Network Ideology: From Saint-Simonianism to the Internet

Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 27)


Pierre Musso traces the origins of the idea of the technical network to the current of utopian thought in France in the nineteenth century and, in so doing, critiques the rhetoric which celebrates technical networks, and particularly the Internet, as drivers of technical and social changes which will supposedly have unstoppably benevolent consequences for the future of humanity.

Unravelling the ideas and projects promoted by the Saint-Simonian movement allows us to see that technology, at least in the modern world, acquired its full force not just in instrumental terms, but cultural as well. In sum, technology is both function and fiction. Technology fulfils functions such as producing, controlling, informing, shortening distances, etc., but this is not all it does. Technology goes beyond the functional because it emerges, or arises, in a broad context of hopeful expectation. It matters little whether those expectations match the field of human experience or not. Musso believes that enthusiasm for networks has persisted down to the present day as a myth of social transformation. The promise of social change became a mere technological utopia and social change itself became a fiction proclaimed with the advent of each new reticular invention. It is this process which Musso elects to criticize in particular. The network has become reified as a technology and, as a utopia, has been reduced to a technological utopia. Like a perpetual promise, the network heralds a better future, but that today is nothing more than a perversion of the Promethean legacy of the nineteenth century.

In order to understand the current ideology of networks and its discourses, Musso outlines the various factors which contributed to the Saint-Simonian ideal before it expanded to become a technological utopia. In the internal linkages between the concepts devised by different thinkers, he summarises the three aspects which explain the powerful impact of networks on the imagination: the temporal nature of a transition to progress, democracy, and modernity; the acceptance of the technical network as natural by means of metaphor, and rationalization as a design which can be interpreted in reticular forms.


Telecommunication Network Social Transformation Artificial Network Network Society Social Link 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rennes 2 UniversityRennesFrance
  2. 2.Télécom Paris TechParisFrance

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