Archive for the ‘Manuel Castells’ Category

Manuel Castells “Networks of Outrage and Hope”

January 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Castells, Manuel 2012. Networks of Outrage and Hope. Social Movements in the Internet Age. Cambridge; Malden: Polity.


Occupied spaces:

1)      They create community, and community is based on togetherness. […] But they always defined an „in and out“, an „us versus them“, so that by joining an occupied site, and defying the bureaucratic norms of the use of space, other citizens could be part of the movement without adhering to any ideology or organization, just by being there for their own reasons.

2)      Occupied spaces are not meaningless: they are usually charged with the symbolic power of invading sites of state power, or financial institutions. […] The control of spae symbolizes the control over people’s lives.

3)      By constructing a free community in a symbolic place, social movements create a public space, a space for deliberation, which ultimately becomes a political space, a space for sovereign assemblies to meet and to recover their rights of representation, which have been captured in political institutions predominantly tailored for the convenience of the dominant interests and values. In our society, the public space of the social movements is constructed as a hybrid space between the Internet social networks and the occupied urban space: connecting cyberspace and urban space in relentless interaction, constituting, technologically and culturally, instant communities of transformative practice. (10-11)

The critical matter is that this new public space, the networked space between the digital space and the urban space, is a space of autonomous communication. (11)

At the individual level, social movements are emotional movements. […] But the big bang of a social movements starts with the transformation of emotion into action. (13)

However, for a social movement to form, the emotional activation of individuals must connect to other individuals. This requires a communication process from one individual experience to others. (14)

The characteristics of communication processes between individuals engaged in the social movement determine the organizational characteristics of the social movement itself: the more interactive and self-configurable communication is, the less hierarchical is the organization and the more participatory is the movement. This is why the networked social movements of the digital age represent a new species of social movement. (15)

Thus, it seems that in Tunisia we find a significant convergence of three distinctive features:

1)      The existence of an active group of unemployed college graduates, who led the revolt, bypassing any formal, traditional leadership;

2)      The presence of a strong cyberactivism culture that had engaged in the open critique of the regime for over one decade;

3)      A relatively high rate of diffusion of Internet use, including household connections, schools and cybercafés. (29)

Since my main interest here is not about war games but about the fate of social movements, what appears clearly is that once the movement engages in military violence to counter military violence, it loses its character as a democractic movement to become a contender, sometimes as ruthless as its oppressors, in a bloody civil war. […] In a certain sense, civil wars not only kill people, they also kill social movements and their ideals of peace, democracy and justice. (99-100)

Yet, even a new medium, as powerful and participatory as the Internet’s social networks, is not the message. The message constructs the medium. As Toret argues, the message went viral because it resonated with people’s personal experiences. And the key message was a rejection of the entire political and economic institutions that determine people’s lives. Because as one banner in Madrid said, „This is not a crisis, it is that I do not love you any more.“ But how is new love found? (122)

The new subjectivity appeared in the network: the network became the subject. (129 – indignadas)

Yet, from the early stages of the movement it was clear that the main action concerned raising consciousness among its participants and the population at large. The assemblies and commissions were not gatherings to prepare revolutionary actions: they were not a means, but a goal in themselves. […] Just saying loudly and collectively what everybody had been keeping inside for years was a liberating gesture that made the movement more expressive than instrumental in the short term. Since we know that emotions are the drivers of collective action, this could in fact be a key for future social change, a major issue that I will discuss below. (133-134 – indignadas)

In sum, there was almost total exteriority between the movement and the political system, both organizationally and ideologically. (138 – indignadas)

[…] the movement clearly voices the feeling and opinion of people at large. It is not a marginal protest, and refuses to be enclosed in radical, ideological ghetto. Its ideas diffuse and are accepted by most people because they connect with the movement’s frustration. But the ways to link these feelings with action, leading to material change in people’s lives and social institutions, are still to be explored. Because this is exactly what new politics is. This sincere search undertaken by most in the movement is still a work in progress. (143- indignadas)

In fact, the process is the product. Not that th ultimate product (a new society) is irrelevant. But this new society willl result from the process, not from a preconceived blueprint of what the product should be. This is the true revolutionary transformation: the material production of social change not from programmatic goals but from the networked experiences of the actors in the movement. This is why inefficient assemblies are important, because these are the learning curves of new democracy. This is why commissions exist and die depending not on their effectiveness but on the commitment of people contributing their time and ideas. This is why non-violence is a fundamental practice, because a non-violent world cannot be created out of violence. Because they think this non-productivist logic in the movement is the most important mental transformation, they accept the slowness of the process, and they place themselves in the long haul, because slowness is a virtue: it allows for self-reflection, makes it possible to correct mistakes, and provides space and time to enjoy the process of changing the world in the makeing. „We are slow because we go far“ was one of the most popular banners in the movement. (144)

There are nodes of Internet networks, locally and globally, and there are personal networks, vibrating with the pulse of a new kind of revolution whose most revolutionary act is the invention of itself. (144-145)

Thus, the Occupy movement built a new form of space, a mixture of space of places, in a given territory, and space of flows, on the Internet. One could not function without the other; it is this hybrid space that characterized the movement. Places made possible face-to-face interaction, sharing the experience, the danger and the difficulties as well as facing together the police and enduring together rain, cold and the loss of comfort in their daily lives. But social networks on the Internet allowed the experience to be communicated and amplified, bringing the entire world into the movement, and creating a permanent forum of solidarity, debate and strategic planning. (168-169)

Occupied spaces also created a new form of time, which some in the camps characterized as a feeling of „forever.“ The routine of their daily lives was interrupted; a parenthesis was open with an undefined time horizon. Many thought that the occupations would last as long as the institutions remained unresponsive to their critiques and requests. Given the uncertainty of when and if the eviction would come, the occupations lived on a day-to-day basis, without deadlines, thus freeing themselves from time constraints, while rooting the occupation in everyday life experience. This made the timeless time of the occupation an experience that was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time […] (169)

This is its strength and its weakness. But this is what this movement is, not a surrogate for an old left always looking to find fresh support for its unreconstructed view of the world. No demands, and every demand; not a piece of this society, but the whole of a different society. (188)

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-à-vis the institutions of society. Indeed, when societies fail in managing their structural crises by the existing institutions, change can only take place out of the system by a transformation of power relations that starts in people’s minds and develops in the form of networks built by the projects of new actors constituting themselves as the subjects of the new history in the making. And the Internet that, like all technologies, embodies material culture, is a privileged platform for the social construction of autonomy. (228)

Furthermore, there is a deeper, fundamental connection between the Internet and networked social movements: they share a specific culture, the culture of autonomy, the fundamental cultural matrix of contemporary societies. Social movements, while emerging from the suffering of people, are distinct from protest movements. They are essentially cultural movements, movements that connect the demands of today with the projects of tomorrow. And the movements we are observing embody the fundamental project of transforming people into subjects of their own lives by affirming their autonomy vis-à-vis the institutions of society. (230)

Autonomy refers to the capacity of a social actor to become a subject by defining its action around projects constructed independently of the institutions of society, according to the values and interests of the social actor. The transition from individuation to autonomy is operated through networking, which allows individual actors to build their autonomy with likeminded people in the networks of their choice. (231)

The uncertainty of an uncharted process of political change seems to be the main barrier to overcome for movements that have already exposed the illegitimacy of the current powers that be. Nevertheless, love between social activism and political reformism does not appear to be impossible: it is simply hidden from the public view while citizens waver in their minds between desire and resignation. (237)

Even in the unlikely case that they [social movements] transform themselves into a political actor, a party or some new form of agency, they will cease their existence by this very fact. (244)