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Sociologist Manuel Castells

Essay, art, transmedia social protest

Transmedia social protest from the viewpoints of Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells and Dutch composer JacobTV whose reality opera THE NEWS premiered at the Metropolitan Museum

Manuel Castells is a prominent Spanish sociologist and researcher on the information society, communication and globalization. The avant pop music by brilliant Dutch composer JacobTV is a blend of blues, jazz, rock, classical and world music performed by a nine piece band. The Berlusconi aria in THE NEWS was censored at the Maxxi Museum in Rome in 2011.


Over the last few years, a wave of social protests has rippled across the world, and in its wake we have witnessed the profile of the social movements of the information age. Yet, because of the novelty of their forms of mobilization and organization, an ideological debate is raging over the interpretation of these movements. Since in most cases they challenge traditional forms of politics and organizations, the political establishment, the media establishment, and the academic establishment have for the most part refused to acknowledge their significance, even after upheavals as important as those represented by the so-called Arab Spring, the Icelandic democratic rebellion, the Spanish “Indignant” movement, the Israeli demonstrations of 2012, Occupy Wall Street, the Brazilian mobilizations of 2013, and the Taksim Square protests, which shook up the entrenched Islamic government of Turkey. Indeed, between 2010 and 2014, thousands of cities in more than one hundred countries have seen significant occupations of public space as activists have challenged the domination of political and financial elites over common citizens, who, according to the protesters, have been disenfranchised and alienated from their democratic rights.

RIOTS! from THE NEWS by JacobTV . A key issue in this often blurred debate is the role of communication technologies in the formation, organization, and development of the movements. Throughout history, communication has been central to the existence of social movements, which develop beyond the realm of institutionalized channels for the expression of popular demands. It is only by communicating with others that outraged people are able to recognize their collective power before those who control access to the institutions. Institutions are vertical, and social movements always start as horizontal organizations, even if over time they may evolve into vertical organizations for the sake of efficiency. (This evolution is seen by many in the movements as the reproduction of the same power structures that they aim to overthrow.)

WORLD LEADER from THE NEWS by JacobTV . If communication is at the heart of social mobilization, and if holding power largely depends on the control of communication and information, it follows that the transformation of communication in a given society deeply affects the structure and dynamics of social movements. This transformation is multidimensional: technological, organizational, institutional, spatial, cultural. We live in a network society in which people and organizations set up their own networks according to their interests and values in all domains of the human experience, from sociability to politics, and from networked individualism to multimodal communities. In the twenty-first century there has been a major shift from mass communication (characterized by the centralized, controlled distribution of messages from one sender to many receivers and involving limited interactivity, as exemplified by television) to mass self-communication (characterized by multimodality and interactivity of messages from many senders to many receivers through the self-selection of messages and interlocutors and through the self-retrieving, remixing, and sharing of content, as exemplified by the Internet, social media, and mobile networks). The appropriation of networked communication technologies by social movements has empowered extraordinary social mobilizations, created communicative autonomy vis- à -vis the mass media, business, and governments, and laid the foundation for organizational and political autonomy. In a world of 2.5 billion Internet users and almost 7 billion mobile phone subscribers, a significant share of communication power has shifted from corporations and state bureaucracies to civil society — a shift well established by research.

TAHIR SQUARE live in Chicago from THE NEWS by JacobTV However, we have only scant grounded analysis of the technological, organizational, and cultural specificity of new processes of social mobilization and community networking. Too often, there is a naïve interpretation of these important phenomena that boils down to descriptive accounts of the use of the newest communication technologies or applications by social activists. Instead, a complex set of distinct developments is at work. It is simply silly (or ideologically biased) to deny or downplay the empirical observation of the crucial role of networking technologies in the dynamics of networked social movements. On the other hand, it is equally silly to pretend that Twitter, Facebook, or any other technology, for that matter, is the generative force behind the new social movements. (No observer, and certainly no activist, defends this latter position; it is a straw man erected by traditional intellectuals, mainly from the left, as a way to garner support for their belief in the role of “the party” — any party — in leading “the masses,” who are deemed unable to organize themselves.) Moreover, my observations of movements around the world reveal that the new social movements are networked in multiple ways, not only online but in the form of urban social networks, interpersonal networks, preexisting social networks, and the networks that form and reform spontaneously in cyberspace and in physical public space. This networking consists of a process of communication that leads to mobilization and is facilitated by organizations emerging from the movement, rather than being imported from the established political system. However, to make progress in understanding these movements, we need scholarly research that goes beyond the cloud of ideology and hype to examine with methodological reliability how communication works in such movements and to understand with precision the interaction between communication and social movements.

From this perspective, the book “Out of the Shadows, into the Streets!” represents a fundamental contribution to a rigorous characterization of the new avenues of social change in societies around the world. The concept of transmedia organizing that Sasha Costanza-Chock proposes integrates the variety of modes of communication that exist in the real media practices of social movements. From the activists ’point of view, any communication mode that works is adopted, so that the Internet and mobile platforms are used alongside and in interaction with paper leaflets, interpersonal face-to-face communication, bulletins and newspapers, graffiti, pirate radio, street art, public speeches and assemblies in the square. Everything is included in what Costanza-Chock calls the media ecology of the movement. This is the reality of the new movements and the foundation of their communicative autonomy, on which their very existence depends, particularly when repression inevitably falls on them.

In a world in which the fight for one’s rights can be shaped decisively by one’s ability to use the new means of communication, it is crucial to equalize access to the direct use of communication technologies by grassroots actors. By developing digital literacy, the movement can raise consciousness as well as find better uses for digital tools as they are adapted to movement goals. Otherwise the inevitable professionalization of transmedia organizers leads to the formation of a technical leadership that does not necessarily coincide with the leadership emerging from the grassroots.

The close analysis of these and related processes presented in the pages of this fascinating book is of utmost importance for understanding the new, networked social movements of the Internet age, as well as the potential of new communication technologies to broaden citizen participation in institutional decision making. In the midst of a widespread crisis of legitimacy faced by governments around the world, understanding these processes is crucial for activists, concerned citizens, open-minded officials, and scholars everywhere.

From the Forward by Manuel Castells for “Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets!” by Sasha Costanza-Chock is Assistant Professor of Civic Media in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department at MIT


Manuel Castells (born 1942) is a Spanish sociologist especially associated with research on the information society, communication and globalization. The 2000–14 research survey of the Social Sciences Citation Index ranked him as the world’s third most-cited social science scholar, and the foremost-cited communication scholar. He was awarded the 2012 Holberg Prize for having “shaped our understanding of the political dynamics of urban and global economies in the network society.” In 2013 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Sociology.


Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement

by Sasha Costanza-Chock is Assistant Professor of Civic Media in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department at MIT Foreword by Manuel Castells

Overview For decades, social movements vied for attention from the mainstream mass media—newspapers, radio, and television. Today, some say that social media power social movements, from Iran’s so-called “Twitter revolution” to the supposed beginnings of the Egyptian revolution on a Facebook page. Yet, as Sasha Costanza-Chock reports, activists and organizers agree that social media enhances, rather than replaces, face-to-face organizing. The revolution will be tweeted, but tweets alone do not the revolution make. In Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Costanza-Chock traces a broader social movement media ecology. Through a richly detailed account of daily media practices in the immigrant rights movement, he argues that social movements engage in transmedia organizing. Despite the current spotlight on digital media, he finds, social movement media practices tend to be cross-platform, participatory, and linked to action. Immigrant rights organizers leverage social media creatively, alongside a range of tools from posters and street theater to Spanish-language radio, print, and television.

Drawing on extensive interviews, workshops, and media organizing projects, Costanza-Chock presents case studies of transmedia organizing in the immigrant rights movement between 2006 and 2012. Chapters focus on the mass protests against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill; coverage of police brutality against peaceful activists; efforts to widen access to digital media tools and skills for low-wage immigrant workers; paths to participation in DREAM activism; and the implications of professionalism for transmedia organizing. These cases show us how transmedia organizing helps strengthen movement identity, win political and economic victories, and transform broader consciousness.

Author’s Note The author will donate half of the royalties from the sale of this book to the Mobile Voices project. Mobile Voices (VozMob) is “ a platform for immigrant and/or low-wage workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones. VozMob appropriates technology to create power in our communities and achieve greater participation in the digital public sphere. ”More information can be found at


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