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“We are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them.” This struck me as a peculiar line from Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings, which elides that his mission is in some part moral. It positions his conception of control as being the tool through which humanity could be held together, even if that necessitates disembodiment. I wonder to what extent Wiener’s project manifested within the context of the ‘nuclear threat’—both signifying political and physical entropy—and McCarthyist notions of “human decency” and “human values.” More so, what role might have American culture played in the movement of Wiener’s ideas from theory into praxis? As Hayles notes, “both the literary and scientific manifestations of chaotics are involved in feedback loops with the culture. They help to create the context that energizes the questions they ask; at the same time they also ask questions energized by the context.’

While reading Hayles, I found it useful to read “embodiment” as ‘interiority,’ a broader term through which we can think more about the body and its rights to remain opaque and contain private information. Given that liberalism, since Locke, has been about enclosure— the right to maintain one’s private space, and the erection of a wall between one’s own space and the rest of the world—how might we conceptualise opacity without flesh? Would this merely reinscribe the existing failures of liberalism? Might a reworking of intellectual property provide the solution?

A related thought I had while reading How We Became Posthuman was about how disembodiment might relate to a perceived ‘annihilation of space,’ a de-spatialisation of information for the very reason that it is “free to travel across time and space”—which is not necessarily the same as disembodiment. What might be the difference between a political approach set on re-embodiment and one set on re-spatialisation, one that perhaps finds a form of opacity without the baggage of liberalism?

This week, I found Castells’ optimism about the effects of increased communication on social movements inspiring. But, like Grant and others have pointed out, Castells’ argument seems to treat communication platforms as essentially neutral: internet social networks, for him, are mostly interesting in their capacity to connect large groups of people and to construct virtual spaces for togetherness (that then spill over into physical spaces).

 

But as we have seen in recent years, these platforms also experiment with (manipulate?) our emotional states (Facebook’s experiments), collect an overwhelming amount of data and are complicit in state-sponsored surveillance programs (Snowden’s revelations), shape what we events we believe are visible (feed filtering algorithms, Facebook’s tools to overlay French flags on our profile avatars), and have strong effects on our political views (discussions of online “filter bubbles,” “echo chambers,” and the like). Though social networks clearly play an important role in the movements Castells’ describes, I worry that leaving these issues mostly uninterrogated means that we’re not really touching on how social movements exist & create political change.

 

I’m curious what Castells would have to say about ISIS’s use of social media. The same sort of space-creation he celebrates in other movements seems to be happening in their online presence, and they’re able to foster a sense of togetherness and outrage at US imperialism (among other things) across borders. Online social platforms are clearly not neutral in their case (twitter, for example, repeatedly bans ISIS accounts), but it’s unclear how much control the creators of these platforms have over their use (some ISIS members append the number of times they’ve been banned to their account names, highlighting the ineffectiveness of such practices).

Castells brings up some interesting points of communication/bodies, free speech, and social revolution. Although he doesn’t dive deeper into these questions, maybe we can answer them with some of the material we have learned for this course:

1. on communication and the body:

“Communication is the process of sharing meaning through the exchange of information” (6)

Currently, I’m very interested how communication relates to education and the exchange of ideas. Castles places emphasis on the importance of physical space in the social movements:

“the occupation of public space was essential to make the movement visible…” (119)

Demands for specific black and latino bodies in the Brown faculty make me question what is the role of specific bodies in relation to communication on a college campus. Visibility seems to change the dynamic of discussion. I wish Castells had elaborated a bit more on this.

On the other hand, the U.S. government seems to be prepared to meet the demands of free college education through online universities (a cheaper option than physical college). What is the importance of physical bodies in the exchange of ideas? Maybe we can dramatically question the meaning of our existence at university in class.

2. on free speech:

The crux of these social movements seems to be the government prioritizing financial institutions/ gains over welfare and the inclusion of decisions of the people. While there is an obvious need for social programs, many of our readings operate under the assumption that all people have (in theory/ essentially) the equal right to opinion (everyone’s individual construction of truth is equal). Does the people’s outrage stem from their opinions being devalued? Why/ why not could their outrage be warranted? Maybe this relates to the arguments of free speech on college campuses today. I particularly liked Castell’s inclusion of the successful student movement of Chile (explained on page 237), because it’s one of the few examples of social movements still visible today because of the inclusion (and valuing) of citizen’s voices in the government.

3. on social revolution:

On another note, I found the spread of the networked social revolution extremely important to understanding social revolution today. Castells explains that a crucial preexisting condition “for [these] revolts was the existence of an Internet culture, made up of bloggers, social networks, and cyberactivism” (27).

A very important debate going on in my country, Nicaragua, is the construction of basically what is the new Panama Canal. It’s closer tot he United states (so it’s a cheaper option to send goods) and is projected to be wider and deeper than the Panama Canal (fits larger boats, also less cost because less boats). Here’s a short vice documentary covering the situation.

 

 

In short, the construction of the Canal threatens to displace many people and farms, and poses a huge ecological threat: lake Nicaragua is the largest reserve of water in Central America. Perhaps this situation is just a big deal to me, but Castells’ quote reminds me how important the Internet is in organizing social movements. Cell-phones play one of the most major roles in the development of internet culture (they are compact, can use anywhere). Nicaragua had the lowest mobile penetration rate in 2010, but there has been a dramatic increse in communication over the past 5 years:

“Despite the country’s gaping digital divide, the number of Facebook users in Nicaragua last year jumped from 150,000 to 700,000. That means nearly one in eight Nicaraguans is regularly posting status updates—an impressive jump in online activity for a country that just five years ago had less than 5% of its population connected to the Internet.” (http://nicaraguadispatch.com/2012/04/nicaragua-closing-digital-divide/)

Maybe this spike in online activity will allow for voices to be heard in the decisions of the Canal.

 

Manuel Castells’ book provides a thorough analysis of a few recent social movements against the backdrop of his theory on power presented in his earlier work Communication Power. This grounding framework, which expands onto politics, media, affect and communication is outlined in the opening as well as reinforced throughout the book. Such project of Castells’ book as well as its shortcomings is neatly summarized in previous blog posts.

What intrigued me was the role narrativization played in his observations and conclusions. I’d like to return to questions of discourse and link it to the discussion of consensus and narrative we’ve had before. Storytelling is invoked both as an internal and external practice in the movements Castells describes. On the one hand storytelling is attributed to media describing movements, on how they enter national and global histories and politics, how they serve as models and references.

While such narrativization can be an important step in the process of integrating movements into politics, as the final chapters show, and often in a problematic way, I am interested in the disruption of narrativization both on a large national scale and the individual scale.

In explaining Indignadas movement, Castells points out the inability of traditional media to grasp a leaderless movement, in which individual narrative creation and distribution flourished. The poetically inclined “movement of multiple, rich discourses” is celebrated (128). Here it is national, or transnational media that fails to assemble a narrative.

In describing the Occupy movement Castells cites research (Graham-Felson, 2011) that talks about story-telling capacities of Tumblr as a “go-to platform of the movement” (176) and the constant practice of storytelling though posting videos and images (180), he makes a claim that when it came to Occupy the narrative was sometimes even more muddled in terms of individual demands and specifications. He cites the complexities, yet the persistence of the practice of consensus building in the GAs throughout the movement. In studying the Occupy movement, Castells makes a point that the process of building consensus is more important than reaching the consensus. “Power is exercised by a combination of coercion and intimidation with persuasion and consensus building” – he writes earlier when describing Egyptian Revolution (79). It makes me wonder how exactly consensus building is aligned with power and whether it aligns with what Lyotard describes as metanarrative.

I guess at the end of it all, I was trying to apply the observations of this book towards the recent events in Ukraine that Sebastian, Marlena and I tried to grasp in the midterm presentation. Maidan Revolution that Castells describes very sparingly and describes as “nationalist uprising” at times follows the same patterns as the other social movements described in the book. But what happens in the process of the integration of the protests into politics encompasses both a tendency towards narrativization and a complete rejection of it. With all the muddled, and un-unified agenda that the candidate of Darth Vader presents on social and traditional media there is hardly a tendency towards a consensus. However it is hard to deny the status of a charismatic leader to this candidate epitomizing all at once fictional narratives of nationalism, Internet, and Hollywood franchise. Describing the future of networked social movements in the last chapters, Castells draws on a distinct cast of characters that partially take on some of the thinking that the movements produce (within the limitations of pragmatic politics). He describes the merging of movements and politics under the movement-party phenomenon. With the unfolding of the Star Wars campaign in the Ukrainian politics, what is at stake then is a the future of a Ukrainian networked movement, whether what is happening now is a distinct movement, a form of movement-party in Ukrainian politics, or whether it is a full-blown reincarnation of traditional political narrative.

Manuel Castells emphasizes that Occupy Wall Street began on Internet social networks, but was also crucially about the occupation of public space as a “space of autonomy” (168). He contends that the movement built a new form of space that involved a mix of “space of places” (the body on the street) and the “space of flows” on the Internet (Ibid). These occupied spaces also created what Castells calls a “new form of time” by interrupting the routine of daily life and creating a “parenthesis” with an undefined time horizon (169)–an indeterminacy that seems to resonate with the notion of virtuality.

Terannova’s sense of the virtual as “the spectre of the improbable, the fluctuation” that is evoked by the relation between the real and probable (20) articulates this notion of a temporal parenthesis in which the undetermined thrives between the given (class inequity, capitalist green) and the “(allegedly) unlikely” (10)  future at the end of a class struggle. The indeterminacy of living at these sites on a day-to-day basis, and Occupy’s disparate, frayed dreams of “not a piece of this society, but the whole of a different society” (188) are a parenthesis much like the “swerve;” Occupy Wall Street was/is a virtual movement in a doubled sense: virtual as a digital form and virtual in its undetermined mutations.

However, following Victor’s comments, I would add that these movements are also virtual as “spectres of the improbable” because they expose haunted everyday temporalities. Terranova theorizes the virtual as a question of how informational flows displace linguistic representation and cultural identity from the centre of cultural struggle in favour of mutations and movement (10). Yet, the lack of people of colour involved in Occupy Wall Street, and the gendered forms of violence that women involved in this movement and in the Arab Spring revolutions faced demonstrate how virtuality and race/gender/class are entangled, as the “parenthesis” of an undefined time horizon is not afforded to certain gendered or racialized bodies; the “interruption” of everydayness, for some, is not an interruption of daily life but the rehearsal of determined, historical oppression.

As Victor pointed out, the creation of “public space” is coded with race, gender, sexuality, and class. (Why is a movement that “demanded everything and nothing at the same time” (185) read as a pivotal surge of outrage, while #Blacklivesmatter is criticized for being exclusive?) More broadly, how does the occupation and creation of public space –both in the material and digital form—involve forms of displacements and perhaps settlements?

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.

This week I was most interested in the topic of Occupy Wall Street in “Networks of Outrage and Hope.” I was particularly drawn to questions of space with Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, the very core of the movement was occupation of space. However, this space seemed to exist beyond Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Cyberspace seemed equally as important (if not, more important) than the literal spaces being occupied across the country. Also interesting is how spaces move and shift between cyberspace and urban space. This 21st century movement brings up many questions regarding the distortion and occupation of spaces both online and beyond. Castells proposes: “The space of the movement is always made of an interaction between he space of flows on the Internet and the wireless communication networks, and the space of places of the occupied sites and of symbolic buildings targeted by protest actions. This hybrid of cyberspace and urban space constitutes a third space that I call the space of autonomy” (250). He proposes this space as the new form of 21st century movements. I’d like to think about this more.

Lastly, I can’t help but think about this movement without considering Sara Ahmed’s arguments about the social politics of emotion. Particularly her discussion of stickiness and her example of the American flag. Indeed, after reading her book, I do think the repetition of phrases and images in Occupy Wallstreet like “We are the 99%” and guy fawkes masks were essential in unifying the group. Especially because the movement was so large, vast, and leaderless, a sense of cohesion was important. What else does repetition do for a movement? I’d also like to think about this as a consumer of media. As Occupy Wall Street was one of the most recorded movements in history, how did image repetition (in particular) affect our understanding of the movement? What does a revolution look like in an age of proliferation (of information, images, data)?

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?

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.

“the fundamental power struggle is the battle for the construction of meaning in the minds of the people.” (8) I’m interested in superimposing the signification-representation-identification / circulation-mass-image framework from Terranova/Halpern on this: what’s the relationship between mass movements and new political representations/meanings? Castells writes that movements require a combination of affective engagement and intensification, spreading through networks quickly [fear and enthusiasm, 13], alongside some signifying catalyst [“an unbearable event suffered by someone with whom they identify” (15)]. In other words, some degree of identification is necessary in order to convert underlying, shared emotion into a meaningful political movement, even while such a shift carries the individual into the deindividuated, asocial mass. w/r/t Victor’s critique, Castells writes, “only a democratic policy can ensure an economy that works as if people’s lives mattered.” (315) What does it mean for a life to matter? This implies not just [and I’m not sure what the relationship between these two is] political representation but also some degree of coherent interpellation: Terranova (138) discusses how the mass arises in an individual when their interpellation becomes impossibly contradictory and fractured. If, then, those “for which full citizenship is impossible as a feature of the current political and economic organization” cannot count on democracy, it’s because of this gap between the political and the social – signifying political representation isn’t commensurable with affective social interpellation. But they’re related: social exclusion is required? for the presumption of an egalitarian political field. So then what do social/protest movements give us, and how can they impact our understanding of the social/political beyond the movement itself?