MODES OF UN_RELATING

Current forms of collectivity are frequently characterized by their fluidity. They assemble with the possibility of unproblematic disbandment and rearrangement and oftentimes operate via media infrastructures. Among them are such diverse examples as temporary guest communities of couchsurfing, ad-hoc conferences such as BarCamps, social movements from Anonymous to Occupy, but also sensor driven collectives, stochastic communities, and swarm-like organizations. What is changing in these collectivities is the quality of connectivity which enables a shift towards “loose” (e.g. Wuthnow 2002) rather than tight connections. However, most diagnoses of such a shift only empirically account for looseness. This is done without inquiring into how one could conceptually get to grips with this looseness and without considering which analytical perspectives this could bring to light.

By alternating between theoretical work and empirical case studies, the aim of our conference is to unpack the dense relationship between looseness and tightness. The main premise is not to conceive of looseness and tightness as antithetical, but rather as a complex relational entanglement: loose and tight connections are themselves subject to transformative processes. Thus, we aim to inquire into moments of transition, i.e. how loose connections become tight and vice versa. Even though looseness initially appears to be defined ex negativo via delimitation from “tight” connections, it is necessary to develop an analytical vocabulary which does not conceive of looseness as a deficient term per se. Concepts such as “loose coupling” from organization theory or from the above-mentioned engineering sciences may serve as an inspiration for re-thinking looseness. Our focus on looseness raises fundamental issues in social and media theories, foregrounding different modes of (un-)relating. As much as current theoretical accounts of actor-networks, assemblages, affects, or infrastructures are based on concepts of relation and connection, they only briefly expound the actual making and quality of connections. By focusing upon the looseness of connections it becomes necessary to consider the qualities of these connections-in-the-making in more detail. In doing so, we do not assume that there could be a clear definition of looseness, but rather that there are different modes of being loosely connected. This also raises ontological questions about the status of relations: does conceiving of loose connections presuppose the existence of connecting objects – i.e. elements to be connected (Harman 2009)? Or, does looseness become a feature of the connecting process which, from a strict relationist perspective, does not require any elements preceding the connection (cp. Barad 2007)? In the latter case, would it not require to think of looseness in terms of intensity, strength, and durability?

The conference addresses these issues along four dimensions.

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