Bookreview: Communication Power

On: October 2, 2010
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About Mathijs Voordenberg
I’m Mathijs, a student New Media at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). In 2009 I finished my bachelor Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam with a thesis about the public sphere of Youtube. In 2009-2010 I worked as vice-president of the Amsterdam student union (ASVA), As vice-president I was responsible for the human resource, the promotion and a couple of projects among which the election of the teacher of the year at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (the Amsterdam university of applied science). Next to my study I work as freelance photographer and filmmaker.

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Where lies the power in network society? That’s the question Manuel Castells tries to answer in his book ‘Communication Power’. An interesting and relevant question considering our changing society. According to Castells, power relationships operate in networks. In his book he concentrates on the communication networks, because power relations are mainly based on shaping the human mind. So, according to Castells, to reach your goal, your message has to go through the media first. Thats why control lies in the hands of those who understand and control the communication networks.

In chapter one and two Castells focused on the change in society. According to Castells the concept of power changed with the introduction of the global network society. In these chapters he discusses the new concept of power, the change in the power of the state, a new form of mass-self communication and the new concentrated media ownership.

In Chapter three Castells writes about the mind and the concept of decision making. In the rest of the book Castells builds up his arguments quite precise, but in this chapter he goes out of his comfort zone and writes about “the mind”. In his own words ‘I am not claiming any special competence in neuroscience or cognitive science‘. Thats why the main part of the theory discussed in this chapter is based on the work of Antonio Damasio.

In chapter three, four and five Castells uses a couple of case studies where he’s focusing on politics. The case studies he uses are very interesting and very recognizable. In the first place because we are all familiar with the subjects; but also because they are easy to link to other examples in our society. One case study (which, for me, was really refreshing) was the case study about the war in Iraq. Castells shows the influence of framing in this war. In fact, the framing around patriotism and the war on terror became more important than the real political message. Castells regards that politics have changed, politics today are more and more media politics where politicians mix up their political message with a marketing message. When we look upon todays Dutch political landscape we see exactly the same. The best example is Geert Wilders, a politician who became very popular by his metaphorical way of expressing. And when we look at the message of Wilders, we see that the framing indeed became more important than his message.

Manuel Castells ends his book with the conclusion that the programmers and switchers hold the power in network society, and that the networks they operate are not free of commerce and political power. Castells warns the reader that we have to know the form of power in network society. ‘If we don’t know the form of power in network society, we cannot neutralize the unjust exercise of power. And if we do not know who exactly the power-holders are and where to find them, we cannot challenge their hidden, yet decisive domination.’ (p. 431)

His final conclusion is: ‘The most important practical conclusion of the analysis presented in this book is that the autonomous construction of meaning can only proceed by preserving the commons of communication networks made possible by the Internet, a free creation of freedom lovers. This will not be an easy task – because the power-holders in the network society must enclose free communication in commercialized and policed networks, in order to close the public mind by programming the connection between communication and power.’ (p. 431)

Communication Power is really enjoyable and easy to read. Castells used case studies we are all familiar with and he builds up his arguments with precision. He defines his concepts really well and guides his reader through all his hypotheses and arguments. Besides Castells hypotheses, the book also delivers a very comprehensive theoretical framework as a result of which also readers without a background in communication science can easily read the book. I highly recommend this book to every student of media, political science and communication science.

Full details:
Communication Power
Manuel Castells
Oxford University Press, 2009
571p., English
ISBN 978-0-19-956704-1

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