Monday, October 29, 2012

Computer Networks, Civil Society and the State

     People now can barely live one day without the Internet. Especially right at this moment, my friends in NY are getting crazy about loosing the Internet service due to Hurricane Sandy on Path, a mobile social network. The Internet becomes indispensible. And it seems to me that the society we live in has already been embedded in the Internet. Castell’s reading proves this view of the interaction between the Internet and civil society by saying “the Internet is not simply a technology; it is a communication medium, and it is the material infrastructure of a given organizational form: the network.” The Internet, as forming the network, is a key part in modern social movements. And these social movements rely on the Internet for disseminating messages and getting people to participate. Castell offers three reasons of why nowadays “social network emerging in the network society.” First, thinking of the nature of social movements, the call for a change in cultural values (to make the public opinion aware of global warming for example) needs the Internet to serve as a medium of organizing, because of the nature of the Internet as exchange of thoughts without geographical boundaries. It provides an efficient way of mobilizing people’s consciousness of society. Second, the Internet can easily fill the gap between the acts of NGOs and the mass. Since, social movements always feature emotional appeals, they need a platform like the Internet to express such information. The dynamics of participatory audience and diversity in the network are capable of arousing debates and discussions about sensitive issues such as moral and religion. Third, given the need of globalizing social movements, the Internet supports this linkage between “local” and “global”. Most social movements root in local societies, but aim to have a global impact. The Internet, by forming interactive networks from local support and legitimacy and bringing them to the global stage, constructs a bottom-to-top system of information world. As Castell says, “the Internet provides the material basis for these movements to engage in the production of a new society.”
       Castell's argument about the Internet and the politics reminds me of the “double-movement” theory by an economist named Polanyi. The “double-movement” is basically a process of while the government liberalizes the market to free competition under the "invisible hand" in order to maximize economic profits, it also builds strong regulations and policies over the free market to prevent the economy from being too liberal so that some sectors in the society that cannot be driven purely by supply and demand such as labor and money will not be put into misuse (for labor and money are not real commodities). In the case of the Internet in Singapore, the government promotes the Internet service for modernization and expansion of freedom, meanwhile it still retains power exercised on the Internet to control the communication networks for the goodness of the nation as a whole. This situation also indirectly proves how powerful the strength of people's voice could be in the public network when bringing positive or negative impacts onto a society.


  1. Yiyang, your post here about networks and social movements will be relevant again in the coming weeks as we read about the WTO Seattle protests in 1999 and other fights against globalization. Your example seems to offer an attractive balance between freedom and regulation, and certainly Castells is ultimately hopeful about the power of networks, but Castells also realizes that networks have the potential to both foster and frustrate freedoms we traditionally associate with liberal democracy. Networks, are, for instance, at the heart of the authority of transnational corporations (which for DeLuca and Peeples are the 21st century's true powers, above even nation-states).

  2. Like Alenda wrote, the Internet can act as both a medium to extend democratic freedoms and speech as well as a medium that can hamper and limit freedoms. The first thing that came to mind while reading the Castell's article was the group of hackers who call themselves "Anonymous" which came into the spotlight a little over a year ago after they began attacking companies like Visa and PayPal that opposed Wikileaks. Although they argue that they are trying to keep the Internet free, it is hard to ignore that attacking these companies' databases and disclosing private information about individuals who use these companies' services can reversely cause fear among people. While reading about their various cyber-attacks in the newspaper, I definitely became more fearful about the Internet and became worried of voicing any opposition against the Wikileaks case or against Anonymous out of fear that I would also get hacked. Since the Internet is so global and central to everyday life, people who are able to gain access to private information can take advantage of the mass of information that is floating in cyberspace, which can be counterproductive for democratic values of free speech and free enterprise.