After its early days when it was based in the functionalist sociology of systems theory, social cybernetics is enjoying a new life thanks to the rise of social media, even if under the name of social computing. Social media with their anti-systemic model of the social network provide the data flow which is shaping a new cybernetic approach to the social where the question is no longer how a system (such as institution) reproduces itself so much as what are the general laws and patterns that characterize nonconscious cooperation in networked assemblages and how value can be primed and extracted from distributed cooperative processes. The rise of a new kind of social physics out of social computing corresponds to the shift towards ad-hoc informal networks in institutional productive arrangements. The paper interrogates whether social computing today, as a departure from early sociocybernetics, can help to understand how institutions instigate and mobilize cooperation and competition and whether social network theory can be of any use for oppositional politics.

Tiziana Terranova is Associate Professor of Cultural Theory and New Media at the Department of Human and Social Sciences, University of Naples L'Orientale. She is the author of ‘Network Culture: Cultural Politics for the information age’; and the forthcoming ‘Hypersocial: digital media and social networking’ (University of Minnesota press), and numerous essays and articles about the cultural politics of digital media.