The networking literature has burgeoned in recent years within a complex cross‐disciplinary field and particularly in economic geography and regional planning. Networks have been analysed both as organizational expressions of globalization, linked to claims about the rise of the network society, and as territorial and cultural systems of exchange. Concepts of networks and networking have been accepted as positive, and sometimes also as progressive or radical within both social science and policy discourses. In this article we analyse regionally embedded economic networks and the EU’s urban and regional policy networks as a new mode of administration, at a variety of spatial scales. Little attention has been paid to the theoretical implications of using the concept of network as a social metaphor or to the operation of actually existing networks, as a result of conceptualizing networks in ways that deny their constitutive inequalities, asymmetries and democratic deficits. This darker side has been pushed into the shadows by the rhetorical emphasis on the benefits claimed for networked organizational forms.