Emerging infectious diseases depend on, and make use of, the same topological properties that constitute networks. (. 88)

Chapters 2 & 3

These two chapters comprise the most lengthy and detailed parts of The Exploit, and yet the authors omit the role that race and ethnicity played in our received understanding of networks. Thacker and Galloway react to views of the network as “an expression of technological determinism,” “juridical/governance,” and “as a kind of apolitical natural law” (pp. 26-27). Their view is more in line with Hardt and Negri’s rather abstract assertion in Multitude that “networks are the form of organization of the cooperative and communicative relationships dictated by the immaterial paradigm of production” (p. 142). While networks, as Hardt and Negri imply and Galloway and Thacker suggest, are infused with power relations—“the paradigm of production”—those power relations consistently privilege Western powers and Western points of view.

But it is at the level of “protocol” where cultural and racial difference is largely abandoned, or at least absent. Extending on both of their previous works on protocol (Thacker’s Biomedia and Galloway’s Protocol), the authors define protocol as robust, flexible, and inclusive (p. 29). That is, according to the authors, old notions of exclusivity are weak in that they relied on exclusion as the organizing function for describing control. And yet, in calling for a protocological analysis, the authors reinforce the ideology of exclusivity they suggest is outmoded. “Protocol” is evacuated of its racial and ethnic historical formations. Galloway’s own definition mentions nothing of racial history: Protocol is “the principle of organization native to computers in distributed networks” (2004, p. 3). What goes unsaid is that computers and technology, as Cynthia and Richard Selfe (2007) assert, are “constituted by and for white middle- and upper-class users to replicate a world that they know and feel comfortable within” (p. 69). Protocol is, as Thacker and Galloway suggest, something of a virus—a virus that spreads the U.S. white middle-class discourse of technological progress.

Ironically, the authors also perpetuate the ideology of facelessness that they attribute to the virus. “Emerging infectious diseases” are faceless, rendering these viruses all the more fearful in our imagination (p. 90). This fear is part of today’s “biopolitics” in which information is intertwined with the body to fashion a body under perpetual threat—a tactic used by the “new sovereignty” (p. 110). This creates a “state of exception,” to echo Giorgio Agamben, where our own bodies must be protected even from ourselves. But by leaving concepts such as “protocol” and “network” faceless (and raceless), the authors risk surrendering their ontological project to norms of the dominant culture(s): By default, the network is white and male. Even if they admit that certain “nodes” are racialized, these nodes are only constituted as such by the “white” virus. On the other hand, by giving viruses a face/race we can begin to carry out the authors' goal to rewrite the code to the virus.