Sunday, October 18, 2009

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind"

--Manuel Caste--I mean, Winston Churchill. ;)

I also considered naming this post "Stealing my Thunder" but it's kind of ridiculous to imagine my thunder is even worthy of being stolen by Manuel Castells. Basically, reading Castells was really deflating because it was like reading the article that I have always dreamed of writing, but clearly never had the foresight or intelligence to write. In "Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society," Castells touches on everything that I feel like I talk about with anyone who will listen obligingly, and then he actually managed to ground all of it it in this amazing body of research and theory while still keeping it accessible, relevant and free of jargon. He even cited danah boyd!

Moving past my jealousy, awe and hero worship (he's been knighted by 5 different governments, people), I will attempt to look at the article with a more critical eye. While I fully agree with Castells about the direct link between " and politics, the politics of scandal, and the crisis of political legitimacy in a global perspective," and I like his discussion of 'mass self-communication,' I was at first taken aback when he argued that "the media have become the social space where power is decided," though I would very much like for that to be the case (Castells, 2007). If nuclear and biological weapons didn't exist, sure, maybe we could say that, but until that sort of physical power isn't a concern anymore, isn't soft power still just soft power?

From what I can tell, many would now argue that weapons like that really are irrelevant now, at least in terms of wars between nations, but what about the horizontal networks formed through social media technology? Those networks are comprised of citizen media mavens and masses of people self-communicating and picking and choosing what they read, sure, but I wish that Castells had included a discussion of how trans-national terrorist organizations wield power in these networks as well. I suppose they would naturally be included as actors in the battle for the mind he outlines?

Daya Thussu concludes in Mapping Media Flow and Contra-Flow that "one should not lose sight of the fact that 'soft' media power is firmly underpinned by 'hard' political and economic power," and while she may be right, she may not be taking into account the 'hard' political power Castells shows to be in the hands of those in the 'horizontal networks' who can and do question the narratives put out by those with the 'hard' political and economic power (Thussu, 2006)...that power sometimes subverts, questions or even overrides the hard power of institutions like government and TNCs.

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