Object-Oriented Governance

Capstone Proposal
By: Jacob Taylor
on for GS400


As it stands, internet governance work is primarily in any of a handful of private industry organizations (IETF,IANA,ICANN), public departments of the US government (DoC, DoD, NSA), various committees, and forums that form a subset of the United Nations (ITU, IGF). All of these organizations are necessarily centralizations of power, and that relationship is antithetical to the structure of the internet, which supports distributed, asynchronous systems. As the internet, and software more broadly, come to both define, and shape, daily life for peoples around the world it seems a relevant time to begin the development of a framework (and assist those already doing that work) of governance which does not work against the infrastructures of the internet.

The way we currently do governance is wrong, and must be flipped on its head. Those ways are based on an outmoded set of philosophies about power and how humans interact with the world, that will not be reflected as accurate in the future. We have seen that massive shifts in systems happen when they start from below, and not above, and so this paper is in pursuit of that goal. As it stands, ideas of governance are almost entirely conceptualized in a top-down (like a pyramid) manner. Reforming the current system, due to being based on broken philosophy, would only result in cosmetic changes. Governance could be bottom up, but let's take it farther. I will go so far as to claim governance should be flat. Up or down are not relevant directions. This is the sort of governance, modeled after the flatness of the internet's interconnections, that the future will need.

This new mode of governance will be based on a brand new way of understanding existence that hails from Speculative Realism, and does not fall prey to hierarchies of power.

Literature Review

Beginning in 2006 with Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude, Speculative Realism as a philosophy was born. Translated into English in 2008 by Graham Harman as Quentin Meillassoux, Philosophy in the Making, this work sets into motion a concerted attempt at rejecting a core part of the philosophies embedded in western society today. Most specifically, the prominence and privileging of human experience and knowledge over any other object's experience or knowledge, is rejected. Additionally, the idea that you can know an idea and its physical representation but can't know them separately (née correlationism, this is from Kant), is rejected. This results in a so-called flat ontology of objects, where all things are truly and ontologically (existentially) equal. Chairs, iguanas, and the color purple, exist independent of human capacity to observe them. It is a categorical rejection of the subject-object relationship which plagues human societies today[1].

The philosophic underpinnings for an object-oriented governance are being developed as you read this. Anthropologists will soon throw out the concept of scale[2], because it is flawed in the same way that concepts of Nature[3] and Matter are flawed. They're anthropocentric. Untenably defined. They are defined in relation to a subject(ive human) existence.

I fully expect the concept of governance to be significantly changed by this process, but I will keep using it. A politics based on an Object-Oriented Ontology is still something to develop, because objects will always relate to each other in some fashion. They must come together to create societies, to make decisions, and to share resources. The significant part of this is to redefine governance such that it no longer implies some sort of top-down system of social, political, or economic control.

Transition technologies are already in place. Much of the literature written before Speculative Realism was developed stretches starts in the 80's focusing on corporate/organizational/good governance, modeled around networked cybernetics[4]. Much of this used, and worked with ideas present in Latour's developments surrounding what is now called Actor-Network Theory. These ideas are extremely good for analyzing networks (and networked societies) from the current correlationist frame of reference but they lend only analysis tools, and not building blocks, for an object-oriented future.

They are indeed stopgap transition technologies, though, and as the literature speeds into the 1990s, the focus progresses into networked organizational structures and their relations to industry and government[5]. Rhodes specifically covers governance in the context of a "socio-cybernetic" system, the understanding of which informs the language used to describe the systems later. This model of "governance" is also the one used to govern the internet. There is a centralized policy statement, but public and private groups come together to negotiate the policy, and more-local organizations and individuals are responsible for implementing it (best effort). It's not compulsory in the sense of using force to ensure it is done. It's a voluntary representative panel of people with respect, but not any sort of outright authority, at least in any classic sense.

By the 2000's and more recently, the literature has synchronized with research into complexity theory and better understood models for networks (neural and otherwise). Cybernetics research, previously sidelined as interesting but nonetheless fruitless, has been given credence[6]. The set of research on cybernetic governance that occurs previous to 2008 (and for the researchers who did not read any of the aforementioned speculative realist work) provide a useful base of theory and information to reconceptualize, using an object-oriented ontology. The intent is to get rid of the anthropocentric parts of the material, and recontextualize what can be in a universe solely of objects. The result will be a system of governance whose structure is flat like that of the internet, suitable for governance of the internet. But the internet, here, is just an analogy. The internet is the object oriented ontology, because it is one. As it merges more completely with every part of our lives, governance of that creeping reality will become crucial. This will set out a framework with which to do so.

Research Question

What does a system of global governance look like, perhaps a system capable of governing the internet, through the lens of an Object-Oriented Ontology?

Theoretic Framework

I will utilize Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Levi Bryant's contributions to an Object-Oriented Ontology. I will also be engaging Rhodes and Ian Bogost on the subject of (cybernetic) governance.


Birnbaum, Robert. "The Cybernetic Institution: Toward an Integration of Governance Theories." Higher Education 18.2 (1989): 239-53. Web. [link]

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It's like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print. [link]

Bryant, Levi R. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities, 2011. Print. [link]

Davies, Jim, Tomasz Janowski, Adegboyega Ojo, and Aadya Shukla. "Technological Foundations of Electronic Governance." Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance (2007): 5-11. Web. [link]

Marston, Sallie A., John Paul Jones, and Keith Woodward. "Human Geography without Scale." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30.4 (2005): 416-32. Web. [link]

Morton, Timothy. "Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology." Qui Parle 19.2 (2011): 163-90. Web. [link]

Rhodes, R. A. W. "The New Governance: Governing without Government." Political Studies 44.4 (1996): 652-67. Web. [link]

Shaw, Ian G R, and Katharine Meehan. "Force-full: Power, Politics and Object-oriented Philosophy." Area 45.2 (2013): 216-22. Web. [link]

Stokes, Paul A. "Organizational Cybernetics – The next Phase." Journal of Organisational Transformation & Social Change 8.1 (2011): 7-18. Web. [link]


1: link - Bryant, The Democracy of Objects, 2011.

2: link - Marston, Jones, Woodward, Human Geography Without Scale, 2005.

3: link - Morton, Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology, 2011.

4: link - Birnbaum, The Cybernetic Institution: Toward an Integration of Governance Theories, 1989.

5: link - Rhodes, The New Governance: Governing Without Government, 1996.

6: link - Stokes, Organizational Cybernetics – The next phase, 2011.