Christian Fuchs on Thu, 6 Aug 2009 03:43:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Some Reflections on Manuel Castells' Book "Communication Power"

Some Reflections on Manuel Castells' Book "Communication Power"

Christian Fuchs

Published in: tripleC (, 7(1), 94-108.

Abstract: Manuel Castells deals in his book Communication Power with the 
question where power lies in the network society. In this paper, I 
discuss important issues that this book addresses, and connect them, 
where possible, to my own works and reflections. The book is discussed 
along the following lines: the concept of power, web 2.0 and mass 
self-communication, media manipulation, social movements, novelty & society.

Manuel Castells, Communication Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 
2009), 592 pp., 234x156mm, ISBN 978-0-19-956704-1, Hardback, $34.95 / 
Â20.00 / â24.99

1. Introduction

The task that Manuel Castells has set himself for his book Comunication 
Power, is to elaborate answers to the question: âwhere does power lie in 
the global network society?â (p. 42). He tries to show that 
communication is the central power in contemporary society by analyzing 
and presenting numerous empirical examples and by drawing on data from 
many studies. The discussion that follows does not engage with every 
detail of Castellsâ voluminous 570 page book because this is in my 
opinion not the task of a reflective review essay. Therefore I will 
concentrate on a selective discussion of those aspects that I personally 
find most important.
In Communication Power, Castells continues the analysis of what he has 
termed the network society, from a specific perspective â the one of 
power. He argues that global social networks and social networks of 
social networks that make use of global digital communication networks 
are the fundamental source of power and counter-power in contemporary 
society. The relation between power and counter-power is analyzed in 
respect to the contradictions between multinational corporate media 
networks and the creative audience, framing and counter-framing, 
biased/scandal media politics and insurgent grassroots media politics.

Four kinds of power in the network society are introduced: networking 
power, network power, networked power, network-making power (pp. 42-47, 
418-420). Network-making power is for Castells the âparamount form of 
power in the network societyâ (p. 47). It is held and exercised by 
programmers and switchers. Programmers have the power âto constitute 
network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of the 
goals assigned to the networkâ. Switchers have the power âto connect and 
ensure the cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and 
combining resources, while fending off competition from other networks 
by setting up strategic cooperationâ (p. 45). Castells gives numerous 
examples in his book for the usage of âprogrammingâ and âswitchingâ 
networks in order to enact power and counter-power. He illuminates how 
power and âresistance to power is achieved through the same two 
mechanisms that constitute power in the network society: the programs of 
the networks and the switches between networksâ (p. 47). The basic 
analysis is applied to power struggles between the global corporate 
multimedia networks and the creative audience (chapter 2), the 
development of media policies in the USA (chapter 2), framing and 
counter-framing in political campaigns, especially the framing of the US 
public mind before, during, and after the Iraq war (chapter 3); to 
scandal politics in Spain in the 1990s (chapter 4), media control and 
censorship in the USA, Russia, and China (chapter 4); the environmental 
movement, the global movement against corporate globalization, the 
spontaneous citizensâ movement that emerged in Spain after the al-Qaeda 
attacks in 2004, and the Barack Obama presidential primary campaign 
(chapter 5).

2. The Concept of Power

Castells defines power in a Weber-inspired way as âthe relational 
capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the 
decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered 
actorâs will, interests, and valuesâ (p. 10). Power is associated with 
coercion, domination, violence or potential violence, and asymmetry. He 
refers to the power concepts of Foucault, Weber, and Habermas and argues 
that he builds on Giddensâ structuration theory. However, Giddens 
conceives power in a completely different way, a way that is neither 
mentioned nor discussed by Castells. For Giddens, power is 
ââtransformative capacityâ, the capability to intervene in a given set 
of events so as in some way to alter themâ (Giddens, 1985, p. 7), the 
âcapability to effectively decide about courses of events, even where 
others might contest such decisionsâ (Giddens, 1985, p. 9). Power is for 
Giddens characteristic for all social relationships, it âis routinely 
involved in the instantiation of social practicesâ and is âoperating in 
and through human actionâ (Giddens, 1981, p. 49f).

In Giddens' structuration theory, power is not necessarily coercive, 
violent, and asymmetrically distributed. Therefore it becomes possible 
to conceive of and analyze situations and social systems, in which power 
is more symmetrically distributed, for example situations and systems of 
participatory democracy. Power as transformative capacity seems indeed 
to be a fundamental aspect of all societies. This also means that there 
is a huge difference between Castellsâ approach and Giddensâ 
structuration theory, which as such is not problematic, but should also 
be explicated, especially because Castells says that he builds on 
Giddensâ structuration theory (p. 14), which he in my opinion does not. 
The problem with Castellsâ notion of power is that he sees coercive, 
violent, dominative power relationships as âthe foundational relations 
of society throughout history, geography, and culturesâ (p. 9). Such 
power is for him âthe most fundamental process in societyâ (p. 10). 
Furthermore, Castells dismisses the ânaÃve image of a reconciled human 
community, a normative utopia that is belied by historical observationâ 
(p. 13). Is it really likely that all history of humankind and that all 
social situations and systems, in which we live, are always and 
necessarily shaped by power struggles, coercion, violence, and 
domination? Relationships of love, intimacy, and affection are in modern 
society unfortunately often characterized by violence and coercion and 
are therefore frequently (in Castellsâ terms) power relationships. But 
isnât love a prototypical phenomenon, where many people experience 
feelings and actions that negate violence, domination, and coercion? 
Isnât the phenomenon of altruism in love the practical falsification of 
the claim that coercive power is the most fundamental process in 
society? My claim is that not coercive power, but that co-operation is 
the most fundamental process in society (Fuchs, 2008a, pp. 31-34, 
40-58), and that indeed it is possible to create social systems without 
coercive power (in Castellsâ terms) and with a symmetric distribution of 
power (in Giddensâ terminology). Conceiving power as violent coercion 
poses the danger of naturalizing and fetishizing coercion and violent 
struggles as necessary and therefore not historical qualities of 
society. The problematic ideological-theoretical implication is that in 
the final instance war must exist in all societies and a state of peace 
is dismissed and considered as being categorically impossible. Castells 
surely does not share this implication, as his analysis of communication 
power in the Iraq war shows.

One problem that I have with Castellsâ book is the rather technocratic 
language that he tends to use for describing networks and communication 
power â social networks, technological networks, and techno-social 
networks are all described with the same categories and metaphors that 
originate in computer science and computer technology: program, 
meta-programmers, switches, switchers, configuration, inter-operability, 
protocols, network standards, network components, kernel, program code, 
etc. I have no doubt that Manuel Castells does not have the intention to 
conflate the difference between social and technological networks. He 
has argued for example in the past that social networks are a 
ânetworking form of social organizationâ and that information technology 
is the âmaterial basisâ for the âpervasive expansionâ of social networks 
(Castells, 2000b, p. 500). But even if the terminology that Manuel 
Castells now tends to employ is only understood in a metaphorical sense, 
the problem is that society and social systems are described in 
technological and computational terms so that the differentia specifica 
of society in comparison to computers and computer networks â that 
society is based on humans, reflexive and self-conscious beings that 
have cultural norms, anticipative thinking, and a certain freedom of 
action that computers do not have â gets lost. It is no surprise that 
based on the frequent employment of such metaphors, Castells considers 
Bruno Latourâs actor network theory as brilliant (p. 45). It is an 
important task to distinguish the qualities of social networks from the 
qualities of technological networks and to identify the emergent 
qualities of techno-social networks such as the Internet (Fuchs, 2005; 
Fuchs, 2008a, pp. 121-147). Castells acknowledges that there is a 
âparallel with software languageâ (p. 48) in his terminology, but he 
does not give reasons for why he uses these parallels and why he thinks 
such parallels are useful. Obviously society is shaped by computers, but 
is not a computer itself, so there is in my opinion simply no need for 
such a terminological conflationism. Computer metaphors of society can 
just like biological metaphors of society become dangerous under certain 
circumstan-ces so that in my opinion it is best not to start to 
categorically conflate the qualitative difference between society and 
technology. Technology is part of society and society constructs 
technology. Society is more than just technology and has emergent 
qualities that stem from the synergetical interactions of human beings. 
Technology is one of many results of the productive societal 
interactions of human beings, it has therefore qualities that are on the 
one hand specifically societal, but on the other hand different from the 
qualities of other products of society. That there are nodes and 
interactions in all networks is a common aspect of social and 
technological networks, but an important task that should not be 
forgotten is to differentiate between the different emergent qualities 
that technological networks and social networks have â emergent 
qualities that interact when these two kinds of networks are combined in 
the form of techno-social networks such as the Internet so that 
meta-emergent techno-social qualities appear.

Castells carefully argues that power is differentiated in the network 
society and that the power structure is not fully determined by one 
group or one kind of power structure. But he also avoids a relativistic 
position that only sees different types of power without the analysis of 
the relations between these types. Relativism categorically excludes the 
possibility of the domination of a certain kind of power. Castells in 
contrast gives a realistic analysis of power. He says that there is no 
deterministic control of the power structure by one group and asserts 
that âwhoever has enough money, including political leaders, will have a 
better chance of operating the switch in its favorâ (p. 52).

3. âWeb 2.0â and Mass Self-Communication

The rise of integrative information, communication, and 
community-building Internet platforms such as blogs, wikis, or social 
networking sites has not only prompted the development of new concepts â 
web 2.0, social software, social media, etc â, but also a new 
techno-deterministic optimism that resembles the Californian ideology 
that accompanied the commercial rise of the Internet in the 1990s. So 
for example Tapscott and Williams claim that the ânew webâ brings about 
âa new economic democracy (â) in which we all have a lead roleâ 
(Tapscott & Williams, 2007, p. 15; for a critique of this approach, see 
Fuchs, 2008b). Kevin Kelly, who preached the neoliberal credos of 
liberalization, privatization, and commercialization in relation to IT 
in the 1990s (see for example Kelly, 1998), argues that the ânew webâ, 
where people âwork toward a common goal and share their products in 
common, (â) contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of 
chargeâ (Kelly, 2009, p. 118) constitutes a ânew socialismâ â âdigital 
socialismâ. The new socialism is for Kelly a socialism, in which workers 
do not control and manage organizations and the material output they 
generate. Therefore this notion of socialism should be questioned. For 
Kelly, socialism lies in collective production, not in democratic 
economic ownership. If âsocialism seeks to replace capitalism by a 
system in which the public interest takes precedence over the interest 
of private profitâ, âis incompatible with the concentration of economic 
power in the hands of a fewâ, and ârequires effective democratic control 
of the economyâ (Frankfurt Declaration of the Socialist International, 
1951 [1]), then Kellyâs notion of socialism that is perfectly compatible 
with the existence of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and other web 
corporations (as indicated by the fact that he lists Google, Amazon, 
Facebook, and YouTube in his history of socialism), is not at all a 
notion of socialism, but one of capitalism disguised as socialism.

Castells discusses the recent developments of the web and the Internet, 
but in contrast to the new web 2.0 ideology he does so in a refreshing 
techno-dialectical way that avoids the deterministic pitfalls of 
techno-optimism and techno-pessimism. For Castells, a novel quality of 
communication in contemporary society is mass self-communication: âIt is 
mass communication because it can potentially reach a global audience, 
as in the posting of a video on YouTube, a blog with RSS links to a 
number of web sources, or a message to a massive e-mail list. At the 
same time, it is self-communication because the production of the 
message is self-generated, the definition of the potential receiver(s) 
is self-directed, and the retrieval of specific messages or content from 
the World Wide Web and electronic networks is self-selected. The three 
forms of communication (interpersonal, mass communication, and mass 
self-communication) coexist, interact, and complement each other rather 
than substituting for one another. What is historically novel, with 
considerable consequences for social organization and cultural change, 
is the articulation of all forms of communication into a composite, 
interactive, digital hypertext that includes, mixes, and recombines in 
their diversity the whole range of cultural expressions conveyed by 
human interactionâ (p. 55, see also p. 70). Castells theorizes mass 
self-communication based on Umberto Ecoâs semiotic model of 
communication as the emergence of âthe creative audienceâ (pp. 127-135) 
that engages in the âinteractive production of meaningâ (p. 132) and is 
based on the emergence of the figure of the âsender/addresseeâ (p. 130).

Castells analyzes the economic operations of ten global multimedia 
networks (pp. 73-84) â Apple, Bertelsmann, CBS, Disney, Google, 
Microsoft, NBC Universal, News Corporation, Time Warner, Yahoo! â and of 
the second-tier of multimedia conglomerates (pp. 84-92). Important 
trends that he points out are an increasing economic concentration, the 
usage of a diversity of platforms, the customization and segmentation of 
audiences, and economies of synergy. These corporate networks stand in a 
contradictory relation to mass-self communication.

For Castells, the contemporary Internet is shaped by a conflict between 
the global multimedia business networks that try to commodify the 
Internet and the âcreative audienceâ that tries to establish a degree of 
citizen control of the Internet and to assert their right of 
communicative freedom without corporate control: âAmong the global media 
giants and other media organizations, the digitization of information 
and the expansion of networks of mass self-communication have 
facilitated a preoccupation with how to monetize these networks in terms 
of advertisingâ (p. 80). âAll the major players are trying to figure out 
how to re-commodify Internet-based autonomous mass self-communication. 
They are experimenting with ad-supported sites, pay sites, free 
streaming video portals, and pay portals. (â) Web 2.0 technologies 
empowered consumers to produce and distribute their own content. The 
viral success of these technologies propelled media organizations to 
harness the production power of traditional consumersâ (p. 97). âThe 
interactive capacity of the new communication system ushers in a new 
form of communication, mass self-communication, which multiplies and 
diversifies the entry points in the communication process. This gives 
rise to unprecedented autonomy for communicative subjects to communicate 
at large. Yet, this potential autonomy is shaped, controlled, and 
curtailed by the growing concentration and interlocking of corporate 
media and network operators around the world. (â) However, this is not 
tantamount to one-sided, vertical control of communicative practices (â) 
As a result, the global culture of universal commodification is 
culturally diversified and ultimately contested by other cultural 
expressionsâ (p. 136). Castells gives a techno-dialectical analysis 
here, but it remains unclear what he means by the rise of autonomy for 
communicative subjects.

The notion of autonomy in mass self-communication is first introduced on 
page 129, but it is not defined, which leaves the reader wondering what 
Castells wants to tell her/him by using this normatively and politically 
connoted term (see also p. 302). The meaning of the concept of autonomy 
is not self-explanatory. Is autonomy in the sense of Kant, understood as 
the autonomy of the will as the supreme principle of morality (Kant, 
2002, p. 58), the âquality of the will of being a law to itselfâ (Kant, 
2002, p. 63)? Or does autonomy mean the âtrue individualismâ that Hayek 
(1948) had in mind, in which capitalism is conceived as spontaneous 
order that should be left to itself and should not be shaped by 
political rules (Hayek, 1988)? Does it refer to freedom of speech, 
taste, and assembly â âthe liberty of thought and discussionâ â in line 
with the harm principle, as postulated by John Stuart Mill (2002)? Or is 
autonomy the existence of functionally differentiated self-referential 
subsystems of society (Luhmann, 1998)? Or does it in a less 
individualistic sense refer to the combination of individual autonomy, 
understood as subjectivity that is âreflective and deliberativeâ and 
âfrees the radical imaginationâ from âthe enslavement of repetitionâ 
(Castoriadis, 1991, p. 164), and social autonomy, âthe equal 
participation of all in powerâ (Castoriadis, 1991, p. 136; see also 
Castoriadis, 1998)? Does Castellsâ notion of autonomy confirm one of the 
two poles of the theoretically unreconciled relationship of private 
autonomy and public autonomy that Habermas (1996, p. 84) has critically 
examined, or does it refer to the dialectic of autonomy that Habermas 
has in mind when he speaks of a âcooriginality of private and public 
autonomyâ (Habermas, 1996, p. 104) achieved in a âsystem of rights in 
which private and public autonomy are internally relatedâ (Habermas, 
1996, p. 280) and âreciprocally presuppose each otherâ (Habermas, 1996, 
p. 417)? Or does autonomy mean the âstatus of an organized people in an 
enclosed territorial unitâ (Schmitt, 1996, p. 19, for a critique of this 
approach see Habermas, 1989)? Or is autonomy a postmodern project of 
plural democracy with a multiplicity of subject positions (Laclau & 
Mouffe, 1985)? In short: There are all kinds of meanings of concepts 
such as autonomy, and it is one of the tasks of social theory to clarify 
which ones are feasible and suitable for the situation of contemporary 

If we define âweb 2.0/3.0â platforms as world wide web platforms that 
are not predominantly sites for information consumption or search, but 
sites for social networking, community building, file sharing, 
co-operative information production, and interactive blogging â 
platforms that are more systems of communication and co-operation than 
systems of cognition (for details of this definition see Fuchs 2009c, 
2008a) â, then this allows us to analyze the ownership structures and 
usage data of the top 20 âweb 2.0/3.0â platforms. I have gathered 
statistical and economic data about these platforms (see table 1).

Table 1: The top 20 web 2.0/3.0 platforms, ranked based on a composite 
index that takes into account the number of average page views over the 
past three months and the number of average daily visitors, data 
accessed on July 31st, 2009, data source:

Rank / Website / Ownership / Country/Year of Domain Creation / Economic 
Orientation / 3 Month Average Daily Share of Global Page Views
3 Facebook Facebook Inc. USA 2004 Profit, advertising 2.99%
4 YouTube Google Inc. USA 2005 Profit, advertising 4.06%
7 Blogger Google Inc. USA 1999 Profit, advertising 0.56%
8 Wikipedia Wikimedia Foundation Inc. USA 2001 Non-profit, 
non-advertising 0.54%
11 Myspace MySpace Inc. USA 2003 Profit, advertising 1.25%
15 Twitter Twitter Inc. USA 2006 Profit, advertising 0.27%
16 Rapidshare Rapidshare AG CH 2002 Profit, non-advertising 0.23%
19 WordPress Automattic Inc. USA 2000 Profit, advertising 0.13%
32 VKontakte V Kontakte Ltd. RU 2006 Profit, advertising 1.48%
33 Flickr Yahoo! Inc. USA 2003 Profit, advertising 0.23%
37 hi5 Hi5 Networks Inc. USA 2004 Profit, advertising 0.44%
39 Photobucket LLC USA 2003 Profit, advertising 0.11%
43 Orkut Brazil Google Inc. USA 2002 Profit, advertising 0.11%
48 Youporn Midstream Media USA 2005 Profit, advertising 0.15%
49 Blogspot Google Inc. USA 2000 Profit, advertising 0.06%
50 Pornhub USA 2000 Profit, advertising 0.13%
58 Orkut India Google Inc. USA 2005 Profit, advertising 0.06%
59 ImageShack ImageShack Corporation USA 2002 Profit, advertising 0.05%
60 Tudou Quan Toodou Technology CN 2004 Profit, advertising 0.08%
62 Odonoklassniki Odonoklassniki RU 2002 Profit, advertising 0.34%
Total: 13.27%

The ranking in table 1 is based on an index that takes into account the 
average share of page views during the past three months and the average 
number of daily visitors of web platforms. A website is considered as 
profit-oriented if the organization owning the domain takes measures in 
order to accumulate money profit with the help of the website (as for 
example in the case of advertising-based revenue models, the selling of 
platform memberships or premium memberships, the selling of goods or 
services over the platform). A website is considered as 
advertising-based if the organization owning the domain sells 
advertisements that are placed on its sites to customers in order to 
generate profit. Platforms can be profit-oriented without being 
advertising-based. A number of observations can be made: 16 of the 20 
dominant web 2.0/3.0 domains are owned by organizations that are 
registered in the USA. 19 out of 20 of the dominant web 2.0/3.0 
platforms are profit-oriented, the only exception is Wikipedia, which is 
advertising-free and non-profit. The most frequently encountered 
business model in this sample is one that gives platform access to the 
users for free, offers services for free, and generates profit by 
advertising. However, there are also other models. So for example 
Rapidshare, a file exchange service, is advertising-free and generates 
profits by selling premium memberships. YouPorn, PornHub and ImageShack 
are advertising-based and offer some free services, but also sell 
premium accounts. Odonklassniki, a Russian social networking site, 
requires all new users to pay a membership fee and is advertising-based. 
Flickr is an advertising-based photo sharing community. Uploading and 
viewing images is for free, Flickr sells additional services such as 
photo prints, business cards, or photo books. The 20 most accessed web 
2.0 platforms accounted for 13.24% of the global average daily page 
views. 12.73% of these 13.24% were page views on profit-oriented 
platforms, which means that 96.15% of all views of the top 20 web 
2.0/3.0 platforms were conducted on profit-oriented sites. These data 
show that web 2.0/3.0 is a strongly commodified space, there seems to be 
only a tiny minority of non-profit platforms.

Given these empirical results, one can question to which degree web 
2.0/3.0 users are autonomous from capital. On the vast majority of 
platforms that they visit, their data and usage behaviour is stored and 
assessed in order generate profit by targeted advertising. The users who 
google data, upload or watch videos on YouTube, upload or browse 
personal images on Flickr, or accumulate friends with whom they exchange 
content or communicate online via social networking platforms like 
MySpace or Facebook, constitute an âaudience commodityâ (Smythe, 1981) 
that is sold to advertisers. The difference between the audience 
commodity on traditional mass media and on the Internet is that in the 
latter case the users are also content producers; there is 
user-generated content, the users engage in permanent creative activity, 
communication, community building, and content-production. That the 
users are more active on the Internet than in the reception of TV or 
radio content is due to the decentralized structure of the Internet, 
which allows many-to-many communication. Due to the permanent activity 
of the recipients and their status as produsers/prosumers, we can say 
that in the case of the Internet the audience commodity is a 
produser/prosumer commodity (Fuchs, forthcoming; Fuchs, 2009a). The 
category of the produser commodity does not signify a democratization of 
the media towards a participatory or democratic system, but the total 
commodification of human creativity. During much of the time that users 
spend online, they produce profit for large corporations like Google, 
News Corp. (which owns MySpace), or Yahoo! (which owns Flickr). 
Advertisements on the Internet are frequently personalized; this is made 
possible by surveilling, storing, and assessing user activities and user 
data with the help of computers and databases. Economic surveillance is 
a mechanism that underlies capital accumulation in web 2.0/3.0. That web 
2.0/3.0 users constitute an audience commodity means that they produce 
surplus value and are exploited by capital (Fuchs, forthcoming). We can 
therefore say that Internet users constitute an exploited class of 
knowledge workers (Fuchs, forthcoming). I think that Manuel Castells is 
right in arguing that there are potentials for counter-power within web 
2.0 that can create autonomous spaces (which are autonomous from capital 
and state power). But unfortunately these autonomous spaces are hardly 
existent in web 2.0, they do not automatically exist, but must be 
struggled for. An autonomous web 2.0 is a mere tendency and potential 
that is today subsumed under the corporate logic that dominates, but 
does not determine web 2.0.

Mass-self communication for Castells allows subjects to âwatch the 
powerfulâ (p. 413), but those in power âhave made it their priority to 
harness the potential of mass self-communication in the service of their 
specific interestsâ (p. 414). Therefore they engage in enclosing the 
communication commons: âthe commons of the communication revolution are 
being expropriated to expand for-profit entertainment and to commodify 
personal freedomâ (p. 414). Castells speaks of a dialectical process in 
relation to mass self-communication: On the one hand web 2.0 business 
strategies result in âthe commodification of freedomâ, the âenclosing of 
the commons of free communication and selling people access to global 
communication networks in exchange for surrendering their privacy and 
becoming advertising targetsâ (p. 421). On the other hand, âonce in 
cyberspace, people may have all kinds of ideas, including challenging 
corporate power, dismantling government authority, and changing the 
cultural foundations of our aging/aching civilizationâ (p. 420). The 
typical web 2.0-business strategy in my opinion is not âselling people 
accessâ, but giving them access for free and selling the people as a 
prosumer commodity to third parties in order to generate profit. As I 
have tried to show, this relationship is highly unequal, the actual 
power of corporations in web 2.0 is much larger than the actual 
political counter-power that is exercised by the produsers. Castells 
acknowledges this at some instances in his book, for example when he 
speaks of âunequal competitionâ (p. 422), but on the other hand he 
contradicts this realism at some instances by a certain web 2.0 
optimism, for example when he says that âthe more corporations invest in 
expanding communication networks (benefiting from a hefty return), the 
more people build their own networks of mass self-communication, thus 
empowering themselvesâ (p. 421). The power of corporations and other 
powerful actors on the web is not to a similar extent challenged by 
actual counter-powers that empower citizens. The dialectic of power is 
only a potential, but not an automatic actual or necessary dialectic. 
Political counter-power on the Internet is facing a massive asymmetry 
that is due to the fact that the ruling powers control more resources 
such as money, decision-making power, capacities for attention 
generation, etc. Power struggles are struggles of the less powerful 
against the powerful, there is no guarantee that they can emerge, that 
they can mobilize significant resources so that they do not remain 
precarious, and that they are successful. There are examples for 
relatively successful counter-power struggles that have made use of the 
Internet, as Castells shows in an impressive manner, but I am not so 
optimistic that it will be possible to seriously tackle the existing 
economic, political, military, and cultural power structures in the near 
or medium-term future. It is only a potential, not an automatism that 
citizens âovercome the powerlessness of their solitary despair by 
networking their desire. They fight the powers that be by identifying 
the networks that areâ (p. 431). The problem is that there are also 
forces of power in contemporary society, such as ideology and coercion, 
that might forestall such fights, that keep people occupied with 
struggling for survival so that they have no time, energy, and thoughts 
for counter-power struggles. What I am saying is that the workings of 
counter-power should not be overestimated, but only assessed as potentials.

Castells argues that in mass self-communication âtraditional forms of 
access control are not applicable. Anyone can upload a video to the 
Internet, write a blog, start a chat forum, or create a gigantic e-mail 
list. Access in this case is the rule; blocking Internet access is the 
exceptionâ (p. 204). In my opinion, a central filter of the Internet 
that benefits powerful actors is formed by visibility and the attention 
economy. Although everyone can produce and diffuse information in 
principle easily with the help of the Internet because it is a global 
decentralized many-to-many and one-to-many communication system, not all 
information is visible to the same degree and gets the same attention. 
The problem in the cyberspace flood of information is, how in this 
flowing informational ocean other users draw their attention to 
information. So for example Indymedia, the most popular alternative 
online news platform, is only ranked number 4147 in the list of the most 
accessed websites, whereas BBC Online is ranked number 44, CNN Online 
number 52, the New York Times Online number 115, Spiegel Online number 
152, Bildzeitung Online number 246, or Fox News Online number 250 (data 
source:, top 1 000 000 000 sites, August 2nd, 2008). This 
shows that there is a stratified online attention economy, in which the 
trademarks of powerful media actors work as powerful symbols that help 
the online portals of these organizations to accumulate attention. This 
is not to deny that âmass self-communicationâ platforms such as Blogger 
(ranked number 3) or Facebook (ranked number 7) are heavily used, but 
political information generation and communication on such sites is much 
more fragmented, which is the reason why JÃrgen Habermas speaks in 
relation to the Internet of a danger of the âfragmentation of large but 
politically focused mass audience into a huge number of isolated issue 
publicsâ (Habermas, 2006, p. 423). In 2008, a year characterized by a 
huge interest of the US public in politics due to the presidential 
election and the grassroots appeal of the Obama campaign, only 10% of US 
Internet users posted political comments on social networking sites and 
8% on blogs (Pew Internet & American Life Project: The Internetâs Role 
in Campaign 2008). 64% of online political users in the US got their 
information about the November elections from network TV websites such 
as,, or; 54% visited portal news 
services like Google or Yahoo, 43% visited the websites of local news 
organizations, 40% read someone elseâs comments in a news group, 
website, or blog; 34% visited the websites of major national newspapers, 
26% visited political or news blogs, 12% visited the website of an 
alternative news organization (Pew Internet & American Life Project: The 
Internetâs Role in Campaign 2008). If we assume that the general 
interest in online politics is in general somewhat lower than in 2008, 
then these data give a realistic picture of political information and 
communication online: The major platforms for political information are 
the online versions of the established news sources and corporate mass 
media, political âmass self-communicationâ is clearly present and forms 
an important tendency that nonetheless remains subsumed under and 
dominated by established powerful media actors.

Castells employs the terms web 2.0 and 3.0 (see for example pp. 34, 56, 
65, 97, 107, 113, 421, 429) that he defines as âthe cluster of 
technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation 
of social spaces on the Internetâ (p. 65). Questions that should also be 
asked and answered in relation to the notion of âweb 2.0â are in my 
opinion: To which extent are the claims about the ânew Webâ ideological 
and serve marketing purposes? What is novel about âweb 2.0â and how can 
this novelty be empirically validated? What does it exactly mean to say 
that the Web becomes more social? Which notions of the social are 
employed when people speak of âweb 2.0â? Which notion of sociality 
underlies âweb 1.0â and how does this notion differ from the notion of 
sociality that underlies the concepts of web 2.0 and 3.0? What is the 
difference between web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0? In short: The talk about âweb 
2.0â, âsocial mediaâ, and âsocial softwareâ compels us to answer some 
basic questions: What is social about the Internet? Which different 
forms of sociality do we find on the Internet? For answering these 
questions, we need to enter conceptual sociological discussions and 
therefore social theory becomes important for understanding the 
contemporary Internet (for a discussion of these sociological and social 
theory foundations of âweb 2.0â see Fuchs, 2009c). Users do have the 
counter-power capacities to use web 2.0 against the intentions of the 
corporate operators in progressive ways and political struggles, but the 
corporate platform owners possess the power to switch users off the 
networks or to switch off entire networks. Furthermore they also have an 
interest in and power to permanently control the online behaviour and 
personal data of users in order to accumulate capital with the help of 
targeted advertising (Fuchs, 2009b). Economic surveillance is at the 
heart of capital accumulation in web 2.0 (Fuchs, 2009b). The power 
relationship between the corporate media and the creative users that 
Castells describes is an asymmetrical one that privileges the first.

4. Media Manipulation

Castells shows the importance of inter- and transdisciplinary research 
for analyzing the contemporary world by combining cognitive science and 
the analysis of communication power in order to understand how 
misinformation and the creation of misperception work as forms of 
communication power. For power to work it must also be cognitively 
reproduced in the neural networks of the brain. Political cognition 
works with emotions, especially anxiety and anger. Framing, 
agenda-setting, priming, and indexing are for Castells the four main 
mechanisms of communication power that are used in politics for 
influencing the public mind. The first three are concrete strategies 
employed by the media for trying to manipulate their audiences, so to 
speak, whereas indexing is connected to what Herman and Chomsky (1988) 
[2] have termed the third filter in media manipulation: the tendency of 
mass media to rely on information that is provided by powerful actors 
(such as governments and corporations). Castells shows the communication 
power of framing and the counter-power of counter-framing with the 
example of the framing of the US public in the Iraq war. The media 
frames of the war on terror and patriotism activated the emotional and 
subliminal fear of death of the audience, created misperceptions, and 
contributed to the successful securing of public support for the war. 
This analysis parallels Hermanâs and Chomskyâs (1988) stress on 
anti-communism and anti-terrorism as ideological control mechanisms that 
they have studied for the media coverage of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El 
Salvador, and Vietnam. Castells shows that relation to Iraq, 
counter-frames could only be successfully employed after hurricane 
Katrina induced a public feeling of mismanagement about the Bush 
administration, after a series of political scandals, and with the help 
of citizen journalism. He concludes this analysis by saying that âby 
activating networks of association between events and mental images via 
communication processes, power-making operates in multilayered dynamics 
in which the way we feel structures the way we think and ultimately the 
way we actâ (p. 192).

Castells argues that media make power and have the capacity to shape 
human minds by image making. Media politics involves for him four 
processes: securing access of powerful actors to the media, the 
production of images that serve the interests of powerful actors, the 
delivery of these messages in diverse formats and through diverse 
technologies combined with the measurement of its effectiveness, and the 
financing of these activities. Castells describes the tendency in media 
politics that the media exert communication power with the help of 
sensationalism, theatrical politics, personalization, dramatization, the 
fragmentation of information, negative stereotyping, attack politics, 
and scandalization. These are politics that focus on human emotions. He 
sees direct government control as well as corporate ownership and 
leadership as two important filters in media politics. The second aspect 
corresponds to the first two filters that Herman and Chomsky (1988) have 
stressed in their propaganda model: size, ownership, and profit 
orientation of the mass media; and advertising-orientation. Castells 
also discusses the role of political think tanks in informational 
politics, a lobbying that Herman and Chomsky (1988) have termed flak and 
that they characterize as the fourth filter of media manipulation. 
Castells analyzes political censorship and control of the media with the 
help of three case studies that cover the USA, Russia, and China.

For Castells, there are the following new aspects of media politics: the 
use of the Internet in political campaigns (p. 230), the multiplication 
of entry points of political reports, on which an interaction between 
mainstream media and the Internet is based (p. 234), an unprecedented 
prevalence and significance of scandal politics (p. 246), the easy and 
immediate diffusion of scandal politics over the Internet by everyone 
(pp. 247f), an increase of the publicity and perception of corruption 
and of the impact on public trust (p. 289). The result would be a 
worldwide crisis of political legitimacy, a decline in public trust, and 
a crisis of democracy. These crises could possibly, but not 
automatically result in depoliticization, and would in many cases also 
create a desire for insurgent politics, social movements, and new public 
Castells continuously stresses that the communication structures that 
are used by powerful actors can also be used for counter-power 
strategies. A question that remains unanswered for me after having read 
chapter 4 of Communication Power, is if Castells thinks that it is 
possible and fruitful if insurgent movements try to exert counter-power 
with the help of the mediated politics of scandalization, stereotyping, 
and attacks, or not. Scandalization, stereotyping, and attacking are the 
communication power-mechanisms that Castells analyzes in chapter 4, but 
it remains unclear if the dialectic of power and counter-power that 
Castells has in mind also applies here and if these strategies can be 
empirically observed in counter-power movements. In chapter 5, he gives 
the example of how the Obama campaign that he characterizes as a form of 
insurgent politics resisted the scandal and attack politics directed 
against Obama by the Hillary Clinton campaign without resorting to the 
same tactics. This therefore also leaves open the question if insurgent 
politics are necessarily non-scandal politics or not.

5. Social Movements

I have always been somehow sceptical about Castellsâ (2004) distinction 
between proactive and reactive social movements. The first â Castells 
(2004) discusses the Zapatistas, the American militia, Aum Shinrikyo, 
and al-Qaeda â have primarily a âresistance identityâ (Castells, 2004, 
p. 70), are âdefensive movements built around trenches of resistanceâ 
(Castells, 2004, p. 73), âstigmatized by the logic of dominationâ 
(Castells, 2004, p. 8), âprimarily identity-based mobilizations in 
reaction to a clearly identified adversary (â) rather than purveyors of 
a societal projectâ, whereas the second â Castells (2004) mentions the 
movement for democratic globalization, environmentalism, feminism â 
develop resistance identity into âproject identityâ (Castells, 2004, p. 
70) and âseek the transformation of overall social structureâ (Castells, 
2004, p. 8). All social movements are reactive and proactive, they have 
adversaries and a societal project. So for example environmentalism is 
not purely proactive, but also opposes pollution and polluters as 
adversaries, whereas al-Qaeda is not only reactive, but also proactive: 
So bin Laden on the one hand expresses a resistance identity that is 
oriented against the West, especially the USA: âThese tragedies and 
calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression 
against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the 
oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything 
from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to 
expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, 
that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?!!â (bin 
Laden: Letter to America [3] ). On the other hand he formulates a 
project identity, a clear societal project that al-Qaeda pursues: âto 
make the Shariah the supreme lawâ, âthe religion of the Unification of 
God; of freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of 
this; of complete love of Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to 
His Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories 
and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His 
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)â (Ibid.; 9). Bin Ladenâs vision 
sounds terrifying, but it is clear that what he has in mind and what he 
and al-Qaeda struggle for is a large societal project â a fundamentalist 
theocracy. In Communication Power, Castells seems to stick to this 
distinction between proactivism and reactivism of social movements (p. 
300). The difference between certain movements cannot be found in their 
proactivism or reactivism, two features that are characteristic for all 
of them, but in their political content that ranges on a continuum from 
progressivism to anti-progressivism (Fuchs, 2006; 2008, p. 290).

For Castells, the movement for democratic globalization stands for âthe 
old anarchist ideal of autonomous communes and free individuals 
coordinating their self-managed forms of existence on a broader scale, 
(â) the promise of self-managed networks enabled by technologies of 
freedomâ (pp. 345f). So one can say that this movement enacts and 
represents the project of establishing a society that is based on 
âvoluntary associationsâ that are based on âfree agreements concluded 
between the various groupsâ and that ârepresent an interwoven network, 
composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes 
and degrees, local, regional, national and international temporary or 
more or less permanent - for all possible purposesâ (Kropotkin, 1910, p. 
284). For me, the movement for democratic globalization is not just 
this, but even more (see Fuchs 2006, 2007; 2008a, pp. 290-294): it is 
the contemporary universal social movement, a movement of movements that 
unites the diversity of other protest movements, creates a unity in 
diversity that articulates the topics of all contemporary protest 
movements with the topics of capitalism and class. This unity in 
diversity can for example be observed by taking a look at the structure 
of Indymedia, which is one important voice of the movement: The US 
website of this platform is structured into 48 different topics, such as 
anti-war, environment, gender & sexuality, human & civil rights, labour, 
race & racism, etc. Historically, a single movement has existed for each 
of these topics, but now this diversity is combined within one movement. 
The central movement of the âprogrammed societyâ that Alain Touraine has 
so long been looking for (compare Touraine, 1985), might now have emerged.

Castells argues that social movements that engage in insurgent politics 
â âthe process aiming at political change (institutional change) in 
discontinuity with the logic embedded in political institutionsâ (p. 
300) â âin a world marked by the rise of mass self-communication, (â) 
have the chance to enter the public space from multiple sources. By 
using both horizontal communication networks and mainstream media to 
convey their images and messages, they increase their chances of 
enacting social and political change â even if they start from a 
subordinate position in institutional power, financial resources, or 
symbolic legitimacyâ (p. 302). With the help of four case studies he 
shows how social movements try to reprogram âthe communication networks 
that constitute the symbolic environment for image manipulation and 
information processing in our minds, the ultimate determinants of 
individual and collective practicesâ: the environmental movement, the 
movement for democratic globalization, the spontaneous movement that 
emerged in Spain after the al-Qaeda attacks in March 2004, and the Obama 
presidential campaign. Methods of media counter-power that are discussed 
include: the networking of scientists, activists, opinion leaders, and 
celebrities; the use of entertainment and popular culture for political 
causes; mobilization and networking with the help of social networking 
sites (MySpace, Facebook, etc); celebrity advocacy; event management; 
alternative online media; video sharing platforms (YouTube, etc); 
actionism; street theatre; hacking; electronic civil disobedience; flash 
mob activism supported by mobile phones (âinstant insurgent 
communitiesâ, p. 363); online fund-raising; Obamaâs emotional political 
style that promised hope and change in order to stimulate enthusiasm and 
grassroots activism; online petitions; political blogging; or 
delocalized mobilization and micro-targeting tactics supported by the 

6. A New Society?

Manuel Castells has advanced the disputed claim that the network society 
is a new society (Castells, 2000a, p. 371; see Garnham, 1998; Webster, 
1997a, b) in the sense that the relationships of production, power, and 
experience âare increasingly organized around networksâ that âconstitute 
the new social morphology of our societiesâ (Castells, 2000b, p. 500). 
One can note that in prior publications power seems to have been 
conceived by Castells as a typical political process, whereas now it 
seems to signify a broader phenomenon, which brings up the theoretical 
question how power, the political, and the non-political differ and are 
connected. Castells considers informationalism as the âmaterial 
foundationâ of the network society (Castells, 2000a, p. 367) and 
characterizes the economic sphere of the network society as 
informational capitalism or global economy, the political sphere as 
network state, and the cultural sphere as culture of real virtuality 
(Castells, 2000a, pp. 366-391). Within this approach that stresses the 
centrality of networks, informationalism, and communication, it is a 
logical step that Castells argues in Communication Power that âpower in 
the network society is communication powerâ (p. 53) and that 
âcommunication networks are the fundamental networks of power-making in 
societyâ (p. 426). But take a sphere such as the capitalist economy. 
Figure 1 shows the distribution of the capital assets of the worldâs 
largest 2000 corporations at the end of the fiscal year 2008, a year 
that will be remembered for the emergence and intensification of a 
global economic crisis. Although finance capital suffered large profit 
losses in 2008, it still accounted for 74.86% of the total assets of the 
worldâs largest companies. The oil and gas industry accounted for 6.21%, 
which shows the economic importance of fossil fuels â a resource over 
which wars are fought, which points out the military and political 
relevance of this part of the economy. The information industry made up 
4.59% of the total assets of the worldâs largest corporations [4]. This 
suggests that the capitalist economy is not dominated by the information 
economy and is not predominantly an informational capitalism, but 
besides an informational capitalism also new imperialism (Harvey, 2003), 
finance capitalism, hyperindustrial capitalism, etc. Capitalism is a 
complex economic field that is shaped by multiple interacting tendencies 
such as communication power, finance power, imperial power, 
hyperindustrial power, etc. Castells leaves no doubt about the large 
influence of finance capital in contemporary capitalism. He says that 
âthe structure and dynamics of financial networksâ are âat the heart of 
capitalist powerâ (p. 424). In my opinion notions such as âinformational 
capitalismâ and âcommunication powerâ should be used in a modest sense 
so that they signify only those parts of the economy or society that 
base specific operations on information and communication. Depending on 
which variables we observe (such as capital assets, profits, labour 
force, value added, transnationality index, etc in the economy), we can 
empirically calculate to which extent a certain aspect of a subsystem of 
contemporary society is information-based. This approach is different 
from saying that contemporary capitalism is predominantly informational 
and that the central power in contemporary society is communication power.

7. Conclusion

In sum: Manuel Castellsâ Communication Power is a powerful narrative 
about the connection of communication and power in contemporary society 
that presents rich empirical details, illuminating case studies, and 
represents an original and insightful approach. It will shape the 
disciplinary and transdisciplinary discussions about communication and 
power in the coming years. The central new category that the book 
introduces is the one of mass self-communication. Good books bring up 
many new questions, so I do have questions and also doubts about 
Castellsâ notion of power, the use of computer science terms for 
analyzing society, the assessment and categorical description of the 
power distribution between global multimedia corporations and the 
creative audience, the feasibility of the notion of web 2.0, his notion 
of social movements, the role of the movement for democratic 
globalization in contemporary society, and the centrality of 
informationalism and communication power. When all this is being said, 
it remains no doubt that this book empowers the academic discourse about 
communication power.

Contemporary society is a society of global economic crisis. This has 
resulted in a return of the importance of economic questions, which are 
also questions about class, in social theory and has shown which huge 
power the global financial and economic networks have over our lives. 
The central political task might now be to develop counter-power against 
the commodification of everything. That this is easier said than done 
was communicated recently by the result of the elections to the European 
Parliament. The task for social theory in the contemporary situation is 
to develop analyses of power and potential counter-power. Manuel 
Castells reminds us that the role of communication certainly should not 
be neglected in such endeavours.

Figure 1: Share of Selected Industries in Total Capital Assets of the 
World's Largest 2000 Corporations in 2008 (data source: Forbes 2000, 
2009 List)
Finance (Banking, Financials, Insurance): 74.86%
Oil and Gas, Utilities: 6.21%
Information: 4.59%
Consumer Durables: 1.95%
Food (Food, Drinks & Tobacco; Food Markets, Hotels, Restaurants & 
Leisure): 1.64%
Conglomerates: 1.49%
Materials: 1.46%
Transportation: 1.33%
Construction: 1.03%

[1] Of course one should mention that the Socialist International today 
makes more modest claims and argues that âthe democratic socialist 
movement continues to advocate both socialisation and public property 
within the framework of a mixed economyâ (Stockholm Declaration of 
Principles of the Socialist International, 1989). This meaning of 
socialism is not fully divergent, but far apart from the one advocated 
by central historical figures of socialism, such as Rosa Luxemburg, who 
argued that socialism is âa society that is not governed by the profit 
motive but aims at saving human labourâ (Luxemburg, 1951/2003, p. 301) 
and that the âaim of socialism is not accumulation but the satisfaction 
of toiling humanityâs wants by developing the productive forces of the 
entire globeâ (Luxemburg, 1951/2003, p. 447).

[2] Once one brings up the names Chomsky, Herman, or McChesney, some 
readers tend to invoke the cultural studies-inspired negative sentiment 
that the propaganda model and these authors advance an elitist agenda 
that considers the recipients as stupid and passive and neglects 
possibilities for active reception. Such readers should be advised that 
Herman and Chomsky are mainly analyzing strategies in media production, 
no matter how these strategies that are crystallized in media products 
are decoded and enacted by the audiences, and, more importantly, that 
Chomsky, Herman, and McChesney stress the political importance of 
alternative media production, diffusion, and reception, which is an 
aspect of political activity and counter-power of the media (see for 
example: Herman & Chomsky, 1988, pp. 306f; Herman & McChesney, 1997, pp. 
189-205; for this discussion, see also Herman, 1996a, 1996b, 2003; 
Klaehn, 2002).

[3] theobserver, accessed 
on August 2, 2008.

[4] The information economy consists for statistical purposes in these 
calculations of the following realms: media, semiconductors, software & 
services, technology hardware & equipment, telecommunications services.


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About the Author
Christian Fuchs holds a venia docendi from the University of Salzburg in 
the field information and communication technologies & society. His 
areas of research are: social theory, critical theory, information 
society studies, media & society, ICTs & society. He is author of more 
than 100 academic publications, among them the book Internet and 
Society: Social Theory in the Information Age (New York: Routledge 2008) 
and the study Social Networking Sites and the Surveillance Society. A 
Critical Case Study of the Usage of studiVZ, Facebook, and MySpace by 
Students in Salzburg in the Context of Electronic Surveillance (Vienna 

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