issues, approaches, languages, making sense is a lively process. It can be frustrating when the others are ignorant of work one considers to be basic. Participants from different domains use the same terms in subtly different ways.


References + Image

Grudin, J., 1994. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: History and Focus. In Journal Computer, Volume 27 Issue 5, May 1994, Page 19-26, available here




  • Dewsbury: the process of putting together a mix of relations
  • Phillips: agencement/ arrangement,fixing, fitting
  • Wise 1: process of arranging and organizing and claims for identity, character and territoty
  • Ballantyne: new identities are generated through connections
  • De Landa 1: assemblage as a whole cannot be reduced to the aggregate properties of its parts since it is characterized by connections and capacities rather than the properties of the parts
  • Anderson & McFarlane 1: it includes heterogeneous human/non human, organic/inorganic, and technical/natural elements
  • De Landa 2: it is an alliance of heterogeneous elements
  • Wise 2: they are dynamically made and unmade in terms of the two axes of territorialisation (stabilization)/ deterritorialisation (destabilization) and language (express)/technology (material)
  • Dovey 1: assemblages are at once express and material
  • Farias 1: assemblages focus both on actual/material and possible/emergent
  • Deleuze & Guattari: they are fundamentally territorial
  • De Landa 3: territorialization is both spatial and non-spatial
  • Dovey 2: territory is a stabilized assemblage
  • Angelo: it addresses the inseparability of sociality and spatiality and the ways in which their relations and liaisons are established in the city and urban life
  • Anderson & McFarlane 2: it is an a priori reduction of sociality/spatiality to any fixed forms/set of forms of processes or relations
  • De Landa 4: assemblage theory offers a ‘bottom-up” ontology that works with analytical techniques rather than logical reasoning (…) the theory opposes the reduction of the entities to the essences asa deficiency of the social realism
  • De Landa 5: they are continuously in the process of emerging and becoming
  • Deleuze’s becoming-in-the-world as opposed to Heidegger’s being-in-the-world
  • Farias 2: assemblage thinking tends to develop empirical knowledge rather than theoretical analysis and critique / it is about inquiry and explorative engagement

assemblage and the city

  • Farias: the city as multiplicity rather than a whole
  • McFarlane: assemblage refers to ways in which urbanism is produced not as a “resultant formation” but as an ongoing process of construction (…) it refers to city as a verb in making urbanism through historical and potential relations
  • Dovey: assemblages are the main products of the “flows of desire”

assemblage and critical urbanism 

  • McFarlane: assemblage as a concept, orientation, and imaginary/ as a relational composition process that contributes to the labour and socio-materiality of the city/ as an orientation to the potentiality of actors and sites in relation to history, required labour, and the capacity of urban process/ it offers some orientations to “critical urbanism” in terms of focusing on potentiality, agency of materials and composition of the “social imaginary”
  • Tonkiss: assemblage thinking is likely to generate a “template urbanism,” rather than a critical one
  • Brenner, Madden & Wachsmuth: they adopt the theory in relation to the political economy


  • One of the critical contributions of assemblage thinking for understanding the complexity of the city problems is to encourage multiscalar thinking
  • the diagram can be understood as an “abstract machine” in Deleuzian concept of assemblage thinking. In this way, diagrammatic thinking can be used as a means to abstractly illustrate the complexities of an urban assemblage as both a product and process
  • mapping can be considered as an abstraction that has the capacity to unravel what De Landa (2005) calls “real virtuality”, which is a kind of “reality” that has not
    been “actualised” yet
  • diagrams, maps, and types have the capacity to produce a kind of “spatial knowledge” that can be effectively used as a basis to draw on the ways in which the city works in relation to spatiality and sociality. It also assists with specifying the space of possible solutions for the existing city problems and embodied capacities for transformational change
  • assemblage theory reads place as a multiplicity that is in the process of “becoming” in relation to social-spatial and material-express alignments



Kamalipour, H., Peimani, N., 2015. Assemblage Thinking and the City: Implications for Urban Studies. In Current Urban Studies, 2015, Vol.3, pp. 402-408,

Image: Topographie du sol, mars 1957 Assemblage d’empreintes. Signée «J. Dubuffet» et datée «57» en bas à gauche. Titrée, signée «J. Dubuffet» et datée «mars 57» au dos. 60 x 105 cm, Available here

What is a system?


A set of things -people, cells, molecules, or whatever- interconnected in such a way that they produce their own patters or behavior over time. It can be buffered, constricted, triggered or driven by outside forces (…) We are complex systems—our own bodies are magnificent examples of integrated, interconnected, self-maintaining complexity. Every person we encounter, every organization, every animal, garden, tree, and forest is a complex system (…) A system isn’t just any old collection of things. A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose (..) Is there anything that is not a system? Yes—a conglomeration without any particular interconnections or function (…) there is an integrity or wholeness about a system and an active set of mechanisms to maintain that integrity (…) Some interconnections in systems are actual physical flows (…) Many interconnections are flows of information—signals that go to decision points or action points within a system (…) System purposes need not be human purposes and are not necessarily those intended by any single actor within the system (…) Systems can be nested within systems (…) A system generally goes on being itself, changing only slowly if at all, even with complete substitutions of its elements—as long as its interconnections and purposes remain intact. If the interconnections change, the system may be greatly altered (…) To ask whether elements, interconnections, or purposes are most important in a system is to ask an un-systemic question. All are essential. All interact. All have their roles. But the least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior.



Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A primer, (Diana Wright, ed.). London; Sterling: VA

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