Historical Aspects of Networks

Special Report: Key Aspects of Networks
By Daniel Parrochia

Our ambition, in this paper, is a very modest one. We try to introduce, as indicated in the title, some historical aspects of the notion of network. This undertaking is not the first of its kind. We already have contributed to put in light this history, at a time when the notion of network was less fashionable than nowadays. Since then, Pierre Musso has deve-lopped a very useful critique of what may be seen as “representations” of networks. However, as Hegel used to say, representations of concepts are not concepts themselves, so mythological, aesthetic or religious representa-tions were not appropriate means of expressing thought. Moreo-ver, we intend to limit ourselves, essentially, to briefly recount the story of the rational core of the network’s notion, and obviously do not aim, wi-thin the space allowed here, at being exhaustive. As we are concerned with showing clearly how the notion of network gradually went to free itself from the halo of images and epistemological obstacles which surrounded it, we shall begin to study the prehistorical aspects of the notion (the network as a net), and afterwards come to its effective uses in graph and network theories. We shall show how this notion of network, as useful for understanding the structure of matter as for representing the organization of territories or means of communication, has proved to be essential to describe contemporary societies where, according to a famous thesis develop by of Mac Luhan, exchange, trade and re-production are as important, if not more, as production activities.

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