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[mediarepublic] Manuel Castells

I’m at the Berkman-Annenberg Media Re:Public conference. Manuel Castells (AKA The Manual Castells) leads off. [Note: Live blogging. In fact, I’m doing this while on stage as one of the presenters who follows Manuel. Reader beware. I get lots of things wrong.]

He wants to connect communication, democracy, power, and social change. Whoever prevails in the field of power relationships defines what that society is. “There’s never absolute power,” he says. “That’s how democracy comes about.”

If the construction of meaning is a key source of power (and it is, he says), meaning is constructed through a process of communication … communication between our neural networks and the external communication networks. A growing stream of research in neuroscience (e.g., DiMasio) shows the role of emotion/feelings in the construction of meaning and cognition. Political scientists are now developing studies that show how important feelings are in the realm of politics, through the construction of meaning. E.g., people reject info that doesn’t fit into their basic feelings. Such info has 4x chance of being rejected. The theory of affective intelligence (cf. “The Affect Effect”) says politics is substantially rooted in feelings that trigger emotions that lead to cognition. This has extraordinary consequences for democracy.

George Lakoff has shown how the metaphor of the war on terror has dominated American politics through linking to powerful images in our brain, appealing to the deepest emotion in human experience: fear of death. This helps explain why so many Americans still believe that there was a connection between 9/11 and Hussein.

This goes further than politics. Social movements act on the mind more than politics, he says. E.g., Environmental has transformed societies by activating mechanisms that led us to think we have a relationship with the planet that cannot be reduced simple to mining it for materials. The movement is scientific but also media-focused. Same thing with the women’s movement, the most important movement in [I missed the range] of history. This has been a revolution in the miond of women. Men try to accept but fundamentally we have not changed. What’s changed is how women think about themselves and their place in the world. It’s become normal. That is a cultural revolution. That goes through communication which comes through the process of activiating images and feelings in the brain.

That’s why media are fundamental, critical. They are the connection between our environment and our brains. That fact is widely recognized now. Media are the field of power, where power relationships get constructed, even though the media themselves don’t have the power. Politics are not determined by the media, but without the media politics doesn’t reach the society and have an effect.

Media politics in the past twenty years has led to the politics of scandals. Everywhere except in Scandinavia, major political changes are now always linked to some form of scandal. That’s become the fundamental weapon for political change.

If media are the political field, then politics and democracy depend on the power battles in the communications field at large. Therefore the transformation of communication and the media system is a fundamental component of the transformation of politics and democracy. There’s a fundamental transformation underway. Already 50% of the planet is connected to wireless communications. The wall that was stopping the rise of the Net in developing countries is beginning to crack. (There is of course still a digital divide, he notes.)

Corporations loom large, but corporations are being interpentrated by the horizontal communication the Net allows. You have to transform freedom into a commodity. [Not sure if he’s recommending this.] That’s where the business is. The endless capacity of hackers to create more levels of communication means the corporate world has to try to incorporate this. Ultimately the corporate media have to rely on a new form of articulation.

The key is that this distributes power to the edges of the network. The consequences are powerful. New images. Public debates. And throughout history, they have watched us; now we watch them. The real citizen journalist is anyone with a cellphone who can upload into YouTube.

The media space is where political struggle is being contested because that’s where the struggle over meaning is waged. [Tags: ]

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