World, chaos and disorder
Location H
Date and Time 12th December, 2008 at 10:30


Jonathan Marshall (University of Technology, Sydney)
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Short Abstract

This session explores the relationship between order and disorder, challenging ideas that disorder is a residue or can be ignored in comparison to order. Modes of ordering (appropriation, enclosure politics, computer systems etc), create modes of disorder which are socially and experientially vital.

Long Abstract

Anthropology usually theorises processes of disorder as pathology (anomie or failure), as a temporary result of conflict, as short-term outlet for repression, as side effect of change, or as residue of what we cannot explain by our theoretical schematics. However, order and disorder are not necessarily givens, and perceptions of disorder may be socially distributed and have effects on social action and the construction of culture and the politics of order. This session aims to explore how modes of ordering create, or are related to, modes of disorder and, in particular, to query the disorder produced by the orderings of appropriation and enclosure.

Questions for consideration might include: Does the contemporary sense of disorder stem from the effects of neo-liberal economic and political order or the confused relations between States and corporations? Do socially enforced processes and categories of ownership and appropriation create a disorder which reinforces or challenges those categories? For example, do regimes of copyright produce actions then classified as theft *and* challenge ideas of property? Do the types of technology, such as computers and software models, which are used to structure workplace and social organisation, produce disorder? Is the disorder, which is produced, used to justify extension of the disorder-producing ordering? Or are paradox and contradiction inherent in systems of explanation and thus just a product of our attempts to theorise anything?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Customs of customs: social production of disorder through order

Author: Jonathan Marshall (University of Technology, Sydney)

Short Abstract

An exploration of the paradoxes of communication and ordering as revealed in the attempts to improve the Australian Customs' computerised integrated cargo system, and the customary magics deployed by management to maintain appearances of order.


This paper explores the paradoxes in communication and ordering; especially those which are displayed in theories of the 'information society' and in the disorder produced by attempts tor produce order through software. These issues are explored through a study of the attempts to change the Australian Customs' "Integrated Cargo System". It shows how the supposed technical disorder produced expressed social and political divides between the groups involved, epistemological features of capitalist world-view, and disorders inherent in the system of ordering through the application of what I call intensification and compounding. The paper also investigates the allocation of blame, and the ritual magics of management shown in the attempts to explain away chaos as failure and to maintain the orthodox world-view.

Disordered social movements: info-technologies, public emotions and the network swarm

Author: James Goodman (University of Technology, Sydney)

Short Abstract

Driven by expressive dynamics of public emotion, and mediated by interactive second-generation web info-technology, social movement politics today can be highly disordered. Attempts at coercive control heighten the resonance of the expressive affect and reveal the price of order, forcing new political orientations onto the agenda.


Information technology is often said to have invited new players into the political process. Social movements are said to have taken a creatively subversive role in constituting virtual activisms, charting new communicative channels and hubs to challenge dominant power relations. Hierarchical representative structures are said to have given way to horizontal expressive forms. Where representation gives access through legitimation, expressive politics give access through an assault on the senses, creating a swarm effect. A paradoxical process of personalised mass disorganised political engagement can emerge. Driven by expressive dynamics of public emotion, and mediated by interactive second-generation web info-technology, social movement politics become highly episodic, disjunctive, unpredictable and destabilising. Rather than helpfully offering rational solutions to social disorders, such movements provoke mass public sentiment, figured by the powers-that-be as mass disorder. The effect can be to induce radical disorientation, for targets to lash out and reach for coercive controls, heightening the resonance of the expressive affect. In revealing the price of order, such movements pre-figure future transformations and radical possibilities, generating new political orientations and directions, from neo-communalist to neo-communist. The paper explores these themes through specific interventions channelled through info-technologies.

Creative derivatives within bare markets

Author: Francesca da Rimini (University of Technology, Sydney)

Short Abstract

Three 'social laboratories' constituted by info-capitalism itself are generating experimental, experiential, and political outcomes.The iStreet lab (Jamaica) is a miniaturised multimedia media unit in a wheelie bin. Hong Kong In-media is a citizen journalism project. Netmonster (UK) is a generative social software using the net's disordered sprawl.


The logic of advanced capitalism prizes order, with profits not prophets heralded in information society. Order is manifold, from password-protected pastimes to flexible contortions of globalized labour. In contrast, disorder is unruly, inefficient, politically dangerous and downright unproductive, according to dominant business class rhetoric. However, tidy minds hovering in the archipelagoes of the knowledge economy are not so productive. Order does not satisfy info-capital's hunger for the latest version of the new (markets, territories, goods). Moreover, the imposition of order obstructs the sub-economy classes working towards radical social change. This global project of projects requires rebellious creativity and co-operative disorder. Disorder, creativity and social change are examined using fieldwork and interviews around three geo-spatially diverse examples of cultural activism. The iStreet lab is a miniaturised multimedia media production facility housed in a wheelie bin. Developed in a impoverished Jamaican township by the Container project, iStreet lab wheels technology with attitude to underprivileged youth 'on the corners'. Hong Kong In-media is a semi-open citizen journalism and 'action media' project. The participants combine symbolic and discursive forms of expression to effect local political change, and develop regional spaces of communication and co-operation. Netmonster is a generative social software built by UK-based Mongrel art group. Thriving on information overload, it generates interactive environments out of the net's disordered sprawl. These 'social laboratories' and 'semi-permanent autonomous zones' (SPAZ) generate experimental, experiential, social, processural and political outcomes, and are constituted by info-capitalism itself.

The Witches Have Surveillance Cameras

Author: Jennifer Badstuebner (ANU)

Short Abstract

Surveillance cameras intended to bring a law and order presence into Cape Town quickly gained a reputation as being infested by witches. Witchcraft transformed the technologies of surveillance into a localized occult system. Through this relationship the cameras were revealed as a potentially menacing presence in the South African urban landscape.


All forms of technology develop their own social biographies {Appadurai, 1986 #9}. Surveillance cameras intended to bring a law and order presence into Cape Town quickly gained a reputation as being co-opted by witches. Witchcraft had transformed technological surveillance into a localized occult. Through this relationship the cameras were revealed as a potentially menacing presence in the South African urban landscape. The cameras were a ward and fetish for the South African state struggling against a deepening problem of crime and terrorism and were intended as a reassuring god-like eye guarding the prosperous as they went about shopping. But the occult in Africa has a habit of coupling with technologies to bring into being disorder, and in such disorder produce significant insights into the underworld of the social life of modern things. In the Columbian gold mines the devil and money changed hands (Taussig 1980) and in South Africa witches coupled with cameras. As (Behrend 2003) notes in Africa it was Europeans who first placed photographic technologies into a context of power, killing, magic and witchcraft, and who deployed such technologies to discipline and punish. "The obvious presence of a surveillance camera may reassure us about security precautions or induce the disturbing sensation of being observed by invisible methods"(Connell 2002:57). It is this disturbing element to the cameras that drew the witches. The rapidity that witches became entangled with cameras after their introduction was remarkable and a demonstration of a supple responsiveness of the occult in South Africa.