Friday, May 19, 2006

Moral networks

Joost Van Loon - co-editor of Space & Culture - has just written an interesting post on moral networks...I'll let him continue his story....

'The journal Theory Culture & Society has published its first issue of the New Encyclopedia of Global Knowledge, and in it is an entry on networks written by me. I was asked to cut out what I thought was a nice example of how networking as a moral engagement is not something inately modern, but has a long history which can be traced, for example, to tribal societies such as the Israelites. The following is an abstract from my extended paper on networks.

Reflexive awareness of the trope of network is not an achievement of western (modern) thought. In Chinese cultures, for example, the term guanxi which in essence means the same as network, is an age old metaphor referring to a form of social capital that is embedded in the knowledge of and being known to significant others. Guanxi is partly established through common ancestry and kinship relations, but further extended through friendships, political and strategic alliances and economic exchanges (including gifts and favours). Indeed, even in western societies, networks were already existent well before they became analytical concepts. Relationships between patrons and clients in feudal systems, for example, involved a complex of exchanges, obligations, rights, duties and dependencies that often resembled those of guanxi. Of course, the Christian ethos of ‘love thy neighbour’ also shares a guanxi-type sense of obligation, which in the teachings of Jesus was being extended beyond tribal relationships, as expressed most clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The first biblical book of Machabees (Chapter 8) tells the story of how the Machabees, a particular clan of the tribe of the Jews led by Judas Machabeus, entered into an alliance with the Romans. At that time (approximately 188 BC), the Jews were under continuous attacks by neighbouring tribes and they saw an alliance with the Romans as having a strategic advantage. The covenant that was struck between Judas and the Romans contained both matters of military aid as well as economic and logistical support. However, this covenant also entailed a moral obligation, embedded in the duties and responsibilities associated with friendship.
The book displays the rather complex nature of pre-Christian Judaic society through the diversity of names and the dense kinship relations within and between clans. What stands out, however, is the continuous shifting of alliances between various clans and tribes, some of which are not explained and seem to be plainly opportunistic. Others, however, reveal the zeal of the Machabees to re-establish a more radical devotion to God, through a more stringent observance of the Law of Moses and, as a consequence, a more unforgiving approach to those who blasphemed against God or desecrated the holy places of Jerusalem.'

Read more at Space & Culture

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