Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stratification (Part 2)

A follow up to a previous post:


'Philosophy needs a nonphilosophy that comprehends it' (What is Philosophy? Delueze and Guattari, p218)



For Deleuze and Guattari there ‘occurs upon earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: Stratification.’[1] Stratification, a machinic process, produces hierarchies. These hierarchies are not abstract, but materially present. The example of geological stratification demonstrates stratification is not an abstract phenomenon, but something that continual occurs in everyday life. This led me to think about search engines, and in particular Google’s PageRank.



At one point in the 1990s the whole of the Internet could be contained within a single mainframe of a computer. Once this was no longer possible a critical threshold was passed, and a problem was encountered. The problem was how to find websites on the WWW? This was how the phrase ‘surfing the Internet’ came about, ‘using the Internet used to be (and in some cases still is) like looking for a needle in a haystack, and basically what one did in order to find something was ‘surf’ from one site to another until one found it.’[2] Print culture also attempted to combat the problem of finding ‘stuff’ on the WWW. Books, Magazines, and Newspapers would print lists of ‘useful’ websites. Then along came search engines. These search engines allow browser to input keywords, and then return websites relational to these keywords. However, the returning of these websites is a stratification process. For example, Google use a software programme called PageRank, made by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In simple terms, PageRank uses the vast link structure of the WWW to judge the importance of an individual’s page’s value. It is here I want to remember Delezue and Guattari’s argument that stratification is a process of double articulation. The idea of double articulation is there is (at least) two distinct, yet interconnected, process of stratification. The first process is the gathering of ‘things/materials’. Google do this each day as their vast machinic assemblage downloads the Internet everyday. The second process is the ordering of these ‘things/materials’ into hierarchies. Google do this every time a search is entered into Google.com. The websites are returned in ranked ‘layers’ after the search is performed. In real terms PageRank judges the websites, and reinforces Deleuze and Guattari’s strange, and important, claim hierarchies/strata are judgements of (an immanent) God.
Is this stratification beneficial of unfortunate? I have my own views, and do not want to impose them. Instead, I suggest you go to http://www.google.com/, enter a search, and think about how the websites are ranked? What is first? What is lower ranked? What is excluded?


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus p45
[2] Ian Buchanan, “Deleuze and the Internet” Australian Humanities Review Issue 43 2007

9 comments:

Eric said...

hierarchies/strata are judgements of (an immanent) God

... and God is a lobster. Nice post(s). I just reread the Geology of Morals section last weekend. Forgot how good it is, good in the -- um, should I say it -- foundational sense.

Mark202 said...

thanks for the comment

Would you be able to expand on what you mean by 'foundational sense'?

Eric said...

Yes, of course. Sorry for the delayed response. Though I like what you do with this aspect of stratification, it's hard for me to envision using it explicitly. However, the double articulation that creates stratification is something that I like/need to always remember. It's the process that undergirds things, otherwise it seems to me it's really hard to explain how things can change. It's in the sense of underlying that I mean by foundational.

Mark202 said...

thanks for the response eric. your use of foundational is a lot clearer now. In terms of double articulation being foundational I would also remind you of what DeLanda terms as 'meshworks.' These are less hierarchical forms of transformation and change. I suppose the Internet, taken as a dynamic whole, would be a meshwork. But as i have tried to point out, there are 'machines' organising the Internet into strata.

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