Centres, Margins, Distributions

Excerpt from Preface to 1984 Edition of bell hooks’ Feminist Theory. From Margin to Center.
Paul Baran’s network typologies from “On Distributed Communications”, a document prepared for the
United States Air Force Project Rand (1964).

Baran’s network typologies from the early days of computing (1964) are still referenced by Tecnopolitica researcher-activists at the forefront of social transformation today (see diagram below). Decentralized and distributed networks, politics and technologies are at the heart of Tecnopolitical practices, however their politics are far removed from Baran’s context of US Air Force funded research. Politically, Tecnopolitica would have more in common with the trajectory of bell hooks whose framework: emphasises ‘the centre’ (contrasted with the margin); suggests ‘the decentering of the West globally’ and a focus instead on ‘attention on the issue of voice. Who speaks? Who listens? And why?’ (p. 40, 1994); and continues to be a reference point today for people arguing for ‘decentering and decolonising knowledge’ (Moreno Figueroa, 2019).

However, the substance and vibe of the hooks’ text sends very different messages to these stylised network visualisations (above and below)….

Tecnopolítica authors building on Baran’s typologies, switching names and adding another type: ‘Scale-free’ (Toret and Calleja, p. 39, 2013).

Clearly in a sense, it’s not a fair comparison, as there would be sections of the Tecnopolítica body of work that give a more embodied account (and these will also be considered in time). However, these kinds of network visualisations are a key part of the Tecnopolítica vocabularly and are present in / influence the thinking and writing style, so it’s worth examining what each approach adds and leaves out.

The first thing that strikes me in the hooks’ text above, is that we see people in a place and we get a strong clear sense of what it’s like to really be and live in that space, how power is working there. Whereas with these network diagrams..Where are we? Where are they? We don’t know. For me, these network visualisations have always inspired my imagination and have opened up dynamic spatial thinking processes in my mind. Including strategic ideas about power and creativity. So maybe we can know or imagine ‘where’ these networks are? Are they ‘in cyberspace’? Are they defining their own network-kind of place? Are these networks ‘in’ a collective mental space? Maybe there are some answers, but we have to work on it, and it can feel a bit speculative. In any case, it’s very different from the clear embodied message of hook’s text.

I used to watch beautiful Gephi network mappings of Twitter hashtags spreading, and appreciated them on a visual and cognitive level, but they always felt a bit divorced from material reality and/or what they are supposed to represent. Until one day I had a kind of Eureka moment and saw how they connected with people and places that I actually knew. That story will have to wait for another day as it’s little one’s bedtime now…

As ever… more later….

Notes for later:

Eureka moment with Gephi and Zocalo femme.

In hooks’ text the whole is seen. In Notes from Nowhere, the actors don’t see the whole.


Paul Baran (1964). “On Distributed Communications”, a document prepared for the United States Air Force Project Rand.

bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. Routledge.

bell hooks (2000). Feminist Theory. From Margin to Center. Pluto Press. First printed 1984.

Moreno Figueroa, Monica (2019). “Hearing the voices of women who need to be heard. In April of 2019, the activist, scholar and political icon Angela Davis visited Cambridge for two prominent events: a public conversation with poet and novelist Jackie Kay, and a symposium titled “Pathways to Liberation: Celebrating Black British Feminisms”. Available at:

Toret, Javier and Antonio Calleja (2013). “D2.1 Collective intelligence framework”, D-CENT,
Decentralised Citizens ENgagement Technologies, Specific Targeted Research Project
Collective Awareness Platforms, Project no. 610349.

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