Network Topology

The network topology corresponds to the arrangement of nodes through connections, i.e. to the structure of the network. It may be highly or weakly connected and more or less centralized, which corresponds to different shapes. Among the most current forms, we can include rings, stars, buses, hierarchies, trees, mesh networks, partially or totally connected graphs, etc. In addition to the shape, cardinality, i.e. the size, and the degree of nodes, characterize the network. The shape depends heavily on the mode of diffusion. For instance, unicast gives birth to topologies like rings, while broadcast facilitates the emergence of stars and multicast generates hierarchies. It also appears clear that the two last network characteristics, i.e. cardinality and the degree of the nodes, are strongly influenced by the development of technologies, which considerably increase the number of people to whom each one can be connected.

The topology certainly impacts power relations, which, in turn, influence political forms in a way that is not yet fully understood. For instance, writing was invented in Mesopotamia for the sake of the Royal administration, which hoped to centralize information. By the turn of the eighteenth century, the development of printing techniques and public postal services based on modern transportation (mail coach and railways) contributed to the creation of hierarchically organized networks that have enforced the power of administrations. The development of broadcasted mass media in the twentieth century with radio, movies and television, helped totalitarian regimes to prevail using propaganda. However, writing was not only used by the central power in Mesopotamia and poets very soon took advantage of writing to play with words and signs (Glassner 2000). Moreover, in the twentieth century, the sole purpose of broadcast was not to enable totalitarian regimes to enforce their power over individuals.

Today, the web constitutes a fully connected network that covers the entire planet. Its topology is studied by a new network science that tries to understand the properties of big graphs. Besides the size of this network and its “Deterritorialization” (i.e. the fact that connections are independent of land), the mode of diffusion of the Internet, that is mainly unicast and multicast—in contrast with mass media, essentially broadcast—greatly transforms the shape of the network, breaking classical well-ordered topologies like stars, rings or hierarchies, to become a huge meshed network.

The web will certainly affect political forms; some people claim that it will give birth to a new participative democracy, under which the influence of the nation is diminished or where sovereignty no longer stands. Nevertheless, the recent emergence of populism in Europe shows the weakness of these assumptions. It goes the same, with the reinforcement of traditional Islamic parties after the Arab Spring, in Middle East and in many Arab countries (e.g. in Egypt, Libya, etc.) where authoritarian regimes have been overthrown. To conclude, we cannot extrapolate the exact nature of transformation from an analysis of the topology of the network, neither can we use it to further characterize the state of society as, in itself, the topology is static and consequently does not reflect social processes and the part they play in evolution of society.

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