Communication Power and Counter-Power in the Network Society

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With these words, the Spanish sociologist and professor Manuel Castells, in his article ‘Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society’, introduces a very complex and current topic in the arena of communication: the power relations in an era of local and global interconnection, where the mass media system is the main channel of communication between the political system and the citizens, and the mass self-communication is emerging as a new kind of media space. The author addresses the subject of the aforementioned power relations in the political context, which is being every day more and more determined in the communication field.

Castells (2007, p.239) defines both sides of the conflict, understanding power as “the structural capacity of a social actor to impose its will over another social actor (s)”; and counter-power as “the capacity of a social actor to resist and challenge power relations that are institutionalized”. For the purpose of a better comprehension of the dynamics of these power relations, he sustains that they are focus on shaping the society and depend on the process of socialized communication.

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Moreover, the author himself reflects on this topic in an article published a year after the reviewed one, where he says: “It is the interaction between citizens, civil society, and the state, communicating through the public sphere, that ensures that the balance between stability and social change is maintained in the conduct of public affairs. If citizens, civil society, or the state fail to fulfill the demands of this interaction, or if the channels of communication between two or more of the key components of the process are blocked, the whole system of representation and decision making comes to a stalemate” (Castells, 2008, pp.

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From the perspective of the new technological framework –both at the time of the present article and nowadays-, the Spanish academic upholds that politics is first and foremost media politics, and “what does not exist in the media does not exist in the public mind” (Castells, 2007, p.241). Thereupon, a political message has no other choice but being a media message. Regardless of media not holding the power per se, they do play a substantial role as a platform where power is decided. As a consequence of the previously mentioned, politics is subject to media politics. On this regard, professor Petros Iosifidis (2011, p.621) states that “media should tend to maximize debates over political ideas and contribute to public information and argumentation which are essential to the maintenance of democracy”.

On the other hand, Castells also refers the personalization of politics in leaders, and how major issues such as credibility, trust, character are essential issues when determining the political landscape. Therefore, destroying credibility is currently the most lethal political weapon. Under those circumstances, the combination of media politics and personality politics results on scandal politics. According to the author, political legitimacy is a worldwide crisis. Nevertheless, distrusting the system is not a synonym of depoliticization, since “many citizens believe they can influence the world with their mobilization” (Castells, 2007, p.245). Social movements are, therefore, the representation of counter-power, and in order to have a political intervention in public space, they will need media space as well. With that in mind, the Spanish professor links the upsurge of insurgent politics to the emergence of mass self-communication as a different media space.

”Appropriating the new forms of communication, people have built their own system of mass communication” (Castells, 2007, pp.246-247). With this new media platform, people can also reconsider their role towards politics and as members of social movements given the case. By the same token, the researcher Allison Cavanagh (2007, p.68, cited in Lindgren, 2017, p.153) states: “[The internet] appears as a redemptive force, offering the possibility of breaking through the walls which segment the audience from each other, and requiring participation above and beyond passive presence”. In contrast, Iosifidis proposes a different approach to the uses of the new kind of media space: Although these spaces are now common, they do not constitute public spheres in any rigorous sense, for they allow the public merely to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation in civic life. […] More crucially, sharing political news and joining a political cause or a civil movement might simply imply a wish to broadcast their own activism to friends; it does not necessarily result in enhanced political awareness or more politically engaged citizenship (2011, p.627).

Yet, Castells sustains that mainstream media take advantage of the interactive networks in matters of content distribution and audience interaction, and for once, both vertical and horizontal communication models are intertwined. The mixture vertical-horizontal in communication gives birth to a new media reality: the global-reaching, multimodal, self-generated, self-directed and self-selected mass self-communication. social movements also act on this global network structure and enter the battle over the minds by intervening in the global communication process. They think local, rooted in their society, and act global” (Castells, 2007, p.249). Furthermore, Iosifidis agrees with the opportunities offered by new type of media space: “They [online forums or social spaces of the Web 2.0] appear to be ideal spaces for initiating public debate and social change” (2011, p.622).

As conclusion, the author states that the power holders are faced by their counterpart, which can be either “social movements, individual autonomy projects, and insurgent politics”. The rise of mas self-communication has become a window for the counter-power. In the light of this, both sides of power have realized that their confrontation must be held in within the “horizontal communication networks”. dominant elites are confronted by the social movements, individual autonomy projects, and insurgent politics that find a more favorable terrain in the emerging realm of mass self-communication. Under such circumstances, a new round of power making in the communication space is taking place, as power holders have understood the need to enter the battle in the horizontal communication networks” (Castells, 2007, pp. 259-260).

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Communication Power and Counter-Power in the Network Society. (2021, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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