Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chips and dip and W.L. Bennett

In the fantastical IC cocktail party in my head (and yes, there's a fantastical IC cocktail party in my head) Elizabeth Hanson is the person who bounces around the room talking to everybody; Castells, et. al. is the circle of people having a heady, fascinating intellectual conversaation you can't quite break into; Jeffrey Juris is the guy who grabs your wrist and leans in a little too close when he talks to you; and W.L. Bennett is the guy you run into by the guacamole and end up talking to the rest of the evening. (For the record, Aronson and Cowhey are the guys you accidentally sit next to on the couch and try to politely ignore until your roommate notices your desperate eyebrow semaphores and comes to rescue you.)

I absolutely loved this week's readings, but Bennett's was my favorite by far. The idea of using ICTs for global/social protests was fascinating to me. Some of the examples were familiar to me (the Zapatista movement, the Madrid election, the Nike and Fair Trade Coffee campaigns) and some were totally new (the Estrada ouster, Korea election, the Coca-Cola campaign). What I liked about Bennett's essay was that he was able to examine the events without getting swept away by enthusiasm for the potential of ICTs or anti-globalization movements, which (in my opinion, at least) gave him leeway to reflect a little more on the implications.

Bennett says that governments and institutions and corporations use communication networks to perpetuate the existing political-economic regime -- a regime which, presumably, already benefits them. BUT, activists have also used the same technology to find creative and innovative ways to challenge that power, which is very similar to what Castells said. So, essentially, these new ICTs are benefitting both the status quo and the opposition. To what degree is obviously a contentious matter, which explains why Castells and co. think the Chinese government won the SARS PR situation and Hanson thinks the people did.

All of this ties nicely back to the idea of the "noosphere" (much as I hate the word, I like the concept) and the idea that political movements are heavily influenced by the stories and ideas people try to introduce into the public domain. OK, I realize I'm totally geeking out over these readings, but I really did enjoy them and now I've got all of these interesting ideas buzzing around in my brain. Or maybe that's just the cocktail party chatter...


  1. I think that would be an awesome and crazy cocktail party to be attend, and I totally agree with the roles you've assigned the authors. I would love to be a fly on the wall (or lurker at a party) for a conversation with Castells (who I can now only think of as a Hobbit or "my muffin"...) and his friends. Although I'm sure most of it would go straight over my head, but it would be really interesting. I thought this week's readings were some of the most interesting so far as they were so relatable, especially in the context of recent events in Iran and the Obama presidential campaign. I would love it if Castells would write an update to that chapter and include more recent events, I think he would have an interesting perspective on it and would provide good incites that I'm not able to come up with (yet)!
    PS I also agree with the description of Aronson and Cowhey, we've all been stuck with those people at a party!

  2. Laura, I greatly enjoyed your blog this week. Like Katie, I would love to be a fly on the wall at this cocktail party. Your mind's eye view of where and what the authors would be doing is dead on. I, too, found Bennett's article to be a good read simply because he does give a more critical view of ICT use for social movements than Castells. The Coca-Cola example he sited was also new to me as well. I must admit, that I tried to use the link he cited in his article to find posters of the climate change polar bears, however, I was unsuccessful.

    Another interesting thing you did not mention in your blog that came to mind as I was reading it is the notion of elitism of the "ICT haves" in social movements because information can be spread without mass media channels. Does the fact that social movements without the reliance of mass media make social movements more or less elitist? There is still this underlying assumption that activists can create change with ICTs but those without them are left at the way-side. Sadly, this is the economic, political, and social regime that is being perpetuated to which Bennett eludes.

  3. Hey, Katie! One quick thought before I fly to class: Castells just came out with a book called "Communication Power" (you may recognize it as the book CH suggested we snuggle up with over the holidays) and if you're the sort of person who enjoys reading communication theory in your footie pajamas, you'd be happy to know it's got some more updated information, including coverage of the latest US election, although the book went to print too early to include the final election results. Even so, it's a pretty interesting book. I'd highly recommend it to anybody studying IC.