The theme uniting the writings of Castells, Benkler, Ronfeldt and Arquilla is media’s role in the power struggle between government, industry and the public sphere in contemporary “network society.” Although the authors describe modern trends through varied approaches, the control gained from the transmission of messages is central to each essay.
Castelles’ view of the relationship between communication, politics and power is best portrayed when he defines media as “the space of power making, not the source of power holding.” With the emergence of mass self-communication, Castelles describes civil society engagement as a possible counter power to market-centric failures of political legitimacy and global oligopolies.
Benkler, on the other hand, focuses on democracy as a networked public sphere that people must take advantage of in order to make the most of social policy and economic power shifts. Unlike Castelles, Benkler stresses the frailty of laws and institutions that make up our economic infrastructure in wake of increased consumer production and multidimensional knowledge flows.
Continuing the theme of increased knowledge capital in “network society,” Ronfeldt and Arquilla propose that the impact of communication tools and the proliferation of NGOs will encourage diplomats to redefine emerging realms of information as the Noosphere and modern soft power or noopolitike as the replacement of traditionally hard military power. They suggest that participatory information structuring could positively amplify democracy in the public sphere or incite dangerous resistance to Western norms and governing systems if state actors do not become more technologically literate.
Although diverse in their approaches, these authors present prudently optimistic views of the expansion of participatory “self communication tools” in the management of contemporary “information society.” The writings of Castells, Benkler, Ronfeldt and Arquilla give the reader confidence in trends toward multidirectional power flows and increased civil society control over modern political, social and economic discourse.