Capital Mobility and the Bilbao-Effect

A first determinant in the spatiality of network culture is the radical acceleration of globalization over the last two decades. Globalization escalated markedly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and free market reforms in China opened it up to the capitalist market. Neoliberalist trade policies are now embraced de facto throughout most of the world as corporations seek to improve profits. If Deleuze suggests that capitalism always strives to deterritorialize space and remake it into a smooth condition that it can traverse easily, there is little question that the promotion of globalization and trade deregulation over protectionist policies by advanced economies has been crucial to the advance of global trade. [1]

As capital has sought greater mobility, politicians have made capital mobility and the dismantling of trade barriers a keystone of their ideology. If capital may have bristled against barriers earlier, the current attitude toward borders is very different from that held in political circles throughout most of modernity in which nations sought to bolster their economic status in the world. Take, for example, the development of the European Union. In part an attempt to create a superpower to balance out the economic and political might of the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union, the EU's primary effect was to do away with borders for trade and work and impose uniform regulations throughout Europe.

Sassen makes the point that the nation state doesn't wither away under globalization. Rather, it increasingly serves to ensure the rights of the corporation to capital and to protect it.[2] The withering of the nation state is more of an ideological move and the state re-emerges as necessary to safeguard finance. Thus, to take a recent example, the economic bailouts of 2008 and 2009 in the United States and the European Union were less to ensure the livelihoods of individuals and more to maintain the continue viability of extremely large financial firms engaged in excessively risky forms of trade. But it's worth noting that in part this defense of the interests of finance over the citizenry is the product of capital mobility: investors and corporations today make it clear that they seek the safest and most profitable milieu and so nations and cities compete in entrepreneurial fashion, lowering trade barriers and taxes while protecting big capital during economic downturns.

The network forms the space of globalization, overlaying the abstract space of modernity. Where abstract space submits the world to a Euclidean model, mathematically mapping it within a coordinate system, the networked spatial regime goes further. The space that networks describe does not map onto physical space. Two nodes can be distant in physical space but close to each other on the network. It comes as no surprise that due to capital flows, telecommunication links, and frequent plane flights New York and London are closer to each other than New York and Nova Scotia, even if the latter is closer physically. Thus, if it is spatial, the network forms a new kind of global space that dominates, on an economic and cultural level, over the Earth. Today, Castell observes, a series of networks overlie each other, linking up globalized capital in a "space of flows … the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows."[3] This space of flows is comprised of electronic networks that allow the network economy to function, together with the specific nodes and communication hubs on the network and the spatial manifestation of this logic for the business élite. The latter, he explains, takes place through social micro-networks that emerge in the sorts of places that the élite inhabits: exclusive restaurants, cultural events, clubs, and so on. [4] Today, he concludes, "our societies are constructed around flows: flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interactions, flows of images, sounds and symbols. Flows are not just one element of social organization: they are the expression of the processes dominating our economic, political, and cultural life." [5]

To be clear, networks are nothing new. If we were to look back at the origins of the impact of networks on society, we would find such origins slipping away rapidly. Television, radio, telephone, telegraph, the postal system, roads, and trade are the stuff of civilization, Language itself forms a network employed by insects, birds, apes, whales, and other animals, communication networks predate history. Moreover if all life is based on the genetic instruction set in DNA, it is plausible to understand life at base as a form of communication. [6]

What makes ours a network age is that we cognitively map the world in terms of networks. Over the last few decades networks have been adopted by researchers and theorists in science, economy, theory, culture, politics, and war. Nor is this form of study discontinuous or somehow accidental. On the contrary, recently developed mathematical theories of networks allow scientists to better understand the behavior of complex systems from disease vectors to organizational behavior to failures in electrical grids to the function and collapse of financial systems. [7] Science writer Mark Buchanan suggests that networks allow us to escape Karl Popper's dictum that human behavior can't be modeled, promising mathematical order to human relationships. [8] Nor is he alone. Sociologist Duncan Watts, one of the principal formulators of small-worlds network theory gave up a tenured academic position to become a research scientist at Yahoo! where the corporation hopes his network theories will help identify how individuals make decisions and how friendships form. [9]

The study of networks also informs some of the richest veins of theoretical work on the Left. Urban sociology, which has flourished in the last two decades, looks at the global city and the network economy and the inequalities produced by those it. The most synthetic understandings of economy in our time-the work of Sassen, Castells, Hardt and Negri-addresses the global economy in terms of networks. [10]

The spread of the network as a spatial model demonstrates how it is more a cultural dominant than a technology. Under network culture, interconnection-especially interconnection between humans and non-humans-is fundamental. The network thus takes over from the machine, which under modernism united disparate forms of thought from mechanistic explanations in the sciences to theories of the kinesthetic human motor to automatic writing to architecture and the city (it could be said that cybernetic was the final late modern flourishing of this model) and the market, which under postmodernism served as a similar cultural base.[11]

Looking at this evolution in terms of value, it is possible to trace a progressive abstraction: a trajectory from production to consumption to connection, the latter the endless back and forth of trading to somehow extract value. This regime of networked space is thus more abstract than abstract space. So, too, it requires a shift in senses. Abstract space is the space of the visual, the realm of the spectacle. [12] But as Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen conclude, ours is a space of code. Geometry is no longer enough to account for the production of contemporary space. Instead, networked space is produced by codes that serve to modulate it, shaping the environment around us in distinct ways. Similarly, arguing that networks are not mere metaphors but rather material technologies, Alexander Galloway suggests that the protocols embodied in technical standards-that is forms of metacode-serve as the means by which control is disseminated today. [13]

Galloway's position is inspired by a brief essay that Deleuze writes at the end of his career, "Postscript on Control Societies." Here Deleuze builds on the framework of spatial power that Foucault elaborates in Discipline and Punish. Instead of enclosures, each with its own set of rules, he concludes, today we operate in a digital world of constant modulation. Control societies are continually shifting, perpetually monitoring and responding to conditions.[14]

In this way then, we can account for a mutation within supermodern architecture in the late 1990s. For the generic, background architecture of supermodernism would disappear on the architectural scene almost as soon as it emerged. Instead, in the wake of the opening of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, architects and urban developers turned toward iconic architecture, trying to capture the so-called "Bilbao Effect." The perceived success of "Bilbao" as the building would come to be known, eliding the city it stood in, at this early point in network culture led to a revived and instrumentalized role for architecture. Once again, architecture could be seen as transformative, but now entirely due to its formal effects. Innovative design became a means by which cities could distinguish themselves as "creative," thereby encouraging the growth of a creative class of knowledge workers to woo financial and media industries.[15]

To achieve their iconic shapes structures like Gehry's Bilbao, Rem Koolhaas's CCTV building, or Foreign Office Architects' Yokohama Terminal require significant engineering, generally speaking over-engineering for the amount of program involved. Such engineering in turn relies of advanced software and calculations giving the structures the luster of being part of the digital age. For many such architects, such as the office of Zaha Hadid and FOA, even the process of design would become technologized through "parametric design." In his "Parametricist Manifesto," Patrick Schumacher, a partner in Hadid's office states point-blank: "Parametricism responds to the new challenges architecture faces in the current era of post-Fordist network society." Such parametricist design, he suggests, allows geometries to fluidly adapt to different site conditions and functional requirements at will. [16] Parametric design thus physically embodies the modulations of control society in its undulating forms.

Producing the Bilbao-Effect led to a sort of arms race between cities, leading to the construction of ever-more expensive structures until the market crash. Moreover even the construction of the Guggenheim in Bilbao was remarkable as a financial collaboration-a networked project- between local authorities, the Spanish government, and the Guggenheim museum. Typically, such structures would be heavily leveraged, funded with government bond issues, thus becoming literal manifestations of the over-capitalization of architecture produced by the lowering of interest rates and esoteric financial instruments of the early 2000s.

[1] . Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus Capitalism and Schizophrenia." (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987),

[2] . Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents (New York: New Press, 1998), 195-214.

[3] . Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 442.

[4] . Ibid, 443-46.

[5] . Ibid, 442.

[6] . See for example, Peter K. McGregor, Animal Communication Networks (Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2005) and Werner R. Lowenstein, The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication and the Foundations of Life (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[7] . For an overview, see Duncan J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, 1st ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).

[8] . Mark Buchanan, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, 1st ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002). Other popular books with a similar bent are Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Pub, 2002); Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (New York: Scribner, 2001); Steven H. Strogatz, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, 1st ed. (New York: Theia, 2003); Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. Buchanan and Johnson are primarily journalists (although Buchanan holds a doctorate in physics) while Barabási, Strogatz, and Watts are among the key developers of network theory mathematics. These are all useful introductions to the topic.

[9] . Clive Thompson, "Is the Tipping Point Toast?" Fast Company, January 28, 2008,

[10] . Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo; ---, Globalization and Its Discontents. Castells, The Rise of the Network Society; Manuel Castells, The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); ---, The Power of Identity, 2nd ed, Castells, Manuel. Information Age (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004). Hardt and Negri, Empire.

[11] . See, for example Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity.

[12] . Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 75; Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994).

[13] . Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, Leonardo (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

[14] . Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on Control Societies," in Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

[15] . On the creative class, see Richard L. Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002).

[16] . Patrick Schumacher, "The Parametricist Manifesto," The Architect's Newspaper, June 6, 2010 2010.