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KCOE 4145 - Network chaos

Type d'enseignement : Elective

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The purpose of that course is to understand the political effects of the current transition to network forms of organization. The intensity of political turbulence and heightened conflictuality between and within generations, corporations, institutions and people is, indeed, obviously a result of the mass adoption of networking technologies. The distributed form of the network shortcuts the traditional architectures of power and creates unexpected forms of chaos that both reduce and increase political friction between players, which stimulates what Keller Easterling calls the rise of “extrastatecraft”. Power is now a highly volatile and unpredictable resource that cannot be appropriated by anyone (a single player, a coalition or a class). An unknown system has emerged that behaves randomly and cannot be understood solely as a consequence of globalization, “vulture capitalism” or economic inequality. Instances of this massive redistribution of power have abounded over the past ten years and have shown that progressive technologies that were mass-marketed as the next economic frontier or new forms of empowerment come with worrisome collaterals that threaten political stability in the name of radical openness (think Mirai Botnet DDoS attacks, 2016 US Presidential Campaign or the recent WannaCry Ransomware attacks). But for all its unpredictability, roughness and savagery, network chaos is now our permanent political horizon and it is urgent we rethink our political categories to design polities better adapted to network change, more secure, flexible and robust. Using a mix of theories from the political tradition and the natural sciences, we will examine case studies that show why this situation is well understood as a phase transition, an idea already explored by Greek philosophers in the IVth century BC: chaos is intrinsic to any political organization because they are made of antagonistic elements that can only temporarily be reconciled. Constitutions change because they naturally decay and are bound to be destroyed as society's internal dynamics evolve. A simple truth that our shallow engrossment with machine intelligence has us too often forget: by nature, as Chester I. Barnard said, organizations are “shortlived” and “bound to fail” and they should be designed for that purpose.


MASSOTEAU, Karim D. (Consultant en stratégie de communication et d'information)

Pedagogical format

Conceptual & pratical introductions, student presentations, discussions

Course validation

A 2 pages final dissertation (80%), a weekly group presentation (20%)



Required reading

  • AZUMA, Hiroki, General Will 2.0. Rousseau, Google, Freud, Vertical, 2013
  • BRATTON, Jonathan, The Stack. On Software & Sovereignty, MIT Press, 2015
  • HIDALGO, Cesar, Why Information Grows.The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, Basic Books, 2014
  • KITCHIN, Rob & DODGE, Martin, Code/Space. Software and Everyday Life, MIT Press, 2014
  • MOROZOV, Evgeny, To Save Everything Click Here. The Folly of Technological Solutionism, 2014

Additional required reading

  • or, visit the Amsterdam-based Institute of Network Cultures ( and choose one title of interest to you among the available free epubs
  • or, visit the Oxford-based Oxford Internet Institute ( and choose one paper of interest to you among the available free pdfs
  • The New York Times (Technology or Bits section)
  • The Guardian
  • Wired magazine
  • The MIT Technology Review
  • The Pew Research Center
  • The Atlantic