Comunication, Power and Counterpower in the Network Society

Joignez-vous a L'Espagne ... The Spanish 'indignados' called for a "global revolution" back in May 2011

October 15 saw the first global rally ever. With some 900 cities from across 80 countries participating in some degree, it has been the culmination of a year of spontaneous, massive gatherings, which range from the peaceful Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados and the Occupy Wall Street movement to the more violent London riots and the demonstrations in Greece and Chile.

But what can be seen as an organizational success has been promoted indeed by many actors that don’t even know each other. The truth is, besides being fueled by the negative economic scenario, the emergence of social media and mass self-communication has been absolutely definite in the construction of these movements, suggests Manuel Castells.

Without the means and ways of mass self-communication, the new movements and new forms of insurgent politics could not be conceived. Of course, there is a long history of communication activism, and social movements have not waited for Internet connection in order to struggle for their goals using every available communication medium. Yet, currently the new means of digital communication constitute their most decisive organizational form, in a clear break with the traditional forms of organization of parties, unions and associations of the industrial society, albeit these social actors are now evolving towards the new organizational model built around networked communication. For new social movements, the Internet provides the essential platform for debate, their means of acting on people’s mind, and ultimately serves as their most potent political weapon.
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Is mass self-communication enabling a fairer play between power and counterpower forces? And most importantly, as we asked some weeks ago: will these movements benefit democracy in the long term, or will they become an obstacle to unpopular but necessary measures?

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Citizen engagement will be discussed in our breakout session ‘If We Build It, Will They Come: Why Meaningful Citizen Engagement is Hard’, November 9, 1100 to 1230, with Anas QtieshSean ClearyChat García RamiloSusan PointerHenry SweetbaumKjell Magne Bondevik and Petre Roman.

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Mass self-communication: a dream or a nightmare?

With new technologies redrawing media and society, a deep economic crisis caused by a Wall Street crash, and a democracy that needed to be fought for, the 1930′s scenario was quite similar to today’s. And opinions were as antagonical as today’s.

This is what German political poet and playwright Bertolt Bretch dreamed in 1932:

Radio is one-sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to Public occasions is a step in the right direction.
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But this is what Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset feared in 1930:

There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. As the masses, by definition, neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest crisis that can afflict peoples, nations, and civilisation.
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Are we now facing Bretch’s dream or Ortega y Gasset’s nigthmare?

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Both our opening and closing sessions deal with this topic:

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