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Castell’s book felt incomplete, and I can not quite identify what I feel is missing. However, his chapter, Changing the World in the Network Society, offered a glimpse into where his logic is hard to follow. I have been trying to answer the question of the role of social media in social movements in my own studies. Particularly, I want to broach the gap between online and offline networks, and identify reasons why, through that gap, particular social movements are unsuccessful. In failing to answer that question, Castells helped to shed light on my own.

First, Castells did not identify what he considers to be a “successful” social movement — what terms define success? He offers a mitigated response: “They do have multiple demands: most of the time, all possible demands from citizens avid about deciding the conditions of their own lives. But because demands are multiple and motivations unlimited, they cannot formalize any organization or leadership because their consensus, their togetherness, depends on ad hoc deliberation and protest, not on fulfilling a program built around specific goals: this is both their strength (wide open appeal), and their weakness (how can anything be achieved when the goals to be achieved are undefined?)” (255). That is, the strengths of networked social movements that are facilitated primarily by the online sphere come from their indeterminacy, or the multiplicity of ideas generated online. The success, he seems to be saying, comes simply from the existence of the social movement, rather than concretely outlined steps that are put into action: “There is a much deeper connection between social movements and political reform that could activate social change: it takes place in the minds of the people. The actual goal of these movements is to raise awareness among citizens at large, to empower them through their participation in the movement and in a wide deliberation about their lives and their country, and to trust their ability to make their own decisions in relation to the political class… The ultimate battle for social change is decided in the minds of the people” (264). Thus, social movements present a utopic view of a particular context, and work to promote that utopic view in the minds of both participants and politicians. Simply put, “These movements are rarely programmatic movements, except when they focus on a clear, single issue: deep down with the dictatorial regime” (255). Further, “They aim to transform the state but not to seize the state. They express feelings and stir debate but do not create parties or support governments… What these networked social movements are proposing in their practice is a new utopia at the heart of the culture of the network society: the utopia of the autonomy of the subject vis-a-vis the institutions of society” (256). The networked Internet is an effective platform in order to construct that inclusive utopia of a future democracy. However, where the network falls short is implementing that utopia.

Yes, Castell argues that spreading knowledge and attitudes is a valuable asset to a community — however, he fails to acknowledge the components of the Tunisian revolution, for example, that enabled concrete implementation of practices. There occurred large-scale debates which were both inclusive and consequential — they enabled discussion and policymaking decisions. Democracy-forming (however we define that) does, in fact, take time, and influencing the mindset of participants is important. However, so are the actual policies. Castell argues that “the role of the Internet… creates the conditions for a form of shared practice that allows a leaderless movement to survive, deliberate, coordinate and expand” (257). However, where is the proof that a leaderless movement, without concrete demands and steps forward, is “successful”? Perhaps his framing of social movements are viewed as successful — however, I would like to reframe success. Success does involve an overhaul of public perceptions and actions, through a networked Internet revolution. However, particularly in democracy-forming states, concrete steps must be accomplished as well. Consider even the American Congress and the American people, faced with countless issues. While American perception of certain issues changes, without implemented steps to act on that change, a predetermined and entrenched government (as we see in Syria, which has escalated into a full- scale war) will not implement tangible policy changes. The question then becomes: what can broach that gap between the online and offline space, if social networks are not doing so? I still do not have an answer to that question.

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