Before having read Manuel Castells’ Communication Power, I had not consciously pondered the notion of power in today’s society. It is although the definition of the notion was already embedded in my brain. Professor Pierre Lévy (2015) called on two concepts in class this semester: Explicit and tacit (implicit) knowledge. Explicit knowledge is defined as knowledge that is easily communicated to others using speeches, essays, articles, etc. On the other hand, tacit knowledge (also known as implicit knowledge) includes knowledge that we obtain by personal experience. It is incorporated in our reflexes, however one is not able to easily explain it to the general public (i.e Riding a bike).
I reference the notion of implicit knowledge because this is the type of knowledge I once had regarding the notion of power. Personally, I could picture the concept of power in my mind by a simple graphic such as the following:
This picture “depicts how authority is delegated and decentralized” (Mad Management Skills, 2013) in a specific retail store. Before the analysis of Castells’ book, this illustration would be just about as far as I could go in order to explicitly define power in today’s modern society. Thanks to Castells’ work, I now have an explicit understanding of how power is obtained, maintained and transferred in a modern society. It is much more complex than the simple illustration above. The notion of a “modern society”, according to Castell and now myself, makes reference to today’s network based society. Although Castells’ writing is quite complex, he provides an in-depth analysis of the power of communication that a student at my level can easily grasp. One of my most appreciated aspects of this piece is the touch of personality he provides us in the beginning. He opens with “I was eighteen years old (…) My urge for freedom was bumping against the walls that the dictator had erected around life” (Castells, 2009, p. 1). Of course I do not live in a dictatorship, however I can relate to being 18 and the concept of escaping the walls of my parents’ home. In this way, Castells had my attention from the very first page.
In the first three chapters, Castells helps the reader understand that power relationships in a network society are based off of communication. Without going into extreme detail in my summary, I noticed that he emphasizes three main components (or determinants) that are integrated in the construction of power relationships:
The structural determinants of social and political power [,] the structural determinants of the process of mass communication under the organizational, cultural and technological conditions of our time [and] the cognitive processing of the signals presented by the communication system to the human mind as it relates to politically revenant social practice (Castells, 2009, p. 8).
Furthermore, chapters four and five focus on mass media’s effects on worldwide politics, more specifically political and social movements for change.
Castells first explains that “power is based on the control of communication and information, be it the macro-power of the state and media corporations or the micro-power of organizations of all sorts” (Castells, 2009, p. 3). In other words, no matter what type of power is in question, it is based on the control of communication and information. Consequently, how does one control communication and information? According to numerous fact-based articles and concepts advanced in Lévy’s class, the control of communication is based on curated content. To add on to Castell’s emphasis on the necessity of communication to obtain power, Boyd (2010) believes that “the power is no longer in the hands of those who control the channels of distribution; the power is now in the hands of those who control the limited resource of attention”. In the same article, she concludes that those who consume the information rely on curators to “help them focus their attention at the right moment” (Boyd, 2010). In correlation to Boyd, Castells explains that “power is the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered actor’s (…) values” (Castells, 2009, p. 10). One may conclude that “helping them (the consumers) focus their attention at the right moment” and asymmetrically influencing the decisions of consumers in ways that favor the empowered actor (the curator)’s values are the exact same concepts. Perhaps the right moment is referencing the right values or right interests of the curator.
Furthermore, according to Castells, “power is exercised (…) by the construction of meaning on the basis of the discourses through which social actors guide their action” (Castells, 2009, p. 10). This ties into the concept of explicit knowledge previously explained; it is exercised through discourses (for example, speeches and articles). An important part of this definition is the idea of power being exercised by the construction of meaning. As proven by many advocates of curation, giving meaning to collected data is one of the main jobs of a curator. Cobb, Minocha and Petre explain that “curators use their skills to create new meaning by combining content and context” (Bailie, 2015). Additionally, Lévy insists on collaborative learning which consists of externalizing tacit knowledge and internalizing explicit knowledge. In order to externalize explicit knowledge, one must find a sense for said data which is where curation comes in. Essentially, it is a sort of cycle: Internalize explicit knowledge, curate (give sense to the content), externalize implicit knowledge using discourse and finally, obtain power.While discussing the notion of power in today’s network society, it is necessary to take politics into account (i.e democracy, the type of government, etc.) and its relationship with the media. In fact, Castells insists that “the fact that politics is essentially played out in the media does not (…) imply that the media are the power-holders. (…) They are much more important: they’re the space of power-making” (p. 194). Castells possesses the same view of media as many other authors. Pando (2014) states that Facebook has recently shifted their weight from the last part of their mission statement to the beginning of it. Its mission is now more importantly than ever “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. Thus, on Facebook and almost any other social media platform, the power is now in the hands of those who control the limited resource of attention, just as Boyd explained.
Conclusively, Castells personal opening offered a reason for me to stay and read. Although this piece was at times difficult to comprehend, I was able to make sense of it through the concepts I have been introduced to more recently. An important idea to take away from this piece as well as Castell’s is that relationships of power are made and exercised through the management and control of communication processes. Additionally, power relationships have proven to be easily altered by individuals aiming for social or political change through the cycle of content curation, implicit and explicit knowledge. After analyzing Castell’s points alongside those of other authors regarding the power of today’s social network, it is evident that if one desires power, one must master the art of curation.
Bailie, H. (2015). Curation as a tool for teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://storify.com/hbailie/curation-as-a-tool-for-teaching-and-learning-1.
Boyd, D. (2010). Streams of content, limited attention: the flow of information through social media. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/10/streams-of-content-limited-attention-the-flow-of- information-through-social-media.
Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. United States : Oxford University Press. 432 p.
Goldberg, B. (2014). Facebook is no longer a social network. It’s the world’s most powerful news reader. Retrieved from https://pando.com/2014/07/24/facebook-is-no-longer-a-social-network-its-the-worlds- most-powerful-news-reader/.
Jrbede10. (2013). Mad management skills. Retrieved from https://gm600asmumn.wordpress.com/author/jrbede10/.
Lévy, P. (2015). CMN2570 : Nouveaux Médias- Notes du cours. Retrieved from PDF.