Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age by Manuel Castells looks at a number of worldwide social movements that have used the internet as a platform for mobilizing awareness and creating autonomy. He specifically calls for a “grounded theory of power” in order to argue that networked social movements are today’s denouncement of corporatized democracy. In other words, Castells believes that these movements are in search for authentic democratic practices of freedom for all people. In his introduction he discusses systems of power that materially and symbolically manipulate people’s mind into believing that that structure distributes resources equally and fairly. However, similar to Coombe and Coleman, he speaks to the importance of counterpower, which he believes is as important because it is an outcome or response to the hegemonic powers of the state. Networked social movements, as he argues, provide an analysis of counterpower resistance because they not only ground themselves in exemplifying the distrust of their own government, but they also allow people to become agents of their lives by demanding recognition from the state. He adds, “the way people think determines the fate of the institutions, norms, and values on which societies are organized” (5). Networked social movements are spaces of awareness and critical consciousness because the people participating are not only challenging institutional constructions of democracy, but in doing so, they are redefining their own understanding of democratic freedom. Castells does not privilege material change; (although he briefly mentions some institutional/structural changes that occurred in certain societies as a result of their social movements) instead he decides to value what consciousness is doing in these movements. He says,
“there is a 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” (236).
1. Castells speaks of the importance of people’s consciousness in the effectiveness of social movements. Is consciousness strategically essentialized on interactive networks of communication? What does consciousness look like?
2. Can social movements that focus more on “the discourses of its actors, rather than in specific demands” successfully bring about structural change? (125)
3. I believe Castells in some way romanticizes networked social movements because he doesn’t really invest in the material tensions that come about having a structure-less social movement. Ideally, all his examples express the distrust of the “political class” and he further illustrates the importance of autonomy in social movements. However, does autonomy look different for different people because it is often influenced by their own social locality, which as we know is also a direct result of historical constructions of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, etc. Therefore, what are the dangers of romanticizing networked social movements that Castells argues ground themselves in authentic democratic practices? If ones definition of freedom, or ones response to institutional discrimination, inequality, prejudice or state repression looks different because of the historical stratification of identities, can we say there is such thing as an authentic democracy? Is Castells doing more harm than good when he romanticizes collaborative efforts of political change, instead of addressing, perhaps racial, gender, and class tensions within the movement? Or do movements themselves strategically or momentarily abandon these realities in order to mobilize a larger political goal that challenges ideological distributions of power.