Collapse Patchworks: A Theory

Originally published on THE LIBERTARIAN IDEAL:

Collapse Patchworks: A Theory

by Chris Shaw

The complexity of modern industrial, social and organisational flows presents the headlong perception of dromological speed[1]. As we fall faster and faster, our sense of volume is displaced as the surface quickly grows until it is the centre of our vision. The speed of these flows mean that they come at us headlong, as does their precipitous crashes and transformative potential. Stock market crashes, climate change, cultural complexity and viral pandemics sit on the periphery of vision while the flows make up a blurry surface. In this sense, I’m analysing these flows and their collapse both socio-economically, as the production of dynamics that increase complexity exponentially, meaning solutions to it are growing out of multiple places (patchwork); and dromologically, as a series of accelerative flows that mean solutions are constantly instantaneous, interdependent and contextual. Collapse patchworks are the bases of various methods of technological and social practices and instantiations that grow in these flows and anti-flows, creating transformative potential and impotent reaction. The increase in social networking, home-working and social distancing in response to viral pandemics. The stock market crashes and evolutions in industrial policy due to evolutions in human capital, organisational value and trade flows. Within these cyclical patterns and black swan events exist the trails and fractals that makeup new socio-economic potentials, forming part of wider paradigms of growth and innovation as well as methods of containing the future, putting it along specific pathways as the modality of these patchworks grows outward.

Patchworks of collapse are the fragments of historical concatenation as through Kondratiev waves, techno-economic paradigms and Mumford’s concept of socio-economic epochs, of which we find ourselves within the intertechnic mode of development[2], sat within a multitude of organisational possibilities amidst a background of stagnation (of a cultural, economic and technological nature). This is where we see intercursive flows, those which define the means of distribution of various social technologies, butting heads with monopoly/oligopoly power and frustrating institutional settlements. Patchworks then are cooperative/conflictual forces that move through different epochs, producing the potentiality for alternative outcomes and a variety of means for organising socio-economic activities. In the language of Perez, the techno-economic paradigm is changed by a combination of innovation within and beyond the existing paradigm combined with the saturation of existing paradigmatic opportunities for innovation and/or profit-making. Patchworks evolve out of this as means of gearing a new paradigm, developing a war of position with the existing socio-institutional structure. Collapse patchworks, by extension, are the pre-formative schema for that gearing. If patchworks are the emergence of a new flow (of information-production or governmentality), collapse patchworks are the development of a transvaluation against the “spirit of gravity”[3], beginning new flights of possibility in the realm of contingency. In other words, the former is the building out from the context while the latter inlays the groundwork for that new context.

They are akin to task forces. “The task force is a committee formed to accomplish a particular task and then disband, ‘a temporary patchwork on the functional structure, used to short-circuit communication lines in a time of high uncertainty’”[4]. More than just the patchwork that infects within the state[5], collapse patchworks are deconstruction, devolution and de-complexification of narratives and institutions of governance themselves, as well as ideological re-situations that undermine and undergird old and new governmental conflagrations, respectively. This then takes us beyond the Perezian cycle or Kondratieff wave and into a field of vectors of new possibilities (and beyond possibilities), both entirely destructive and regressive, as per the counter-movements of the 1930s, and utopian and eschatological.

Wider cycle theories emerge and link onto dromology as the speeding up of de-situating processes, as the elements of indeterminacy and the problems of prediction grow as more information infects systems of governance. A “war of time” has arisen, a “dromocratic revolution” of increasing speed represented by the machinations of network technology and logistical innovations. “With the realization of dromocratic type progress, humanity will stop being diverse”, breaking into “hopeful” and “despairing populations” based on their placement within technological and information flows[6]. A fragmentation into these homogeneous populations both intends the autonomy of technology vis-à-vis human intentions and presents heterotopic means for subversion and de-complexification. Thus the emergence of black swans as the parallel of increasing complexity, as the decoupling intentions of technologies, ideologies and heterotopias produce unintended consequences, bringing down institution’s capabilities to understand complexity. Taleb suggests from this that the historical narrative is superfluous, as it promises more than it can ever deliver[7]. However, as Ayache notes, if the world is truly contingent and complex beyond full comprehension, then historical narrative is all that can be truly had. The black swan is the “hinge”, the context-changing variable, between knowledge and that that lies beyond the horizon. “Inherent in writing is its excess over possibility”[8]. Writing is liminality, between contexts and between possibilities, a full contingency that intends a field of possibilities/potentialities. Historicity, and by extension theories of cyclicality, inlay both the limits of knowledge and what may lie beyond it. This is where collapse patchworks sit, as the instantiation of interstitiality within the sphere of the breakdown of complexity.

Secular cycles begin the process of writing this cyclicality of narrative and futurity. Secular cycles are those defined by particular interlocking variables: population pressures, surplus extraction, intra-elite conflict, societal stratification and the potential for growth and/or social mobility. These variables develop into phases of growth and decline: the expansion phase, characterised by elite stability (thus strong governmentality), stable prices and relatively stable wages, and growing population density. As the population density increases, reaching the society’s carrying capacity (“the population density that the resources of the habitat can support in the long term”[9]), the stagflation phase sets in as prices increase (due to shortages) and labour is oversupplied (leading to wage declines). This empowers elites and maintains their patronage in the short-term. However as these dynamics continue, societal stratification and conflict increase, and the increased prices begin to be felt by the elites (particularly at the lower end). High land prices and the over-availability of labour reduces the income of petty landowners. As the stagflation phase inculcated a general sense of elite wellbeing, these declines in elite incomes and power are hard fought against, increasing competition for elite power at the time that power diminishes. Thus the emergence of the crisis phase, as elites engage in conflict to maintain power or develop a new powerbase through ideological conflicts (English Civil War), land-based conflicts (Kett’s Rebellion or the Baron’s War), and secessionary conflicts. As the internecine nature of these conflicts creates oscillatory abatements, the depression/intercycle phase emerges. It is in the latter two phases, “characterized by a decentralizing tendency, divided elites, a weak state, and internal instability and political disorder”[10], where collapse patchworks, as the inlaying of de-complexification and the groundwork for a new contextuality, materialises.

The previously mentioned Perezian cycles and Kondratieff waves fit within these wider secular cycles, being ideological and organisational evolutions within the revolutionary (literally meaning the revolution of a wheel) oscillations of secular phases. They can expand the wheel or increase its torque, being a meso-level (“between an abstract model of the system and its concrete history”[11]) within the macro-levels of the secular. They overlap and run through each other, as secular cycles are defined by civilisational epochs and economic cycles by organisational developments. The interrelatedness is seen in the evolutions of military organisation, the parallelism of ruling and opposing forces in their organisational and industrial structures (as per the two World Wars), and new means of prolonging certain elite rules. Thus in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the emergence of new industrial-organisational forms created new elites (furthering intra-elite competition) as with the emergence of financial elites in Italy or the merchant classes in Germany and England.

These then also interact with meta-level cycles of technics and flows, defined by abstract concepts of time and space such as those Virilio uses. Flows of abstract information and the technics of being itself, in the sense of technical, social and organisational concatenations defining the means of being as well as the means of becoming in any social format. The term intercursivity sums this up as the means of intercourse, intercourse being the “occurrences within a given community, such as a family or tribe, as well as trade taking place between communities, and even war”[12]. At its heart it means the flows of information and interaction between individuals, communities, societies, civilisations and technologies. “The intercourse of men is the human workshop wherein individual men are able to realise and manifest their life or powers”[13]. Beyond this it is the forces of interacting wills (wills to power or to exchange) that aren’t just those of men, but of machines, ideologies and collectives. Integrating these cycle-levels, the interactivity of meta-cycles (defined as they are by intercursivity) creates the means for new secular cycles and Kondratieff waves to emerge and spread. This is the interaction of the contingent and the possible, with the former grounding the potentiality of the latter.

“There are however times in which this ‘balance’ cannot be maintained and conflict threatens the particular forms of disciplinary mechanism as well as their very rationale. The ‘disequilibria’ of flow, the cycles, the ebb and flow of business activity are no longer sufficient to discipline subjects, to channel norms of behaviour, to make them accept and internalise the normality of competitive market interaction. To the extent that this happens, crisis presents itself as a crisis of social stability, a crisis that, whatever its systemic trigger, calls into question the viability and/or legitimacy of many of the qualitative transformations necessary for accumulation (M-C-M’)”[14]. This is the nature of collapse in the intercursive. Interactivity and exchange go both ways, auguring new means of complexity and scalability as well as creating new vulnerabilities and breakpoints. “We understand conflicting value practices – or value struggles – as constituting an ongoing tension in the social body. This means that there is an ‘outside’ and, to paraphrase Hardt and Negri, it is ‘in the flesh of the social body’, in its own practices, and is not confined to the conceptual realm. Also, because, as we have seen, value practices connect singularities and wholes, in doing so they constitute social forces”[15] – and within these social tensions of wills and flows exist the parameters and potentials of collapse, and collapse patchworks thereby.

The mistake that theorists of postcapitalism (Mason, Carson, Drucker) make is to view capitalism and indeed all social forces administratively, not as quanta of force but as completely interlocked systems. It turns social conflict into an engineering problem. “Articulation within the social body occurs through information and communication, that is systems of feedback. Indeed in all systems of relations, there are flows of information and relations of communication that travel across their components”[16]. But systems of feedback are not endogenous, and nor do they escape the dynamics of entropy. They are defined by conflict that both instantiates and de-situates them. The transition from feudalism to capitalism was not simply the economistic emergence of new means of exchange and production. It was the emergence of interstitial classes, of rebellions against old and new orders, of ideological and theological turmoil. It is the creation of a new being through the liminality of becoming, creating ontological stratification that is implemented through coercion and war as much as through societal evolution. Such can be seen in secular cycles themselves, as intra-elite conflict leads to the emergence of new elites. In the same ways, new technics and means of intercourse mean the emergence of new leaders and new interests that concatenate into institutions and ideologies. Mason’s description of the transition toward postcapitalism is at best naïve, premised upon the limits of human willpower, ecological sustainability, perspectivism, activism and the “power of information”[17]. This evolutionary schema suggests no role for the potential of collapse, conflict or indeed any other intercursive flow. It doesn’t even suggest a move away from capitalism, instead premising a new field of general equivalence centred around zero-cost/low-cost information replication, where profits exist at the margins and there is a greater state role in the economy (already the current corona-capitalism can be seen to be doing this). Its theory of agency is grounded on the networked individual, itself already a figure of modern capitalism (entrepreneurs of the self and the gig worker). To suggest these are the mechanisms of a reckoning seems credulous.

Instead it the interaction of wills (human, informatic, machinic and others) and their envelopment in a new noesis[18] that may portend the new cycle, the development for both innovative capacity and societal experimentation as new elites emerge, and ideologies concur with them. But of course this doesn’t portend anything innately good or moral. The development of collapse patchworks as the emerging forms of new social forces when the value field is de-structured, new power centres for ideological instantiation and governing protocols, isn’t a mechanism of the moral, but a means through which new conflict and force is empowered. Collapse patchworks are the molecular entities between flows, the concatenations of flow breakdown and reconfiguration, the means of becoming before it is transvalued into being. Within this molecularism are the ontological conflicts and stratifications that reify the fields of potentiality, valuation and general equivalence that interact to form new cycles and/or epochs. And going beyond the meta-level of these cycles, toward their innate essence or innate flows, they are the interactive flows of information, entropy and collapse.

We can see this in Virilio’s cycles of military installations. “Stasis is death, the general-law of the world. The State-fortress, its power, its laws exist in places of intense circulation”[19]. Stasis here is ossification, the utopic world of pure negentropy whereby information is merely collectable and storable. Stasis cannot exist indefinitely except as death, thus the constant dynamics of movement and energy, as means of negentropic being. “According to Virilio, the fortified city of the feudal period was a stationary and generally unassailable ‘war machine’ coupled to an attempt to modulate the circulation and the momentum of the movements of the urban masses. Therefore, the fortified city was a political space of habitable inertia, the political configuration, and the physical underpinning of the feudal era. Nevertheless, for Virilio, the essential question is why did the fortified city disappear? His rather unconventional answer is that it did so due to the advent of ever increasingly transportable and accelerated weapons systems. For such innovations ‘exposed’ the fortified city and transformed siege warfare into a war of movement. Additionally, they undermined the efforts of the authorities to govern the flow of the urban citizenry and therefore heralded the arrival of what Virilio calls the ‘habitable circulation’ of the masses”[20]. Collapse patchworks are the emergence of spaces of movement, in the sense of warfare overtaking the settled fortress of the city as the movement of streets, trade routes and mobile units overtook and interceded it. Collapse patchworks are an expression of intercursivity itself when informatic arrays breakdown and institutional configurability becomes too difficult. It is the de-complexification of fields of action in the face of information overload and inertia.

This links to Hayes & Barnett’s system perturbation theory of modern conflict[21], where the vectors for change are not necessarily nation-states and their ancillary agencies, but transnational networks, super-empowered individuals and autonomous substate systems that exist in a fractal values framework of ideological dichotomies. The inertia of state’s logistics, weapons systems and forces portended the collapse of their capacity, leading toward these new organisational possibilities (thus linking flows of movement with Perezian cycles of innovation). Collapse patchworks are the effect of nascent rebuilding, reform or revolution in the aftermath of system perturbation events. The authors use the example of 9/11 to illustrate its systemic effects, noting how it ties in support and opposition in the diverse areas of security, environment, technology, culture, health, and economics. In these fields, nascent opposition developed around environmentalism opposing energy security, constructing collapse patchworks involving the anti-globalisation movement and eco-terrorism as well as new, emerging political fields that provide space for environmental activism and lobbying. In the field of security, the development in response to 9/11 and the protracted wars of the Middle East of private security agencies and new forms of combatant show collapse patchworks emerging either side of these conflicts (i.e. the stigmergic terrorism of the Iraqi Insurgency and interconnections of the Pakistani ISI with Afghan terrorist groups and separatists). New governmentalities begin to develop through nascent collapse patchworks, whether they be autonomous intelligence agencies, terrorist groups or the creation of new space for embryonic ideologies.

“The Great Acceleration refers to a period of acceleration in economic markets, in transitions of nature, and in machine computation, beginning around the second half of the 20th century and continuing to the present. The synergistic interactions are related to the disruption of societal norms, from governance to daily chores. Adoption of novel technologies driving these trends does not occur uniformly throughout a social system”[22]. Linking to Virilio’s progression of military installations as the dromology of spatiality to temporality, this notes similar dynamics in the fields of consumer technology, logistics and finance, particularly within their diffusion of innovation curves. Society is progressing toward new military installations as information warfare and 5GW define the modern battlespace. Similarly, society is structurally integrated along logistical, financial and supply chain lines. More than just the cycles of military space, the progression and cyclicality of a society is defined by its intercursive focus. Modern intercursivity is defined by the locus of temporality and virtuality. However, contingent variables can be seen emerging in collapse patchworks as the negative effects of current intercursive focus emerge. These fragmenting innovation curves are producing further ontological stratification, reified in growing populisms and networked resistance strategies that suggest the return of the spatial (within a network configuration[23]) and a question mark over the very perception of speed itself. On the other hand, further dromological developments can be seen in the fields of finance, energy, infrastructure and governing capacity, accelerating and diffusing. This creates the potential for explosive chimeras and hybrids as well as further failures and crises.

Collapse acts as the basis of these cycles, being the entropic variable of all complex societies. In our modern economies, with new crises presenting mechanisms for transvaluation and collapse, conflict grows within systems of general equivalence, as value takes on a latent national characteristic that looks at degrees of autarky and greater techno-industrial control. This can be seen in patterns of platforms-as-governance and greater technological determinism over network economies, which potentiates the unplugging and rerouting (deconstructing) of certain flows (logistical, financial, trade) in the face of stasis. With current financial crises, already the development of a greater cartelistic impulse, particularly amongst nations such as the UK and US where corporate and state policy-making is in lockstep to maintain liquidity and steady the ship, is being seen. When comparing the pitiful help given to the Small Business Administration during the coronavirus pandemic relative to large logistical firms, airlines and financial outfits, this corporate-state combination is even more pronounced than it was in the 2008 financial crisis. “‘The tendencies towards the establishment of a general cartel and towards the formation of a central bank are converging,’ Hilferding wrote in 1910, ‘and from their combination emerges the enormous concentrated power of finance capital, in which all the partial forms of capital are brought together into a totality.’ We have certainly lived through an era of financialisation, and the crisis of 2008 already threw economies around the world onto the intermittent life support of quantitative easing. Now—as the present crisis involves central banks ever more deeply and directly in sustaining the real economy, and large corporations such as Amazon assume the functions of economic planners in the face of logistical breakdown—Hilferding’s claim about the reorganisation of capitalism around a general cartel deserves a second look”[24]. Thus the fragmentation of sovereignty along multiple vectors that scale variably, going within and beyond the nation-state as cartels and platforms fragment and monopolise in equal measure.

Other vectors for these collapses, crises and transformations are witnessable in finance, with collapse patchworks emerging in the modern world with shadow finance, dark pools and high-frequency trading as profitable outlets of productive capital dry up and new means of circumventing outmoded regulatory regimes emerge. The diminishing powers of the dollar, pound and euro, combined with the growth of the renminbi and currency digitalisation across the board (both sovereign and crypto variants) inlay the growth of shadow finance and digital sovereignty (both for nation-states and platforms). In logistics it is the emergence of post-logistical capabilities of 3D printing, supply chain dispersal and customisable JIT supply lines alongside the machinations of partial deglobalisation both before, during and after the coronavirus crisis that inlay an ontological conflict of globalism vs localism/regionalism. In energy flows it is the climate crisis and the auspices of peak oil, creating both demands for global government and the need for de-complexification as the energy requirements of our informatic arrays, logistical thirsts and transportation infrastructure require a fundamental realignment of consumption and production norms.

Collapse patchworks are a fracturing of the historical narrative of progress. “The process of progress in society itself did not lead to the predicted goals: fraternity, eternal peace, autonomous freedom, the spirit come home to itself, the realm of beauty, and that social revolution meant to usher in an emancipated new era in which the needs of one and all were to be satisfied”[25]. Rather than an emergent post-history of narrativistic decline, the search for meaning spilled out of established historical moorings. The path to progress gave view to cyclicality and the reversion of meaning to different epochs. While the authors criticise this as too deterministic of the production of the future, they (partially) fail to recognise that the end of a cycle (as per Spengler or Nietzsche) is not the end of history foretold, but rather the potentiating ground for new systems to emerge. The conflict “between the forces of the maintenance of (technical) rationality, administration, and the production of normality on the one hand, and a ‘non-simultaneity’ (Ungleichzeitigkeit) of revolts encompassing elements of pre-bourgeois and post-industrial criticism on the other”[26] may be dismissed as the petty squabbling of the masses (a criticism to be levelled at both the authors of post-history and the authors of its criticism), it instead presents the means to crack the ground and shift plates of movement.

They are the liminal space within quanta of force[27], the transvaluing mechanism through which new orders may emerge and concatenate. They are the pre-contractarian quanta that Hobbes described as inhabiting the state of nature, societal experimenters caught in flows of chaos, beginning the process of capturing and attuning information toward mooring it within an institution or ideology.

[1] Paul Virilio, Open Sky


[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

[4] Henry Mintzberg, The Structuring of Organizations


[6] Paul Virilio, Speed & Politics

[7] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

[8] Elie Ayache, The Blank Swan

[9] Peter Turchin & Sergey A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles

[10] Peter Turchin & Sergey A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles

[11] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism

[12] Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History

[13] Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History

[14] Massimo De Angelis, The Beginning of History

[15] Massimo De Angelis, The Beginning of History

[16] Massimo De Angelis, The Beginning of History

[17] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism

[18] Bernard Stiegler, Dreams and Nightmares: Beyond the Anthropocene Era

[19] Paul Virilio, Speed & Politics

[20] John Armitage, Beyond Postmodernism?

[21] Bradd C. Hayes & Thomas P.M. Barnett, System Perturbation: Conflict in the Age of Globalization




[25] Lutz Niethammer & Bill Templer, Afterthoughts on Posthistoire

[26] Lutz Niethammer & Bill Templer, Afterthoughts on Posthistoire

[27] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

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