Manuel Castells, 2012 Conference
ANN-SONIC Fourth Annual International Seminar on Network Theory:
Networked Social Movements and Network Theory
Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Age of the Internet
Presentation summary by Nina O’Brien
Manuel Castells is the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society at the University of Southern California and Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Dr. Castells also holds joint appointments in the Department of Sociology, the School of Policy, Planning and Development and the School of International Relations, and is Research Professor at the Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, where he previously held the post of Professor of City and Regional Planning and Professor of Sociology.
In the concluding session of the 2012 ANN-SONIC Network Theory Conference, Manuel Castells shared insights from his book Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Age of the Internet, forthcoming from Polity Press in September 2012. Observing the worldwide spread of social movement activity over the past two years, and as an extension of Communication Power (2009), Castells’ new volume examines communication power, affective intelligence, networked social movements, and the Occupy movement in particular. Castells’ presentation at this conference provided the “headlines” about the explosion of social movement activity since 2010, what these movements represent, and the characteristics they share. After briefly outlining the chapters of the new book (Comparing Iceland and Tunisia, Egypt, The Arab Spring, Social Movements in Spain, and the Occupy Movement) Castells described the features common to a wide variety of contemporary movements.
First, Castells emphasized that these movements are all networked, and networked in multiple forms: networked in cities, networked in their organization, and networked in their tactics. The technologies for (social) networking are essential parts of these larger movement networks because they break through the monopoly of controlled media and therefore allow movements to extend beyond the control, beyond the authority of the state. The networked form of a movement also allows for its lack of formal leadership. Network structures create the distributed capacities for information distribution and decision making, allowing anyone to contribute. Movement networks of the kind Castells observes are resilient because they constantly reconfigure themselves, and are therefore more resistant to repression, factionalism, infighting and so on. In other words, networked movements can survive attacks from without, as well as from within.
A second characteristic of the movements Castells describes is their visibility: while these movements may be born in, and may make effective use of, the internet and other technologies for communication and coordination, they become movements by becoming visible in urban spaces. The many modalities of networks are manifest in a public space within which the occupation of urban spaces creates “material conditions of togetherness.” Protest and occupation begin in particular places, and are subsequently linked up through global networks, which make these places simultaneously specific and symbolic, both local and global in nature.
Third, Castells emphasizes the importance of affective intelligence and emotions. Beyond appeals to class or community, people respond emotionally, as individuals, to that which takes place around them. Of particular significance is the individual’s response to fear. When individuals come together, their collective outrage can generate hope which presents a challenge and an antidote to fear. Images are vital to the success of these movements because of their appeal to emotions, and their distribution draws individuals into a collective affective response.
Fourth, these movements are explicitly nonviolent, steeped in principles of civil disobedience. However, where paths to civil disobedience are blocked, there emerge pressures which can lead to violence. This is problematic for movements because violence can delegitimate. Indeed, states may seek to promote or provoke violence because of its ability to undermine popular support for these movements and their actions. Beyond nonviolence as a cornerstone, the current movements are remarkably open and non-programmatic: as social movements they are aimed at the values of society, not at particular ideologies or outcomes. This does not mean they are not political, indeed, they are extremely political in the sense that they aim to change the rules of democracy, rather than engage in partisanship. Last, Castells emphasized movement process over movement outcomes, noting that only through transformation of the political process can the institutional resistance to change be overcome.
Castells closed with a historical note: many of the individuals driving Occupy from the outset were “refugees” from the Obama campaign. The Obama campaign was an effort to change the rules, but Obama’s “capture” by financial elites has created a real disillusionment: together with the financial crisis these events make clear that the current system has exhausted its political legitimacy. The fact that this sentiment is widespread, that it is something people feel and think about is more important than the permanence or success of any individual movement. Indeed all movements die; what is important is how productive a movement and its death can be in terms of the affective intelligence it generates, the outrage it provokes, and the transformative hope which is its legacy.
In the question and answer period following the presentation, conference participants raised and discussed important issues about the roles of fear and violence. As well, conversation turned to the internal dynamics of the movement, in which positions of structural inequality among movement participants can threaten to reproduce those inequalities: for example the representation of women and people of color within the movement. Castells noted that while individuals may accuse the movement of not representing the issues of particular groups, “the answer is we don’t represent anyone: you’re all here and everyone expresses their identity politics within that.” An alternative narrative to the Occupy movement’s role in changing the discourse on values was presented by a participant who noted that for many years, a majority or even a supermajority of individuals have argued that corporations and the very wealthy have too much power and contribute too little to society at large. However the Occupy movement was regarded as being particularly important for its role in “holding Obama’s feet to the fire.” In its rhetorical device of the 99%, the Occupy movement has created an affective banner that everyone, even Obama, can get behind.