BUZZING 20150103: “Networks” or “Flows”?

Networks or Flows?

I loved using the term “cultural flow.” In fact, I have been using it during my whole studying time. I liked it simply because it matches with how I understand the dynamics of cultures works. Today I was pointed out, that the shortages of this word “flow” are subtle but to some extent, also obvious.

When describing a cultural phenomenal movement as a “flow”, it implies that the process resembles to liquid motion, without obstacles. While if there are two similar motions of the same object, the two processes are also implied being even, which, in reality, is always not the case. Vasquez makes this quite clear in the text “Studying Religion in Motion: A Networks Approach.”


Instead of using “flow’, Vasquez prefers “network”, which successfully avoids anti-structuralism conveyed by the metaphor of liquidity. Networks of cultures (and in this study, religions) demonstrate better and more structural system which we can still hope to study the complex dynamics ¬†of cultures.

But I have a further question: if the “network” is also a metaphor (comes from already applied fields of social and natural sciences), then is it also necessary to analogise the formation and construction process of this network/networks?


The introduction of the concept of osmosis within the system is a very smart move: the network in the context of biology is also capable of containing metaphor of “flow”. And osmosis also conveys the fact of selectiveness in the transmission and transferring procedure.

Still, I don’t think the limitation of the term “flow” when it is used in the context of cultures and their motions so problematic. The imagination of “flow”‘s non-obstacleness based on, well, imagination. While the word itself does contain “smoothness” and “continuity”, it does not convey the evenness of the quality and speed if there’s another similar flow. As blood in veins, obstacles can always be there, various with levels; thus the motions can be slow and fast. The fact is, when power comes in, unevenness of the cultural zones provides exactly what needed to create cultural flow. It can be stopped, but will always have the tendency to continue, as long as the unevenness exists.