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Mindmap #3: Network Hierarchy

This week I focused on two terms—“historical a priori” and “contradiction”—that I wrangled in our Foucault Activity Worksheet, added  to my mindmap, defined, and determined their relationship to my growing understanding of networks. I found both to be useful in understanding networks because they address questions of network hierarchy, a theme of my questions about how networks function.

Mindmap image

Mindmap update #3 focusing on network hierarchy through Foucault’s “contradiction” and ”historical a priori.”

Network hierarchy is something I recognized almost immediately in relationship to web sites. As I’ve noted in previous posts [here and here and here], I recognize that a web site acts as both network (with its various pages as nodes and its links as connections) and node in the larger network of the intranet or internet, depending on local context. This simultaneity of function is part of network hierarchy, in that we can define higher and lower levels of networking. At the highest level might be “the Internet”; at the lowest level might be the “web page.” [Mind you, I have a feeling there are higher levels that Internet and lower levels than web pages, but I’ll use them as hierarchical extremes for now. The discourse has to stabilize (or we have to stabilize the discourse) for a moment to talk about it, right!]

Network hierarchy is contradictory. It requires us to recognize that our understanding of networks (or discourses or genres) can’t be formal or structural; our structural model would break almost as soon as theorized. As a result, our understanding of networks could be seen as an understanding of network elements “at play” with one another, variously relating to one another as either node or network. The contradictions inherent in the network itself result in this play. I love the idea that we can play in the network, and that the network is “in play” at all times.

Network hierarchy is not anarchy. This is where Foucault’s (2010/1972) historical a priori comes into play. There is an order underlying the network at a given moment; that order, however, is continually “in play” and dynamic, not static or set. There are rules that govern the network, and the connections and nodes that combine in the network have certain ways of connecting. But there is always tension against those rules. There are always networks pushing against frameworks, always frameworks getting redefined, and always networkers (those who build networks) who are finding new ways of making connections among networks and nodes. Tension between historical a priori and dynamic growth help grow the network in novel ways. Those novel ways are not generally chaotic or nihilistic; on the contrary, they are extensions of what’s already happening, ordered in the moment by the order of the moment.

I’m curious to explore more about network hierarchy because I sense it’s an important aspect of Bazerman’s (2004) genre set and Popham’s (2005) boundary genres. Popham’s boundary genres are quite interesting, but I have a nagging feeling that network hierarchies are significantly more complex than presented in that article. Twenty-first century network hierarchy seems nearly infinitely vast. Given the number of social networks as nodes alone will make one’s head swim—add to that the number of website networks as nodes, email networks as nodes, and other internet components as nodes, and the vastness of network hierarchies challenges the imagination.


Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. New York, NY: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

[Droids at Play: A Contradiction - CC image from Flickr user Pascal]