New book links insect behaviour to social 'webs'

Published: 31 December 2010 at 15:01

Insect logic is seen behind contemporary media technologies and network society

Anglia Ruskin University academic Dr Jussi Parikka has just launched a fascinating and intriguing new book which uncovers the insect logic that informs contemporary media technologies and the network society.

Out in December, Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology analyses how insect forms of social organisation—swarms, hives, webs, and distributed intelligence—have been used to structure modern media technologies and the network society, providing a radical new perspective on the interconnection of biology and technology.

Within the new book, Dr Parikka develops an insect theory of media, one that conceptualises modern media as more than the products of individual human actors, social interests, or technological determinants. They are, rather, profoundly nonhuman phenomena that both draw on and mimic the more ‘alien’ life worlds of insects.

Dr Parikka is Reader in Media Theory and History at Anglia Ruskin University and Director of the Cultures of the Digital Economy (CoDE) research institute and ArcDigital ( He is also the author of Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses.

Explaining the theory behind the way of life in digital network society, Dr Parikka explains:

"Network culture is a rather peculiar phase in our modern technical civilization, as it seems to be a combination of high technology and a fascination with such seemingly simple life forms as insects. We continuously make sense of emerging media and technology through references and metaphors borrowed from the biological world: viruses, worms, swarms, and other similar eclectic ideas that suggest a complex view of scientific culture."

"What this book offers is an extensive and systematic take on this conflation of biology and technology; it shows how often modern culture has turned to animals and such simple life forms as insects to understand a radically non-human way of seeing the world. Imagine how the world looks and feels like to an animal who does not share our two-footed, two-handed, two-eyed world view? Such ideas fascinated a lot of early pioneers in the 19th and 20th century, from artists to scientists."

"More recently, so many network scientists and designers turned to insects as well: thinking about software, network architectures, and forms of organisation through ideas that they borrowed from entomology. What I do in this book is offer a thorough look at such “border crossings” between sciences and artistic appropriations of such ideas."

"When we approach contemporary digital economy, we need complex cultural historical perspectives to thoroughly understand its contexts, historical development, as well as the implications to our worldview."

The book is both a historical and critical look at how we approach network culture – it approaches it not from the point of view of humans, but from an insect point of view. As other books in the series Posthumanism from University of Minnesota Press, this title looks at non-human ways of understanding contemporary culture where even basic seemingly biological processes as ‘life’ are increasingly rethought and recreated in artificial, technological practices, in science, but also in science fiction.

Dr Parikka concludes:

"It’s a great honour to be in the same series as leading cultural theorists of our posthuman and technological age, such as Michel Serres, Donna Haraway and Isabelle Stengers."

The Cultures of the Digital Economy (CoDE) Research Institute is a multidisciplinary initiative at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. The Institute fosters a critical and experimental interdisciplinary research environment and through projects, seminars and published research aims to explore the role of current and emerging technologies in a creative context.

CoDE is a crucible for thinking outside traditional disciplinary boundaries and a catalyst for establishing connections with industry and local, national and international communities. Its location in Cambridge provides it with excellent potential for collaboration with entertainment, technological, scientific, arts and the heritage industries.