A discipline, culture or scene is a network: a mesh of people, things, ideas and ways of doing things.
It might be tightly defined, with a clear centre, tightly woven middle, and a strong sense of a margin.
It might be clustered, with areas where the web is thicker and deeper, but with threadbare valleys inbetween, fading out to the hinterland.
It might be looser – candyfloss or mist – a ball of tenuous connections at a distance.***
Whatever the form – and if you zoom in or out far enough, they all look much the same – a key feature is that there are no edges. The margins are always porous, threadbare, and frayed, and everything is intertwingled.
We find our way into a network by joining it – by making points of connection, by crawling the web, ravelling the edges of the network.
For a field of study, we ravel the references, following the threads of footnotes and references to position ourselves in the network.**
In a culture or scene, we hop from person to artifact to text to place to practice, each one leading us on to another – and back and round again – as we get familiar with the landscape.
Some things to bear in mind
- Thick cloth is hard to pierce, and it’s hard to break into the middle of a network. Change (including accommodating you) is slower and harder: the web is thick and tight, the connections harder to break and re-weave, and space is limited.
- Networks overlap. A strong connection with a person (relationship, status) or an idea (expertise, reputation) in one field might help you cross over to the middle of another, different field.
- The web is sticky. Once you’re in, you’re usually a bridge (in and out) for others. Be generous.
- You add value to the network by bringing something new: new and valuable ideas, new tools or ways of doing things, new attitudes that make it more enjoyable to be part of the network, new connections (by connecting the dots within the network to thicken it, and by bringing connections to an entirely different network).
**Citations formed a web of knowledge long before the internet.
*** Word on the street is that candyfloss is tougher, denser and less tenuous than you’d think (hat tip: RudderlessSalamander)