Public Sociology

Manuel Castells


Manuel Castells is currently Professor of Sociology, and Director of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), in Barcelona. He is especially associated with information society and communication research. The 2000–09 research survey of the Social Sciences Citation Index ranks him as the world’s fifth most-cited social science scholar, and the foremost-cited communication scholar. He has authored 23 books, including the trilogy “The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.” He has also co-authored and edited an additional 22 books. Among other distinguished appointments he was a member of the United Nations Secretary General´s Advisory Board on Information Technology and Global Development, and a member of the United Nations Secretary General´s Advisory Panel on the Global Civil Society. He is also a trustee of the California Institute of the Arts. In 2005 he was appointed by the European Commission to be a founding member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council. In 2008 he was appointed to the Governing Board of the new European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) created by the European Union to stimulate the research cooperation between universities, business and society.


Read Manuel Castells’ “Communication Power,” then join the global discussion on Facebook!

Discussion Summaries & Comments

Barcelona (February 13, 2012):

Lecture 2: Manuel Castells On Monday we discussed the Manuel Castells debate and we related it with the “indignados” movement of Spain. Castells talked about the network importance and about how these networks become globally something which happens locally. This is exactly what happens with the “indignados” movement, that here in Spain we call 15M. This movement started at the local level, in different cities and town’s assemblies, and had an impact at the global level. But, how can this global movement impact back the local needs? We discussed about that. That is key in public sociology. Castells thinks that the role of public sociology is to help the public to think. The Barcelona group was very interested in the question that one student addressed to the speaker about whether the reverse can happen, so how the public can lead to rethink the theory of a professional. We discussed about how academics can learn from that public, and particularly how we articulate a public sociology that makes us rethink our positions as researchers. The expert should take people into account. Dialogue between social scientists and civil society is needed to advance in society, but someone has to channel it. Is this the role of public sociologists? Furthermore, we spoke about Castells’ theory of Informational Age. Technology and public sociology can be easily linked, in other words, everybody can create knowledge, not only the scientists. But, we discussed here a crucial point: is everybody interested in creating this knowledge? Is everybody interested in this shared participation? Do scientists have resistance? If knowledge is created between everyone, the sociologist as expert loses this sense, and we are not sure everyone agrees on that, but it is certain that thinks are moving in this direction. The 15M movement provides a great impulse to this change. Public sociology challenges the hierarchy of power, and pushes them to rethink. As researchers, we have a responsibility to the public. Tools such as Twitter, are examples of the power of communication and allow an international debate on many issues, more people can get more information and more people can comment, discuss and open debates. Finally we had also a debate about the creation of meaning, one element we consider very important. If a researcher does not find meaning in people’s lives, their study does not make sense. People move and are active when they find meaning, and the 15M is a very strong source of meaning making for many citizens and also many young sociologists. A Spanish network of Young Sociologists for the Real Democracy was created after the 15M movement.

Michelle Kolpack (UC Berkeley): Thanks for your insightful post, Ana! Hello from Berkley, California! It’s great to hear about how you all discussed the relations between local/global movements and the production of knowledge. I was especially interested in Castells’ view about how people outside the academic realm can produce knowledge, given that hierarchical power structures drive the production of dominant knowledge and discourse, as he emphasizes. To me, he seemed as if he was explaining how professional sociologists can produce one type of knowledge, while public actors with informal education have another type of knowledge that is crucial for understanding social issues. I think that because different people have such different kinds of knowledge, the ability for non-academic actors to also produce sociological knowledge should not be threatening to sociologists. Rather, it is necessary for sociologists to maximize the effectiveness of their work in movements for social justice. I think this was Castells’ point.

We also discussed how some sociologists severely criticize public sociology and the public creation of knowledge. Based on our class discussions, I’m under the impression that many of us consider this criticism to often be the result of sociologists’ insecurity about maintaining the power they access through the existing hierarchy and subjugation of knowledge. Do you think that many people in your class have a similar view? It sounds like there is some disagreement in your class about whether or not the professional sociologist loses something if everyone has the ability to produce knowledge. Were there many differences between how students see this and how your professor sees this issue?

Berkeley (February 20, 2012)

Lecture 2: Castells on the Power of Communication Castells emphasizes that accessing power is not as simple as public protests. It is necessary to establish channels of communication with people at large to channel your crisis and access power. This is because programming, or discursively influencing the mind, is a stronger means of control than pure physical force. Furthermore, people attempt to shape and reshape power through institutions according to relations such as those of production and consumption. “Whoever has power is able to shape the institutions of society according to his/her norms, values and interests,” Castells explained, as he defined power relations as the DNA of society. An understanding of power dynamics is thus an understanding of this DNA. The overarching, emancipatory message of Castells’ theory for public sociology lies in his statement, “Wherever there is power, there is counter power.” Inevitably, central to power and counter power are relations of structure and agency. The practice of public sociology stands in opposition to the corporations that control networks of communication. Castells suggests that public sociologists must establish their own channels of communication, arguing autonomous spaces in society and autonomous spaces in the internet can come together to make public sociology possible. In regards to establishing new channels of communications, he claims that this is informed via a two-way/ reflexive relationship in which his public changes his professional relationship with sociology. His students are his fundamental source of learning. Our discussion covered themes of switching, programming, mass self communication, and autonomy. His personal experience as an activist under Franco’s regime shaped his awareness of programming, the power relations within communication, and its importance for public sociology in modern network societies. Castells explained that we simultaneously occupy cyber space of global, timeless time and local space of historical time. Individuals in the space of physical places must unite and connect for counter power against multinational censorship, exemplified in his quote “Think local; Act Global, because that’s where the power is!” Castells’ Marxist analysis demonstrates that the means of production as well as the means of communication have been monopolized by multinationals. He compared the enclosure of the commons to the enclosure of the internet because they are both sources of power. In regards the internet, he expressed that, “Fundamentally, governments are contradictory with the internet.” This is because the internet is based on the “architecture of free communication,” without boundaries or borders. Castells claims that his practice public of sociology in the anti-censorship committee is not activism, but a source of learning that expands his professional sociology. Public sociology is not activism but should be concerned with analyzing the processes of network societies and power relations to promote means for counter power. To make good sociology, sociologists must recognize “the diversity of the human experience.”

Kyiv (February 19, 2012):

Lecture 2: The Power of Communication, Manuel Castells – Discussion Summary, National University of ‘Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’, Kyiv, Ukraine 1. There were claimed that the Internet is a very hard-to-control phenomenon, which is definitely the truth. Therefore, it is a very comfortable place for the development of social movements with horizontal structure and no clear leaders, which I also agree with. However, as we think, if the movement cannot be neutralized through neutralization of its leaders, it can be neutralized through the reshaping of minds of all of his members, through making the ideology of movements not interesting. The other problem is that the Internet offers very high amount of information, but not all information can be checked and credited or marked as qualitative. Therefore, Internet users should search for criteria of estimating the information. As we see it now, traditional ways of legitimating the informational sources (like reputation of news agencies) is still actual even in the Internet, and allows the power-holders to continue mind-engineering of masses through the Internet. We would like to hear the opinion of Mr. Castels about the remaining treat of centralization of power in global network, concerning the estimation and legitimization of informational sources. 2. Concerning the problem of “network revolutions”, those who accuse social network web-sites of assisting in starting and coordinating the revolutions in certain countries argue that Internet is more popular among younger people, who are easier influenced, more radical in minds and even destructive. Thus, we would like to ask Mr.Castels, is that point about the specifics of the Internet auditory can be taken into account, for in Ukraine there is still clear connection between usage of the Internet and demographic characteristic of citizens. 2. Also, as it was mentioned, monopolization of communication media is just like monopolization of means of production and consumption. Is it possible for the same situation to exist in the Internet, where several companies like Google can really control their users’ content and information? Nowadays in Ukraine this issue is very urgent because of new laws on privacy and information access that create possibilities for authorities to seize control of citizens and their information. So, is the Internet really free from control? 3. Nowadays influence of social networks on us is very huge. According to Granowetter`s theory of the strength of week ties those who we do not know influence our lives more than those whom we know. We consult the others’ opinion in the Internet when deciding which product to buy, where to go, etc. Can such situation lead to the Faucaultian ‘Panopticum effect’, when the social reality becomes transparent, power becomes invisible, but everybody feels like being under control because of dependence on others` opinions? 4. Considering the above mentioning questions, is it possible that the system of power would stay unchangeable, and what is going to happen is just switching the members of power-holders? What we are talking about is that power in a ways of shaping minds in other people would be in those hands that have more connections, more prestige and access to different kinds of information. Though two remaining kinds of power would be connected in one, and the emerging monopoly of construction of meanings would take place in Internet. In this way, could it be possible that for some people their lives are going to shape an Internet, and for others Internet is going to shape their lives? 5. One more question that arose is can any social network be self-organized? That is, can it exist without any power structures, which impose both positive and negative sanctions? Or, maybe, all social networks are self-organized in their nature and they are free from any power. Contributors: participants in the second session of Public Sociology course of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: Nadiia Barycheva, Serhiy Bilosludcev, Asja Chornogorska, Svitlana Kisilova.

Anna Carrillo Arnal (University of Barcelona): Hi! It’s Anna Carrillo a student from Spain. I would like to comment some of the points of your contribution. First of all, I must apologize for my lack of command of English and congratulate you for your really interesting discussion summary. I would like to contrast your first point of discussion with some ideas that arisen in our debate. You point out some problems that can affect the contribution of Internet to the development of social movements, namely the possible neutralization of a movement through the loss of interest of its ideology and the mind-engineering of masses and the reshaping of the minds of all activists by traditional power-holders. A social movement in Spain, the so-called 15M or “indignados” movement, has proven that these dangers, at least in some cases, don’t materialize. The 15M survived both the attempts by the Government and the political parties to neutralize it by co-opting their leaders and the attempts to present this movement as a violent revolt of irresponsible youngsters. The strength of the movement in tackling these threats came in grand extent from the communication of the citizens through the Internet and the social networks. I think that the reason that the Internet cannot be used as an instrument of manipulation by the power-holders is that in the Internet the communication is not monologic, as it is in the conventional media such as TV, but dialogic. This means that meaning is conformed through the dialogue of different people, that the meaning of situations is negotiated among citizens rather than imposed up-to-down. Internet favors this dynamic as it offers a space for horizontal and democratic communication. Furthermore, it facilitates the comparison of information from different sources and the development of a variety of discourses. People from all ages, classes and backgrounds got involved in the 15M movement and coordinated themselves, to a wide extent, using the Internet. Moreover, despite that traditional media tried to give a bad image of the movement, the use of Internet succeeded in spreading worldwide the reality of the movement.

Svitlana Kisilova (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy): ¡Buenas tardes Anna Carrillo Arnal! Thank you for your comment and interest to our discussion. We understand your point! We totally agree that such a big movement as 15M could survive and act with help of Internet. But our point is that such movement could be successesful only if they got enough support from really lot of people (as you said: “People from all ages, classes and backgrounds got involved in the 15M movement”); but if this movement is weak and someone decided to destroy it–they could easily do that. For instance, they could misinform people about some action of movement that will cause bad reputation or send newsletters with negative information. So, movements in the Internet have a lot of possibilities, as well as obstructions.

Sergei Belosludcev (National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy): Hi, Anna. While I agree with your arguments and respect your activity in social movement, I would like to signify that situation with Internet in Spain differs from the situation in Ukraine. From information available, there are about 15 million more Internet users in Spain than there is in Ukraine, while the population of Spain is about 2 million of people more than in Ukraine. So, there is much higher Internet and social networks activity in Spain, while in Ukraine traditional mass-media still influent even in the Internet. And the other thing should be taken into account, that traditional, centralized ways of sharing the information are actual for the news from regions with no or low Internet activity ( like the countries in state of war). Power holders are able to hide, twist and make other manipulations with the information from these regions, and the users of Internet will not be able to estimate it. In my opinion, with growing role of Internet as the main source of information, the danger of poor regions of the world to be isolated from global communication process remains real.

Miriam Gonzalez (UC Berkeley): I think it is very interesting that you bring Foucault into this conversation on the power of communication since Foucault has a very interesting theory of power! The way I understand Foucault is that the way of doing things (patterns) change because there is a shift in the play of power, which we all exercise. Discourse creates norms which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body. Foucault defines ‘regimes of truth’ as historically specific mechanisms, which produce discourses which function as truth in particular times and places. The point is not to repress people but to make them more efficient (docile bodies).
In a sense I think this could be applied in today’s time (known as the information age) since digital platforms present avenues for more people to engage in varying discourses by forming blogs and joining social networks and discussion forums. Just like your example on how we consult others on the Internet to make our choices, I can think of how many discussion forums almost serve as a doctor consultation, where people ask for medical advice and others provide it with out holding medical degrees. I think this is a play on power because whereas before the only place you can get medical advice was by visit a doctor, now you can consult the internet, minimizing the power doctors have and giving more power for people to do research on medical issues based on what is provided on the internet.

Lisbon (February 20, 2012):

PUBLIC SOCIOLOGY, LIVE! Lecture 2 The Power of Communication Manuel Castells UTL – Instituto superior de ciências sociais e políticas, Lisbon Discussion / Summary Sociology 185, spring, 2012 The second session of the course Public sociology Live focused about the power of communication and their role in building social relationships of power. The communication of Manuel Castells, highlighted the role of communication in networks on the construction of power in society, placing emphasis on the structure of political power. The relevance of this communication in today’s society characterized as global economic crisis society, reflected the importance and weight of economic and financial affairs, powered by the power of globalization of economic and financial networks in our lives. It is a society which sets up on communication and information technologies, where who owns the knowledge and social networks demonstrates a power and dominant counterweight. Castells sees power as the relational capability that allows the social actor to influence social decisions of others actors in its favour, associated with postures of coercion, domination or violence and asymmetry, what is a component of all relationships of current societies witch evolves intimacy and affection, making them power relations. This relational attribute of power is increased by the ability to manage social networks and manage the communication and information. Communication is defended by Castells as the central power in contemporary society, pointing that the global social networks that make use of digital global communication can be able as a source of power and counter power in contemporary society. Effective communication develops the ability to anticipate the consequences of the power actions. The globalization of communication allowed increasing the foci of discussion and debate involving society, which expanded the possibilities of communication and participation of individuals in their lives and relationships. Seeking to respond to issues raised by Professor Michael Michael Burawoy, as mentioned earlier, the potentiating of Sociology goes through public discussion of emerging topics on sociological knowledge through social networks and other platforms for information sharing, looking to build a counterweight to the prevailing power, placing here one of the main components of the role of Sociology in today’s society. After the debate some issues arose about the construction of an active, proactive public Sociology, there this: Could have the sociology an improved power by the social networks? How can the network be useful to ensure relevance to public sociology? In what sense the development of effective communication and networking will underline the important role of Sociology to know and act upon the outlines of this global crisis, present and dominating in our lives? Can the sociologists through courses like this start the construction of a network of sociologists and students who can take an active role in the debate and even in activities for different and better patterns of life?

Naomi S. SantaCruz (UC Berkeley): I decided to come back to the second week of lecture because after the numerous forms of public sociology, I think communication is key in how we establish a relationship with our publics. The power of communication that Castells focused has a particular significance in public sociology in terms of its role in building relationships of power from below. The communication of Castells not only highlighted the role of networks but opened the possibilities of those networks being composed of various sectors of civil society. Granting the possibility of counter power and the relational capability of sociologists, dissemination of sociological findings and mobilization of publics is possible even when forms of “coercion, domination, and violence” exists as in the case of the Egyptian Revolution. As sociologist, I think we are placed in a position of power where we could transform the ways social networks connect people, as we are currently doing with students with different sociological interests. Additionally, we are facilitated withe the ability to manage and create new communication networks and pre establish webs of communications among our publics until they (our publics) establish their own nodes in the web of information. As sociologist we can actively facilitate the production of alternative platforms of communication through the study of social systems to ultimately map new networks of communication and establishing widespread relations of counter power.

Dominika Partyga (UC Berkeley): Reading your comments inspired me to think of network society – with its emphasis on the power of communication – as a ‘background framework’ for public sociology. As we approach the end of the course, I realize how many concepts introduced by Castells relate to real work of public sociologists.

Naomi, you mention the role of public sociology in building relationships of (counter)power from below: I think that this is the key to understanding the work of Sundar and Garavito-Rodriguez. Their engagement with marginalized publics suggests the potential of networks in undermining the power of single actors (e.g. the state and ruling elites such as FARC) as both – Garavito in particular – emphasize their attempts towards mobilizing various networks through institution-building. They also locate their publics within the civil society, ‘mapping out’ the power dynamics and opportunities for counter-power. After all, collective mobilization is the main channel through which communication networks are reshaped so that the society becomes self-managed rather than ‘programmed’. This has serious implications for relation between social movements and public sociology, which will be investigated by Frances Fox Piven.

Similarly, the work of Sari Hanafi exemplifies how mapping networks of communication (and thus – power) is a crucial task for public sociologists. Examining power of various stakeholders in governing refugee camps – from humanitarian organizations to religious groups, he takes on Castells’ horizontal perspective ‘from below’. Last but not least, communication is the central element in the framework of critical communicative methodology of Flecha and Secha. CCM’s egalitarian context gives possibility for real social change through redefinition (‘reprogramming’) of shared meanings that are embedded in every-day practices.

There are probably many more parallels that can be drawn between the network society/power of communication and ‘our’ public sociologists, I am looking forward to reading what others have in mind!

Diana Rios (UC Berkeley): Coming back to the second lecture of the course as the course is nearing its end, is really beneficial because as previous comments have mentioned, communication is a foundation and definitely relates not only to public sociology in the sense of determining what form of communication is employed, but as a key component. Throughout the course we have talked about how Public Sociologists communicate with their publics…so yes, we are creating a network society in this class. We are all connected via skype, facebook, e-mail , and our blog.
Dominica did a great job at drawing the relationship between the sociologists we have discussed earlier in the semester. Thus, we can conclude that communication is central within any space. In terms of Public Sociology, it is especially central because not only are we trying to get the message out about our work as public sociologists, but also battling all of these other tensions such as academia, credibility, reputations, and security.

Tehran (February 19, 2012):

First comment: how can there be a local resistance? One of the important things that Castells points out is the possibility of resistance in network society and its significance for social movements and civil society. He states that power network in society is a global network, whereas resistance against this power (counter power resistance) acts locally. Local resistant networks can transfer into global networks and form a global civil society (think local, act global). The question here is how is that possible? Is it possible through new communication technologies? Where is my position in all this, as an Iranian who speaks Persian? In fact it does not seem that Castells’ question is able to find an answer in today’s society (particularly after recent events). It is hard to find an answer both locally and globally because: 1.      Locally: there are states(like the state in Iran) who have built a “Major Network” that prevents formation of national network (national network in civil society is a place for free communication). This Major Network turns nations and groups of people into its own nodes and those who are not included will be excluded from the Major Network and become defenseless Homosacers. 2.      Globally: states in latecapitalism are a Major Network and have the same functions in the global sphereas in the local sphere. This “major Network of the state” prevents formation of “nation network”, such as recent agreement on internet filtering among states; states’ apparent or implicit agreement on Bashar Assad’s remaining in power, agreement on blocking file sharing on internet, agreement on Julian Assange imprisonment, closing down wiki leaks and so on. Nations which are bannedfrom forming a network by state, disagree with all these.Castells believing in public and critical nodes to have a kind of autonomy, in spite of mentioned concerns, seems a bit too optimistic.  State and market forces manage technology, therefore they manage communication and create shared meanings as well (in Castells terms it is the basic foundation for legitimacy and enforcing discursive power) but not independent critical civil society. In fact in such circumstances state and market have swallowed the civil society. Castells answers: the networks are varied and in power relation assessment each one is unique, but there is one form of power enforcement which is the same among all networks: excommunication (boycott) from the network. It is also true that each person or group which has been excommunicated can join other networks, but is this really true? Is it based on what homosacers in Iran and international migrants throughout the world have experienced in reality? Can a migrant who is banished from a dominant national network, join any other network? Second comment: Relationship between urban and cyber network The relationship between virtual network and real network helps explaining post electoral incidents in Iran: several months after the last presidential election in Iran the relationship between virtual network (cyber) and real network (urban) started to fade away, people in virtual networks used to express their objection with extreme phrases and strong words and thought that they have shaped a social resistance to eliminate the power but in the real world it had been suppressed months before. In fact this could be a malfunction of virtual network because it destroyed the actual resistance by preventing the individual to actually face the state. Third comment: What is the responsibility of public sociology in relation to networksociety? If it is not possible to form a resistance through the ways which Castells says (programming, switching) and form the global civil society, then what should we do? (Castells’ suggestions are based on the presupposition that network societies have relative autonomy, however due to domination of state and market there is not much attention paid to these networks) It seems that achievement of communication for the sake of communication as a moral foundation to network society should be a responsibility of public sociologist. Achievement of this value, as Castells puts it, must be looked at from a normative point of view rather than a descriptive one. It is the responsibility of a sociologist who not only satisfies his own interests but also takes others into consideration. We will go astray if we believe that this value has been achieved or that the citizens have the ability to achieve it on their own. Participators: Dr. Behrang Seddighi, Dr. Mehdi Montazerghaem, Fatemeh G. kashi, Saber Khosravi, Mehran Hajimohammadian, Ahmad Mohamad zaki, Yashar Darolshafa, Zahra Taheri and Fatemeh Moghaddasi.

Federico Quadrelli (Italy): Dear colleagues, some weeks ago I published on review for “science and peace” in italian a littel-paper about “social media-social movments” and new power issues (unfortunatly it’s only in italian). I would like to share that with you. I’m really fascinated about “public sociology” and I think that social media are really an important instrument for communications, but not only, also for re-define the geometry of power. And I think that it’s a type of “public sociology” also use facebook, to share knowledge!