The British Journal of Sociology 62 (2):
372--374 (2011)Communication Power leaves unanswered three clusters of questions. First, how exactly are societies ‘configured’ by communication networks? Crucial resources (economic power, military power, legal authority) cannot simply be reduced to network operations, even if they require networks as their means. Castells’ account of the state suggests as much: notwithstanding the state's ‘coordination problems’ (pp. 39–40), its monopoly of violence is ‘decisive’ (as Castells acknowledges (p. 417)), so the state must be more than ‘the default network for the proper functioning of all other non-communication power networks’ (p. 427). Indeed Castells provides examples (China, Russia) of states exercising power over communication networks. Second, is Castells’ analysis of the potential for social change from ‘mass self-communication’ (p. 196) (online social networks, blogs and the like) convincing? What of the time and other resource constraints, and sheer force of habit, that may block many from being permanently active online or orient them overhwlemingly towards non-political contexts? Isn't ‘mass self-communication’ already being coopted into corporate frames? Third, can Castells’ approach adequately explain political and social agency? Yes, media are an important ‘space of powermaking’ (p. 194) but what are the other institutional factors required if media appearances are to divert the actions of interlocking networks of power? Here Castells’ exclusive focus on political power becomes problematic. His examples of ‘insurgent politics’ (including the 2008 Obama campaign, global environmental campaigns) are remote from everyday power contests in the economy (rights in and to work, challenges to corporate authority). He gives few insights into how non-political forms of power (economic and legal) constrain resources and shape individuals’own framings (positive or negative) of their opportunities for political action. Indeed Castells is silent on the biggest political ‘reprogramming’ of all, the global spread of neoliberal discourse since the 1970s..