From a conservative family, Castells says: My parents were very good parents. It was a conservative family — very strongly conservative family. But I would say that the main thing that shaped my character besides my parents was the fact that I grew up in fascist Spain. You had actually to resist the whole environment, and to be yourself, you had to fight and to politicize yourself from the age of fifteen or sixteen".
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Manuel Castells. In Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age, sociologist Manuel Castells aims to conceptualise their relation with the Internet, or what he defines as the networked social movement. Author of other famous net-optimistic titles such as The Rise of The Network Society , Castells preaches of a world in which the Internet not only centralises our communicational routines, but also liberates individuals to shape a new autonomy, to reclaim power and to shake the political scene, leading to social change.
This second edition incorporates recent cases from Brazil, Turkey, Chile and Mexico, before then reintroducing the thesis. The networked social movement appears now as an extended and successful idea, having migrated from screens and streets to a more direct engagement with institutionalised power. Castells firmly believes that Occupy should be read beyond momentum, with its counterparts spreading across very different countries and contexts.
The reintroduction of the Arab Spring into this conversation, despite the controversies around its real existence , envisions the networked movement as a universal phenomenon. The diverse graphs attached to the appendix try to prove consistent public awareness of movements such as Occupy, which is fine.
However, the roots of this popularity, such as links with the mainstream media, remain undisclosed. In this sense, qualities such as togetherness, self-reflexivity and virality split networked movements from ordinary, or offline, social mobilisations and political campaigns. Castells aims to demonstrate how those qualities can be perceived in recent episodes of great media visibility. He brings up the case of Brazil. That event would be enough to attest to the power of networked movements, sending people out onto the streets and ultimately receiving a direct response from the government.
Letting alone that this thesis can be easily contested with many other factors, I will point out that the credit for this improved accountability is neither given to society, nor to the leftist government that was in power. It is rather the product of a new Internet-based mindset. Are these changes for good? The issue of temporality appears unaddressed. Those contradictions unveil more the traditional ambiguity of collective action than a seamless and spontaneous, online-mediated civil reaction, as the author argues.
As seen in the final chapter, a connected but disenchanted electorate can offer a risky protest vote, as happened with the Five Stars Movement in Italy. The benefits of well-connected social movements are clear and they can be enormous, even more far-reaching in vibrant democracies.
The truth is, while users of Facebook and Twitter, social movements must still struggle today against real inequalities before they can embody good cases of connectivity and Internet power. Helton Levy is a journalist and doctoral researcher at City University London.
His research approaches alternative media and inequality in contemporary Brazil.
Book Review: Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age by Manuel Castells