Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Social Movements and the Ability to Enact Political Change

The readings for this week built upon some of the topics that we have already analyzed in this class regarding the international communication technologies and their ability to enact change. I enjoyed the use of concrete examples, mainly in the Castells piece, in analyzing the impact that ICT's have had within the last decade on high profile political movements. All of the readings point to the notion that these technologies have a strong impact and have given an unprecedented amount of power to people to enact change using autonomous modes of communication.

Castells utilizes a diverse set of examples to illustrate the power of mobilization through wireless means. While it is clear that the SMS technology certainly played a part, I think that Castells may overplay the wireless factor in some of the examples. He does come back to the audience and point out some other factors, especially within the case of Estrada in the Philippines, but I do think it is important to be realistic in all cases regarding the true role of mobile technology in these movements. All of the examples have extremely different contextual implications and to draw too strong of a correlation between the outcome and one level of the movement could be dangerous.

Hanson's article reaffirmed many of the previous assertions that we have discussed regarding the importance of international communication technologies in the realm of migration and transnational ethnic networks. I am particularly interested in the discrepancies between similar causes for ethnonationalist movements for the Tamil ethnic group and the ethnic Tibetans. Both groups have experienced unjust treatment and lack of recognition at the hands of the governments yet the worldwide audience is generally much more aware of Tibet's cause than that of the Tamils. Along with Bennett's "global activism," does the branding of an ethnonationalist cause have a strong effect on the global response? Hanson alludes to the "smiling Dalai Lama" as an image of Tibet's struggle for freedom yet most of the world has no reference point for the Tamil struggle. Perhaps the answer lies in the international NGO's ability to pick up the Tamil cause and run with it into mainstream media outlets in order to raise awareness.

The articles point to the importance of wireless technologies in the process of social change and it is important to realize that there will continue to be a shifting balance in the power structure as a result of the public opinion. The new modes of communication and proliferation of already established ICTs will undoubtedly continue to have a strong impact on political movements and work in conjunction with one another. The lasting impact will be in the level of power these technologies afford to all levels of the population in order to enact real change on an inclusive scale.

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