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Castells begins his work by making a few moves to define his project, and these are worth drawing out. He writes that “social movements, certainly now, and probably in history […] are made of individuals. […] The key question to understand is when and how and why one person or one thousand persons decided, individually, to do something that they are repeatedly warned not to do because they will be punished” (12-3). So, Castells is interested in a classic definition of discourse, or those institutions of power in a given historical society and moment that regulate the movements of collective bodies under the regimes of knowledge and power that form the will of the individual. His next move is to bring affect into the equation (and I recognize that Castell’s definition of the term is doesn’t quite align with the deployment of the concept by other thinkers we’ve looked at, but hey): “the big bang of a social movement starts with the transformation of emotion into action” (13). For Castells, the motivation of a social movement comes down to an enthusiasm for the “positive emotion” of hope: “hope projects behavior into the future. Since a distinctive feature of the human mind is the ability to imagine the future, hope is a fundamental ingredient in supporting goal-seeking action” (16). Then, of course, because of our increasingly digitized and “participatory” communication systems, he makes the claim: “this is why the networked social movements of the digital age represent a new species of social movement” (15). There are a host of problems that come along with this kind of argument and I’m not trying to detract from Victor’s excellent diagnosis (that I agree with) of the problems of democracy fetishism operating in a piece like this, but I want to draw out how Castells doesn’t just focus on the history of discourses, but on the history of communication technologies and infrastructures as well. Not just discourses, but also the networks.

 

This is very clear in his description of what happened during the Egyptian revolution when the Mubarak regime “turned off” the Internet. This event did work to demonstrate how the Internet isn’t just another network, but a network of networks. When one hyper visible network disappeared, others that were operating silently in the background loomed up out of the dark: landline telephone use became crucial (“they were not cut because countries nowadays cannot function without telephony of some kind” (65)) as did fax machines, etc. For Castells, “an old-fashioned technology became instrumental in overcoming government censorship. Altogether, these different means added to the formation of a dense, multimodal network of communication that kept the movement connected within Egypt and with the world at large” (65). I think that this line of thinking opens up another avenue from which we can put the question to Castells: if we have both the local and the world composed of concatenated discourse/networks (religions, political movements, technological advances, etc.), then what, specifically, is so exceptional about the Internet as a social motivator? The end of the line for this mode of thought, as Bruno Latour has convincingly argued, is that modernity or contemporary epistemological thinking is simply a perch from which we view the technoscientific progress of the human (we have never, in effect, been modern). But, as we see with Castells, the Internet isn’t a standard Network – it doesn’t really fit this structure because it has its dynamisms in both the technological and the social. Then, is there a way in which the Internet—as a network of networks—changes what the term network means? Is it still about the net / work we get out of a system?

 

For Latour, “the word network indicates that resources are concentrated in a few places – the knots and nodes – which are connected with one another – the links and the mesh: these connections transform scattered resources into a net that may seem to extend everywhere. Telephone lines, for instance, are minute and fragile, so minute that they are invisible on a map and so fragile that each may be easily cut; nevertheless the telephone network ‘covers’ the whole world” (Science in Action, 180). We saw last week, with Sara Ahmed’s analysis, that, contra-Latour, node to node thinking is not sufficient for conceptualizing how human emotions work as social mechanism: each new node and connection form another network. Is there a way in which the Internet has a similar functionality, as Terranova noted of movement dynamics in a topological field? In light of some of the examples given by Castells, the traditional definition of network does not seem sufficient for contemporary political analysis. For Castells, curiously, it always comes back to the human body in the form of emotions like hope. For Ahmed, if we recall: “hope involves a relationship to the present, and to the present as affected by its imperfect translation of the past. It is in the present that the bodies of subjects shudder with an expectation of what is otherwise; it is in the unfolding of the past in the present” (184). Ahmed’s formulation is much more convincing for me, but how would hope – in Ahmed’s terms – be operating in some of the scenarios outlined by Castells? What is a body for Castells, if not a node?

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