Communication Power

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Book: Manuel Castells - Communication Power. Oxford University Press, 2009,


""Where does power lie in the network society?" This is the central question that Manuel Castells tries to answer in his first book in ten years. After the disillusionment of the internet utopia as a liberating medium per se, Castells describes society using hardware/software terminology, drawing a stimulating picture. He grounds his analysis of the network society through different mass media conflicts like the media control and censorship in the USA, Russia, and China, the global environmental movement and the Barack Obama presidential campaign. These case studies are carefully detailed and make evident how power is differentiated in the network society, and suggesting that we are about to face change because networked structure can't be fully regulated by a few. Castells seems to be pessimistic, "whoever has enough money, including political leaders, will have a better chance of operating the switch in its favor." But one of the central points of his essay is the creation of a new appealing category describing contemporary communication in society that is "mass self-communication". It's about potentially reaching a global audience, but "self-generated, self-directed and self-selected". The commodification of self-communication is one of the big challenges of corporate control, although "the more they invest in expanding communication networks, the more people build their own networks". People should be aware of this and should try to move beyond the tendency to "overcome the powerlessness of their solitary despair by networking their desire", as they still evidently do." (


Christian Fuchs:

"The task that Manuel Castells has set himself for his book Comunication Power, is to elaborate answers to the question: “where does power lie in the global network society?” (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 Castells’ 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 – 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/biased/ scandal media politics and insurgent grassroots media politics.

Manuel Castells’ 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 Castells’ 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 counterpower.

Manuel Castells reminds us that the role of communication certainly should not be neglected in such endeavours." (


Typology of Power in the Network Society

Christian Fuchs:

"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 “paramount form of power in the network society” (p. 47). It is held and exercised by programmers and switchers.

  • Programmers have the power “to constitute

network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of the goals assigned to the network”.

  • Switchers have the power “to

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 cooperation” (p. 45). Castells gives numerous examples in his book for the usage of “programming” and “switching” networks in order to enact power and counter-power. He illuminates how power and “resistance 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 networks” (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 citizens’ movement that emerged in Spain after the al- Qaeda attacks in 2004, and the Barack Obama presidential primary campaign (chapter 5)." (