Monday, November 2, 2009

The *insert your cause here* Strikes Back

After a lot of readings about the role of ICTs as a tool of influence in international conflict or global governance, this week's readings look at the use of ICT (the Internet in particular) as a bottom-up or horizontal response to the exertion of control.

Hanson initially rehashes what has already discussed about the powerful role of TNCs on the international and global stage, as well as the part that communication technology plays in both expanding and holding on to their empires. Just as these technological advances give TNCs "more flexibility in their strategic options than territorially bound states"(180), so too do these advances allow transnational organizations of varying sizes and strengths to bypass the limitations of geographic boundaries and preconceived notions of community to counter the power of nation-states and TNCs.

As Bennett points out, the latest ICT is used by organizations and activists as both an internal means of communication and a way to get issues on the public radar via the media. His best line was the quote from Joachim Raschke: “A movement that does not make it into the media is non-existent”(2). This is true in the sense that an issue or movement is more easily dismissed by prospective followers if it does not have the stamp of relevance or significance that media coverage (even negative coverage) provides. Many if not most movements tailor their behavior to attract media attention because it is deemed a valuable tool for exposure or promotion of their work and their cause.

Bennett’s focus in “New Media Power," however, is not whether activist groups use ICT— obviously they do— but what conditions enable activists to use these "new media" tools (4). These are the conditions that Bennett puts forth: the group’s acceptance that an issue has gotten out of hand and must be addressed by the people as opposed to leaving it to a government or other formal entity; a willingness to share with a diverse audience that may or may not self-identify with the cause; and the ability of today’s varied but integrated mediums of communication to reach the wide, diverse audience that may be interested in the group’s raison d'ĂȘtre.

Castells focuses on the utilization of wireless technology in social or political uprisings. He basically serves to rain a little bit on the communications-for-social-change parade, pointing out that the use of wireless communication in a campaign or movement does not guarantee success. The political and cultural context of both the conflict at hand (be it social, political, environmental, etc.) and the people trying to influence it are undeniably critical variables and can lead to different outcomes. The Internet is not the cure-all for our generation's communication and mobilization needs anymore than the telegraph was in the 19th century.

Overall, transnational organizations are a "people's" counterbalance to the power that governments and TNCs have on the global stage. In some instances, they become more than a bullhorn for the masses and actually manage to shake up the rituals of the status quo (example: the 2008 Olympic Torch relay). Even when they don't have that kind of tangible effect, they do provide a forum for exchange and expression that gives the more formal major players in the global arena an idea of what the little people on the ground have to say about the state of the world they live in.

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