The differences are more a question of degree than of quality. The cultural tendencies that we are witnessing now are tendencies that can be traced through the history of cultures. They are not completely new. The processual element that characterizes digital culture is a case in point: it is not an entirely new phenomenon, but it was less pronounced in printed culture, which insisted on the possibility of controlling a well-defined and delimited process. The concept of performativity has had an important theoretical impact in recent decades. For this reason, it is almost impossible to provide a definition of performance or performativity that everyone can agree on.
For the purposes of this paper, performativity will be defined as the normative aspect of an action. Every action can be observed either by focusing on its determined aspect — its context, the constraints involved, etc. The quality of performativity refers to the fact that a particular action produces something that was not predicted — was not predictable — before the action itself.
In this sense, the notion of performativity denotes an approach to reality that does not focus on the essence of things and that rejects the paradigm of representation. I am aware that this definition is a simplification of a very complex subject, but for the purposes of this paper it is enough. Editorialization is performative for two main reasons: first, it is a process that does not follow a pre-defined schema; and second, it does not represent reality but produces it. Editorialization is thus an open process. This is one of the main differences between editorialisation and the concept of the printed edition.
The open aspect of editorialization is in sharp contrast to the printing tradition, where an established protocol has to be followed, one that is decided upon before the editing and publishing process begins. With editorialization there is no protocol, and the different steps are decided one-by-one. At the same time, a particular editorialization process can become normative, which means that it can become a model for other processes.
Editorialization creates its own norms in a performative way. One may object that digital platforms predetermine the process: the act of posting photos on Facebook in some way reflects the degree to which Facebook determines behaviour and even the whole process of publication. This is obviously true, but it is also true that alternative uses of the platform remain possible and that it is sometimes very easy to get around the schema imposed by the platform.
The Twitter hashtag is a clear example of the performativity of editorialization: the process takes a particular form that was not predicted, nor predictable, and this form then becomes a norm. The other element of editorialization that places it in a performative paradigm is its operational nature.
Editorialization is a performative act in the sense that it tends to operate on reality rather than represent it. We read and we write in digital space — and in particular on the web — but most of the time this reading and writing has a precise operational purpose. When we are organizing a trip and we buy plane tickets on Expedia, for instance, we are writing something — the names of the departure city and of the arrival city, a travel schedule, our preferences — and this writing aims to do something: it aims to realize the travel.
The written page created on Expedia — the page where the itinerary is presented, with all the information about the journey — has a distinctly performative quality: the document itself produces the travel. One could object that this is a very specific example that is not representative of most of our reading and writing practices, but there are numerous less obvious examples of how editorialization fits a performative paradigm. Take the example of a review on Tripadvisor. We could locate this action in a representational paradigm: the review represents the restaurant.
In keeping with the paradigm, we have a signifier the review and a signified the restaurant — or, using the same paradigm, a sense and a reference But this interpretation does not truly reflect the reality of the reviewing practice. In writing a review, one produces the restaurant. The review is a way of characterizing the restaurant: of making it more or less visible, for instance, or of deciding whether it is a fish or a meat restaurant.
Writing a review means giving a particular existence to the restaurant. According to its rankings and reviews, the restaurant will take a particular position in the Tripadvisor space — in a way that is not unlike the changing of its position on a street. In order to say what the restaurant is, we must consider numerous factors, including its location its address in the physical world , the name of its owner, and the dishes it serves, but also its position on Tripadvisor, its visibility on Google, and the collection of comments about it that can be found on online platforms.
Editorialization contributes to the production of the restaurant because it is a part of its reality. This consideration leads us to a discussion of the ontological nature of editorialization. Let us consider again the opposition between the representational paradigm and the performative paradigm. According to the representational paradigm, we have reality on one hand and discourse on the other: editorialization could be interpreted as a discourse on reality and therefore as a form of imitation or mimesis. This paradigm has been fundamentally important in the history of Western thought, from Plato all the way to contemporary aesthetics studies.
But in digital space reality is a sort of hybridization of connected and non-connected objects. The development of the web of things is proof of this fusion of reality and the infosphere. Hybridization emerges between the platform and the book in the warehouse. Indeed, the identifier has an operational power over the object, so that in a sense it becomes the object itself the URI of Paris is not a representation of the city of Paris; it is the city itself. It is easy to demonstrate this thesis using the example of the distribution system: to order a book on Amazon and to receive it at home hardly requires any human action, and will in the future require less and less human action.
Each product is identified by a unique identifier that can be handled on the network, and this operation directly affects the product itself. I click on a book on Amazon; a robot will search for this book in a warehouse and deposit it on a drone that will deliver it to my address. There is thus no difference between the object of the book and its URI. It refers — or at least it can refer — to a particular object. We can take this example further. What is written about a particular object — a comment about a book posted on Amazon, for example — directly affects the object-book because the object-book shares the same space with the comments, the space of information, the space of the URI and therefore the object itself , the comment, and the algorithm that handles the procurement and delivery.
It is therefore no longer appropriate to separate the discourse on the reality from the reality itself: the two are completely hybridized. For these reasons, it is impossible to consider digital space from a purely aesthetic point of view: the paradigm of digital space is an operational paradigm. We do things in digital space; we do not simply look at them.
- Humphry Clinker (The Penguin English Library);
- Alberto Lombardo.
- Kettly Mars: «La littérature nous apprend à être des hommes!»;
The critique that Alexander Galloway 25 directs at the work of Lev Manovich 26 is based on this principle. In The Language of New Media , Manovich applies the paradigm of audiovisual media to interpret digital space: digital environments, he insists, must be understood as the space of screens and displays because they are something we look at. Galloway, however, points out that interfaces are not regulated by this looking structure but rather by an action structure. Cinema is about the aesthetic; digital is about action and therefore about ethics. Let us consider some additional examples.
If we look at the editorialization process of a city like Paris, for instance, we see that it would include all the digital maps of Paris Google maps, Mappy, Openstreetmap ; it would also include the trip reviews written by travelers on travel platforms such as Expedia and Tripadvisor, data on Wikipedia or Dbpedia, miscellaneous images, as well as institutional websites the website of the City of Paris, the websites of its countless museums. When one walks in the city, one is located in an area that is produced by all these practices.
Numéros en texte intégral
To be in Paris is to be in a space in which walls, buildings, and architecture coexist with Google maps, information on restaurants, museum opening hours, and an endless variety of other narratives about the city. The city is formed by the aggregate of all these elements. One notices the same phenomenon when looking at Facebook profiles. The Facebook algorithm takes into account the data produced by different profiles and does not consider there to be a difference between a profile and a person. A profile is a person, and as such may be the target of an advertisement or an element of a statistic — a count, for instance, of how many people like an event or how many people have studied at the University of Montreal.
Editorialization, we can therefore conclude, is a way of producing reality and not a way of representing it. This conclusion suggests a problem: if we abandon the representational paradigm, it becomes impossible to distinguish between real and fake or truth and fiction. The logical definition of truth Tarsky is based on the idea of a correspondence between the signifier and the signified. In the performative paradigm, this distinction is no longer pertinent. Which means that questions about the truth or the authenticiy of editorialization are misplaced. The performative paradigm determines the multiple nature of editorialization: if every act of editorialization produces a reality, then reality must be multiple because there are multiple acts of editorialization.
This structure raises an ontological problem, though: how can we define the essence of reality if there are many essences? The advantage of the representational paradigm is that it is based on the idea of a unique reality that can be represented in different ways. According to this paradigm one can judge the value of a single representation by analyzing its resemblance to the original. One could say that the essence of a thing is the right representation, the true one, the one that represents the thing itself most faithfully.
Abandoning the representational paradigm means confronting many different realities and not having the possibility of choosing between them. This is why editorialization produces a layered reality, a reality that is composed of several different and quite autonomous layers. And this is why the classical ontological approach is not useful for an analysis of digital space: digital space is multiple — originally multiple, one could say — and ontology seeks for an original unity. The ontological approach must be replaced by a meta-ontological approach, which means a theory that accepts an original multiplicity, the multiply-essential character of reality.
Let us look at some examples to illustrate this point. A Facebook profile, for instance, could be considered — according to the representational paradigm — as the representation of the user of whom the profile is the profile. The idea beyond this paradigm is that the person has a unique essence and the profile tries to grasp this essence.
The picture of the profile should thus be as close as possible to the person. The aesthetics of the Venetian Vedutismo tradition is a perfect example of this idea: a painting is only as good as it is close to reality, and the goal of a good painter is to push the resemblance to its apex. All these different forms create a dynamic conjuncture of circumstances that constitute identity. The person as a user is only one of many threads. The identity of Marcello Vitali-Rosati is created by my actions, what people think of me, my online profiles, the data collected on me by various platforms and algorithms, the narratives people produce about me on the web or in the university, the comments my students make about me, and so on.
The reality is the superimposition and the dynamic overlapping of these multiple conjunctures. And it is actually possible — or even probable — that these conjunctures are not coherent: one can contradict the other. For instance, Marcello Vitali-Rosati can be at the same time a very good professor on the platform Ratemyprofessor. Instead, all the acts that produce reality are performative, and they are all original. What does this leave us with, then? What is me? What is the essence? In fact, there is no single essence but rather multiple essences.
If ontology is the science of the essence, then meta-ontology 27 is the ontology of multiple essences. Editorialization is always a collective process This point was made clear when we analyzed the processual nature of editorialization: it is an open and ongoing process, and it is not possible to draw a border around it.
There is no single person or a predetermined group of persons who participate in the editorialization: the actor or actors of any editorialization are always part of an open collectivity. This collective dimension is also the main difference between editorialization and content curation. Moreover, without collective action, editorialization is not possible: the action of an individual — even if the individual happens to be a huge enterprise like Google — can never produce an editorialization. Let us look more closely at the Google case.
One could argue that Google produces a particular structure of content without taking into account the reactions of users. This model could thus be interpreted as Google-centered: there is only one actor who decides how contents are organized; and this actor is the enterprise that conceives and writes the algorithms. But this argument does not hold for three main reasons. First of all, if no one used Google, the algorithm would produce no editorialization. Google can structure content only because people use it. A search engine that is not used has no power to structure content because its structure would remain abstract; it would simply be dead writing, almost inexistent because no one would see it.
The power of Google is determined by the fact that there are huge numbers of people using it, and this determines that the hierarchy it proposes becomes an actual structure of online content. A page is visible because Google indexes it and because people use Google to find web pages. Second of all, the algorithm is not static: it evolves according to practices and uses. Google must adapt the algorithm to the ways that it is used; if the company were not able to do so, its algorithm would quickly become obsolete.
What people do directly affects the algorithm. Third of all, the algorithm is based on certain cultural values that are pre-determined by collective negotiation. As Dominique Cardon has shown 29 , PageRank is based on the idea of the citation index, which was developed within the academic community: without the collective interactions of this community, these values would simply not exist. Another example illustrates how editorialization is never an individual process and always implies a collectivity: the creation of a profile on Facebook.
7 jours sur la planète
The idea was that we are completely free to construct our identities however we like. Virtual identity 30 appeared as the realization of the dream of auto-determination: to have the power to re-invent oneself in a completely autonomous way. The problem, in fact, seemed to be an excess of auto-determination: on the Internet individuals can pretend to be who they are not. This dream of auto-determination is clearly false, though.
As many scholars have pointed out, there are many factors determining our way of producing our profiles: the affordance of the platform, its influence on user behaviour, and the practices of other users. We have already talked about the ways in which the technical characteristics of a platform influence our behaviors: it is obvious that Facebook, for example, determines the way I create my profile; the platform is normative because it asks very precise things of me.
It is the platform that decides what I have to say about myself and how, what is important and what is not, how often I write and to whom. These values are predetermined by the platform. And beside this platform determination there is also a set of collective practices and uses that are crucial to the production of my profile: if I am the picture that I chose and the status that I write, I am also the number of friends that I have, the comments that my friends leave on my wall, the pictures of me that other users post and that are tagged, and even the re-use of these pictures in other platforms or contexts.
Radicalisme religieux et pratiques d’écriture au début de l’époque moderne en France
Once again, we can underline a deep difference between editorialization and the curation of content. If I curate my profile, I am the master of the process: curating is about choosing the way we present and structure content. The editorialization of a profile is a set of collective interactions that determines who or what I am: what people know about me and what idea of me they have after looking at my profile. In the Google and Facebook examples, the collective aspect clearly does not imply that at the end of the editorialization process we get something common: the data, the information, and the content that are produced are the property of a private company, and this company decides how these data are produced and for what purpose they are used after their production.
In some cases of editorialization — Wikipedia, for instance — we get the feeling that something common is produced — even though it is difficult to separate one platform from others and it is obvious, for example, that the visibility and the efficiency of Wikipedia depends largely on the way Google indexes and references it. The question that we may address therefore is this: how can digital space be made a public space? In order to answer this question, let us look more closely at the structures of authority that are revealed by the concept of editorialization.
The characteristics we have identified are the basis for an analysis of authority. If editorialization is what structures digital space, and if the structure of a space is the basis of authority then authority in digital space is created by editorialization. Following this logic, we see that authority in digital space is processual, performative, multiple, non-representative, and collective.
To gain a more precise understanding of what authority is in the digital age, we will examine each of these characteristics in turn. It should first be emphasized that digital space is hybrid in nature. Digital space is not a self-contained space that is separated from a hypothetical non-digital one. Digital space is our actual space, a space where connected and non-connected objects are merged. This means that there is no separation between digital and non-digital forms of authority. Digital space is characterized by a hybridization of pre-digital forms of authority and digital ones.
Many forms of institutionalized and stabilized authorities that existed before the advent of digital technologies are still operating in digital space, and they co-exist with forms of authority that are native to the digital age. Capabilities are characteristics of a specific historical moment that, when organized in a different way, become the basis of the next historical moment. Sassen uses this concept to show that historical changes should not be interpreted as epistemological ruptures but rather as the reorganization of pre-existing cultural principles.
In the shift from a medieval feudal order to the order of the nation state, certain medieval capabilities — for example, the notion of divine authority — remained in the political culture but surfaced in altered form: the possibility of a national sovereign, for instance, was guaranteed by the idea of divine authority. Digital space should be considered as a new political order in which ancient forms of authority have been reorganized and have taken on new meanings. One characteristic of this re-organization is that digital authority privileges a dynamic and ongoing process over the crystallized static object.
Digital authority legitimates something that is difficult to stop. Let us consider again the example of an academic paper. It is an organized, planned action that is destined to remain the same across time, and for the same reasons, signed. More than most pieces of writing, the academic paper demands an association with the traditional notion of the author. Someone takes responsibility for its content, even and especially after it has been produced. The signature, the name associated with the content, is the function granting its permanence across time. And yet, when analyzing the conditions of the existence of this content, one rapidly realizes that the signer cannot be considered as the author, as was the case with the printed journal.
The authority that makes this specific content reliable is not the author. This is because the author is a static authority and so can grant legitimacy to a paper only if the paper is static. The editor is in the same situation: the editor can be an authority that legitimates a paper only if the paper can be understood in a defined and stable sense. As we saw in the previous pages, though, a paper cannot be considered an independent and coherent whole.
It is impossible to decide when the process of its production begins and ends, and it is even more difficult to determine in any exhaustive way who is involved in its creation and circulation. To illustrate this point it is only necessary to think about the ways an article is presented. It can be found on a website, on a browser. It is not a static page but a code closely connected to a series of other pages.
What matters on the page is not only the content but its multiple dynamic relationships with other pages. It is impossible to determine where the content produced by the writer ends and where other content begin. The new reading practices support this thesis: one moves from an article to another, from a page to another page, from one piece of research to another, and very rarely does one stop to consider who has produced the content The signature of the author is, in effect, erased, and the path itself emerges in its place, along with the elements on the page that allow us to walk on the path: links, tags, an address bar, search engines.
And these relationships, which are actually part of an open process, determine the existence of a piece of content. It is the ensemble of relationships and links that make the content accessible and visible, and thus bring it into existence. Completely independent content would be inaccessible, invisible, and thus non-existing.
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