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Castells’ fetishisation of democracy, as many posts have pointed out, is problematic. It leads him to  regularly confuse two understandings of citizenship: as a right, and as a relation. There is a tendency in the US to think about democracy purely in terms of the former, amidst a wider ideological pursuit of the ‘rights’ codified in the country’s constitution.

It might be this that has led to the impasse between the discourse of democracy in the US and the  “cultural politics of emotion”—the discourse in which the Blacklivesmatter movement has most effectively engaged. The political motives of Blacklivesmatter, I believe, are a rearrangement of relations vis-a-vis the state, which, as is worth emphasising in this case, is legitimated by its monopoly on violence. The movement seeks, just like the ideal liberal democracy, to regulate the terms on which that monopoly of violence is exercised. I wonder, therefore, whether the language of democracy can be maintained in the discussion of social justice, if we consider it as solely having to do with relation.

That said, I by no means endorse Castells. He has a utopian understanding of the Internet as an inherently communal space that “supports cooperation and solidarity.” Networks are equally capable of engendering apathy and anaesthetising emotion. In a recent post, I wrote about what I called ‘performative emergences,’ hoping to eschew the language of ‘the collective’ and ‘the individual.’ I used the word “performative” to emphasise that the politicised moment of ‘arising from the mass,’ what Castells called “individuation,” can be as much affected as emotional. To what extent might affectation displace emotion in these moments of emergence? Is “individuation,” a moment which Castells describes as a breaking from the state, equally capable of reproducing consent?

Is it not the case that this individual, in this seeming position of autonomy, undergoing hyperindividuation or maybe alienation, loses consciousness of their relational ties vis-a-vis the state? Might this be a new ideological function of liberalism, mobilising a discourse of autonomy to the ends of depoliticisation?

Maybe this “asignifying rupture,” performative or not, is necessary in the pursuit of a reconfigured democracy, a democracy that can only be built once supposing a separation from the existing apparatus, but, still, things are certainly more complicated than Castells suggests.

Another series of questions worth pursuing would be how networks, in Castells’s conception of them as “always horizontal,” might be considered war machines, always seeking to reify themselves in spatial and political arrangements.

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