The Fractal Network Theory


To be honest, I found Latour’s actor-network theory extremely mundane and tedious to read about. However, I found it to be analogous to fractal art, making it much cooler.

Fractal art, put simply, is a set of mathematical algorithms and functions that, when processed, translate into a single, digital image. The image is created from a multitude of varying algorithms, much like Latour’s actor-network theory, which works on the basis of creating an assemblage of human and non-human actors that function as a network. Each entity is different, yet acts congruously to create a single whole that is characterised by the relationship between each of the varying entities.

The actor-network theory emphasises that networks are merely temporary and in constant transformation if external actors manipulate with the already established whole. So it is said that the relations that take place in a network need to be continuously iterative in order for the network to survive. This idea can be detected in fractal art when looking at it three-dimensionally. The Mandelbrot zoom, for example, is an animated and continuous close-up of a fractal image. The zoom takes us through the infinite layers that create this image via an iterative composition of different mathematical algorithms. In contrast to the actor-network theory, fractal art can be infinite, whereas networks cannot – they can be subject to disappearance or complete change, however, what I want to demonstrate here, is the repetitive behaviours needed to keep a network running. The Mandelbrot zoom continues to take us further and further into this image via the algorithms caught in correspondence much like the social relations needed to sustain a network.

However, the most prominent aspect of fractal art can be demonstrated with Latour’s punctualisation theory, which illustrates that an actor is not merely an object but an association of multiple homogenous components, which themselves constitute a harmonious whole or a network. When we open up a network and notice the array of different elements, we consider these in a new context, thus isolating them from the overarching idea of the network. This can signal an unreliable or unstable nature of networks, yet, also an unavoidable one, since they’re always going to be made up of individual, elements. In fractal art, the image calls upon one to break it down, and to visualise how these algorithms work in their own way to create this final image. Fractal art can then prompt one to notice the fractal nature of anything, from trees to our skin, causing us to break down these functioning networks to their original stimulants. Similarly, the actor-network theory provides a way of studying the relational and creative elements that work within a network and how they keep it running.


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