Thursday, September 1, 2011

Miscellany: Wondering about “hybrids” — all sorts everywhere

[UPDATE — March 6, 2013; I've just now come across Evgeny Morozov's biting book-review article “The Naked and the TED” that was published and blogged by New Republic in August 2012. It provides marvelous accompaniment to my post’s suspicions about hybridity.]

[UPDATE — October 15, 2011: Despite my irritation at overuse of the term, here’s an innovation — the “hybrid company” — that suits TIMN. This “new type of company intended to put social goals ahead of making profits is taking root around the country, as more states adopt laws to bridge the divide between nonprofits and businesses. . . . called flexible-purpose corporations, new companies that are part social benefit and part low-profit entities.” (source)]

[UPDATE — September 7, 2011: I’ve added and/or edited a few sentences, mostly to clarify Bauwens’ view of “hybrids” at his request. A few other changes have also been inserted. If interested, see the end of the appendix for explanation.]

I never expected to turn to thinking and now posting about hybrids — hybrid governance, hybrid war, etc.  But happenstance is serendipitous sometimes, and what I’ve come up with bears on both TIMN and STA matters.  Besides, it looks as though hybridity is becoming a defining trait of the postmodern era.  If so, all the more reason to share a few observations, as follows.

 * * *

In the prior part-1 post about Michel Bauwens’ concept of the partner state, I noted that P2P theory seems to depend on “hybrids” more than does TIMN. By this, I mostly meant hybrid forms of organization, say entities that mix hierarchies and networks.

In an email (see appendix below), Michel responded with clarifications about his view. One was that, across history, from ancient through modern times, when a new form of organization has arisen in the context of older, stronger forms — “embedded” amid them — it makes sense for hybrids to emerge, especially during phase transitions. These hybrids combine actors from an era’s “dominant mode” of organization with actors representing its emerging mode, in ways that benefit the partners to the hybrid, but that may also help subvert the old order and generate the new one. 

This is a sensible, sophisticated point to make about the nature and role of hybrid organizations in social evolution. I will make further reference to it in a part-2 post on his partner-state concept. I like his point; it overlaps with a parallel point I make about intermediate forms and transitional stages in the TIMN progression, without using the “hybrid” term.

But then I got to wondering about hybrids more generally, as follows.

Noticing a growing trend in “hybrids”

Hybrids are everywhere these days. With little effort, I re-found reputable write-ups about not only hybrid organizations, but also hybrid governance and hybrid government, plus hybrid regimes, hybrid systems, and hybrid societies. And then about hybrid threats, hybrid conflicts, hybrid war, and hybrid warfare, as well as hybrid enemies, hybrid adversaries, and hybrid insurgency — some of which called for a hybrid strategy. Not to mention references to hybrid technologies (hybrid cars), hybrid cuisine, hybrid music, and hybrid spaces. And with a little more effort, I suppose I’d have re-found references to hybrid cultures, hybrid religions, hybrid economies, and maybe even to hybrid ethnicities and hybrid personalities. And of course, flowers known as botanical hybrids have existed for ages — they’re an archetype of the term. Then, to cap all this, to my surprise, I happened on a new think-tank named The Hybrid Reality Institute, which does research and analysis on a Hybrid Age!

Thus, the term “hybrid” is being used extensively. Perhaps more than ever before. In all sorts of fields. And for good reasons too: These are complex and complicating times. Much is in flux, and globalization and other forces are putting once-separate matters into contact more than ever. New mixes are bound to occur.

Discerning two different types of hybrids: traditional and mutational

But as I wonder about all this variety, it appears that two different kinds of “hybrids” are in play:
  1. Hybrids that reflect the traditional meaning of hybrid: They represent a novel combination — a mix, compound, fusion, amalgam, merger, joining, or blending — of two or more elements that already exist and have significant strength apart from each other.
  2. Hybrids where something innovative and relatively weak is emerging alongside something established and strong: These hybrids are not the traditional type, for they represent the new trying to be born amid the old, in part by means of the new and the old becoming attached to each other. This hybrid represents a kind of incubator — a catalyst, emergent, or novity — for it renders an embryonic, symbiotic synergy that benefits (or limits?) the nascent, budding element.

These are two different types not only in design but also as to purpose. The purpose of the first is the existence of the hybrid itself, as a synthesis that stands on its own. Like a hybrid flower, or the American-style taco. But the purpose of the second is growth and transition; it’s a dialectical hybrid that stands to evolve, possibly to when the new can exist better on its own apart from the old (or alternatively, to help the old constrain the new). Like the hybrid car. And what Bauwens was talking about.

In other words, the first type of hybrid is an end in itself — a novel but static fixture. However, the second type is a means to a future end — a constantly mutating trend that augurs future transition.

Though it’s just my impression, the second seems to be proliferating the most, far more than the first. I’ve noticed this particularly in the fields of governance and conflict studies.

Assessing the postmodern significance of the mutational type

Assuming the distinction is accurate, does it matter? I’m not sure, but it seems worth pointing out, including for others to ponder as well. I’d offer a few observations regarding the second type in particular:
  • All these instances may well mean that the postmodern era is the era of hybrids — that hybridity is becoming a hallmark of postmodernity. In contrast, the modern era was often about keeping matters distinct and separate, in their own places and boxes, despite its emphasis on expansion, innovation, and connection. The postmodern era appears to be equally if not more about expansion, innovation, and connection, but now with an unusual new intent to break down walls, transgress boundaries, and mix identities, mechanisms, and purposes.
  • Yet, type-2 usage of the term “hybrid” is becoming something of a fad, reminiscent of that earlier fad (which I aided) of putting “cyber” and “network” in front of one noun after another, in enthused efforts to participate in analyzing the implications of the information age. It can be fun, and meaningful, but let’s not overdo it. Overuse tends to be numbing for any term; and “hybrid” carries an extra risk — its overuse implies that nothing is itself, by itself, anymore (which, of course, is a postmodern view). It surely would not make sense to oppose use of the term; it’s too entrenched for that by now. But I’ll hope it becomes less of a fad, and that fewer major concepts are fielded in its name.
  • Despite the preceding cautions and caveats, there is a good practical reason to resort to the term in some instances. It’s a neutral term, devoid of specific content. Thus its use can help build consensus and skirt disagreement around a topic whose underlying dynamics are uncertain or controversial. Thus “hybrid governance” and “hybrid war” are apt terms in these respects. Behind both lie debates about the significance of “network” and “cyber” factors. In addition, the case for “hybrid governance” reflects efforts to transcend established notions that the public and private sectors are the key modes of governance, in favor of accommodating new notions that polycentric, commons-type modes deserve consideration now too. Meanwhile, the case for “hybrid war” reflects difficulties that experts have had in analyzing the mixing-up of regular and irregular forces — tribal, criminal, terrorist, mercenary, hacker, and other irregular forces — in current conflicts. In both the governance and conflict fields, the adjective “hybrid” has served to shunt aside terms that seemed too jargony and tendentious for many experts and practitioners to coalesce around. The hybridized terms have made political sense.
  • But even where a “hybrid” term seems advisable for now, there's still reason to be wary in regard to type-2 applications where something radically new is emerging. If care is not taken, the term can obscure as much as it reveals; it can stifle as well as stimulate debate about underlying factors; it can make a type-2 hybrid seem like a type-1 — all to the detriment of illuminating and grasping what is newly growing within the hybrid. Neither “hybrid governance” nor “hybrid war” would have been coined, were it not for the emergence of information-age network forms of organization and related technologies. So long as the proponents of those terms keep their eyes on figuring out the new forms and their implications, matters may progress well. But if such “hybrid” terms are used to enable “business as usual” and downplay what’s new, the future will recede further from our grasp. 

Preferring a cautionary conceptual posture toward the term
    For all these considerations, I may cautiously increase my usage of “hybrid” a bit. But where TIMN is concerned, I will probably stick with the terms I’ve already used — “intermediate form” and “transitional stage” — to denote transitions in the TIMN progression from monoform (T-type) to quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies. Thus, in this progression, the chiefdom amounts to an intermediate form or transitional stage in the T to T+I progression; and likewise mercantilism, in the T+I to T+I+M progression. I hesitate to label chiefdoms and mercantilism as hybrids, though in a sense they are. (As for the transition to quadriform societies, Bauwens’ P2P theory suggests that “netarchical capitalism” — a new kind of P2P-related hybrid — will play key roles. I have some doubts, reserved for a future post.)

    Yet, I’ll appreciate the term “hybrid” when it crops up sparingly elsewhere, and not as a fad, particularly in the fields of governance and conflict. 

    In regard to governance, a recent special issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (July 2011) on “Patrimonial Power in the Modern World” does this quite nicely. With Max Weber’s ideal types as its departure point, this special issue is about how patrimonialism has persisted and vied with rational-legal bureaucratic forms across the ages and around the world. In TIMN terms, it’s about how the tribal (T) form — patrimonialism is tribal in nature — may relate to the institutional (+I) form, giving way to it, or subverting and constraining it. The points made in this issue — at least in the articles I read by Mounira M. Charrad and Julia Adams, Randall Collins, and Richard Lachmann — are neatly consistent with TIMN.

    The Collins’ article goes (too?) far in declaring (p. 16) that “The historical shift from patrimonialism to bureaucracy is the key organizational transformation of the past thousand years.” Then, after a discussion that should be recommended reading for hybrid-war analysts, he concludes (p. 30) that “The most successful crime organizations have worked insidiously in tandem with the state, rather than challenging it to war or even to a popularity contest.” Excellent points, but no explicit mention of hybrids yet.

    Then, finally, the Lachmann article makes a few explicit references to how patrimonialism “shaped the hybrid political and commercial institutions” in 17th and 18th Century Europe (p. 214), before turning to his key concern: the revival of patrimonial tendencies among America’s economic and political elites, as a 21st-Century expression of “how the dynamics of elite conflict within bureaucratic, capitalist societies can generate patrimonialism” (p. 204). In sum, sparing but meaningful mentions of hybrid forms, in a volume that bears beautifully on TIMN (and possibly P2P theory too?).

    With regard to conflict, a good example is an impressive study known as The Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2010, prepared last year by the now-disestablished U.S. Joint Forces Command.  It notes the increasing use of the term “hybrid” to describe the likely complexity of the future adversary.  But the document also cautions (p. 66) that, “While hybrid approaches constitute the most notable pressing challenge in the contemporary security environment, the Joint Force must anticipate the employment of yet other unique methods.”  I interpret this to mean that the term “hybrid” had some limitations when it came to covering all the trends and scenarios that JFCOM thought should be of concern. 

    Meanwhile, I’ll now refrain from critiquing Bauwens' writings about his use of the term. He’s made his case well. And I’ve made mine, hopefully well enough for now. Enough said.  [But perhaps not, given the updates I’ve added, as discussed in the appendix.]

    So that this post remains like a brief miscellaneous aside, and does not grow into an essay, I end on that note. But there is surely more to be said about the matter: Do hybrids that mix compatibles differ much from ones that mix contradictions? Are social theories that decompose systems into consituent parts, multiple logics, and ideal types bound to generate hybrids, if only as analytical devices? How can societies avoid creating the “monstrous moral hybrids” that Jane Jacobs (1992) warned may occur when her “guardian” and “commercial” syndromes — TIMN’s +I and +M forms, not to mention the other two forms — are mingled improperly? Even though hybrids per se are not a dominant theme in TIMN, it affords plenty of room for asking such questions.

    = = = = =

    Appendix: Michel Bauwens Clarifies His Usage of “Hybrids”

    What follows is text from an email by Michel Bauwens to me on July 15, 2011, explaining how and why he uses the term “hybrid” (slightly edited to correct a few typos and slips):

    “As you may recall, I use Alan Page Fiske's relational typology, and a historical view that various of the four relational forms [identified by Fiske] variously dominated societies [as follows:]
    - as soon as tribal bands become complex and have a surplus, they switch to a dominance of the gift economy;
    - as soon as class society and the state forms, hierarchical allocation becomes dominant;
    - when capitalism emerges, market pricing becomes dominant;
    - when peer production emerges, a horizontalisation occurs and communal shareholding gradually becomes stronger.

    “However, in none of these phases is one mode dominant, but rather there is a core mode and it influences the other modes. For example, feudal 'merit marking' or 'salvation economies' are communal shareholding, but within a system of hierarchical allocation (for example, the common property of the church exists as part of hierarchical feudal society, and feudal gifts to the church are the product of 'tribute', etc...). Similarly, today, capitalism tends to integrate other modalities into its orbit, i.e. communist family dynamics are totally integrated into capital formation.

    “Furthermore, there is a long period of adaptation; as a new form, such as peer to peer emerges, it is at first embedded in the older dominant system, which it paradoxically strengthens; so the choice for coloni instead of slaves, strengthens the continuance of the Roman empire for an extra couple centuries, just as merchant capitalism strengthens the feudal order; today: emerging peer dynamics are embedded in capital formation, i.e. netarchical capital is using crowdsourcing, co-creation, co-design dynamics, for its own self-reproduction. My point is that such adaptations can only be partial and that if a new modality has a true hyperproductive potential, it will use that adaptation in reverse, i.e. to strengthen its own social reproduction, and this is crucial: both can occur at the same time, i.e. there is a struggle of mutual adaption in which both side try to incorporate the other in their own dominant logic. Thus, just as peer producing communities adapt and use private capital to achieve some form of sustainability within the current dominant system, so to the dominant organisational forms of the older system, use the emergent new modalities for their own benefit, i.e. profit maximisation. This by necessity generates lots of hybrid social formations.

    “To summarize/simplify it, when the 'older', say 'vertical' formations encounter the horizontalisation of p2p, and vice versa, 'diagonalisation' occurs. This means that 'pure' p2p dynamics exist, but embedded in hybrid and complex social formations. My expectation is, of course, that as the new forms strengthen their autonomy and self-reproduction, at some point, the opposite occurs, i.e. the commodity forms start weakening, and adapt to peer to peer as the new dominant logic. This is not a linear occurrence, but a irregular dynamic where 'quantitative change' can suddenly need to a new 'qualitatively' different phase transition. The change from feudalism to capitalism is a good example. For several centuries, capitalist dynamics are integrated into to the old system, but by the 18th century, parity is achieved, then, with the American and French revolutions, true phase transitions, after which the feudal logics are part of the new dominant logic of capital.”
    On September 2, 2011, a couple days after this post was initially published, Bauwens sent a new email further clarifying his view of hybrids, as follows (excerpt, slightly edited to correct a few typos and slips): 
    "I find your treatment of hybrids of interest, but wonder if you 'got' my central point, i.e. that there is always a mixture of modes in any type of civilisation, BUT, that they are all influenced by one particular 'chaotic atrractor' i.e. the dominant mode.  For example, the family is a commons, but inserted in the reproduction of the workforce of the capitalist society; or in Cuba, there are coops, but inserted in the state form of accumulation, etc.  I'm not sure that you understood this central argument that among the diversity there is one dominant logic that informs them all.  The question is thus crucial, especially in phase transition, what is the domimant mode, is the commons subsumed by the logic of capital, or is the commons subverting the logic of capital and strenghtening itself?"
    In reply, I noted that I understood his point, and reminded him that I never meant for this to be a post about P2P, but rather just a post that collected some side-tracked notions I'd had about hybrids in general, just to get them off my desk.  Even so, I offered to add a sentence to the early paragraph summarizing his view, and to add his latest email to this appendix.  He liked that offer — hence most of the edits I make as part of this September 7 update.  Besides, it gave me an opportunity to insert subtitles, plus a paragraph about the JOE 2010 document.