Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Power is relational; domination is institutional

Manuel Costells has a new (large) tome out on power and communication.  As his earlier work,  The Information Age Trilogy,  are considered classics.  I came across an interesting summation of this new (600+ page work).

Book Review – Communication Power – 1

Kiva Loaner, The Global Sociology Blog 7 April 2012 (hat tip: NC)

[F]or Castells, coercion is only one mechanism in a multilayered conception of power. And the more human minds can be shaped on behalf of specific interests and values, the less coercion and violence will be needed.  The construction of meaning to shape minds and to have these meanings embedded in institutions is important as they produce legitimation...
If there is no such construction of meaning, then, the state’s intervention in the public sphere will be exposed as an exercise in the defense of specific interests and naked power, triggering a legitimation crisis... That is, the state will be seen as an instrument of domination rather than an institution of representation. There is no legitimation without consent based on shared meaning....
...Social structures are, as Castells puts it, crystallize power relationships reflecting the state of never-ending conflict between opposing social actors and whose capacity to institutionalize their values and interests prevailed. And these social structures are themselves the products of processes of structuration that are multilayered and multiscalar (global, regional, national, local…
"Power is not located in one particular social sphere or institution, but it is distributed throughout the entire realm of human action. Yet, there are concentrated expressions of power relationships in certain social forms that condition and frame the practice of power in society at large by enforcing domination. Power is relational, domination is institutional."
Because of my historical interests, I tend to view the State's dominance in mass communications as being one of those trends that is best exemplified by the fascist states of Italy and Germany in the 20th century.  Although governments of course had used various means of persuasion, often religious in nature, to get the common folk on their side, none of this had had the immediacy of the new medium of radio, film, and latter television.

The power of these new ideas allowed controlling societies to be less hierarchical in a literal sense because the soft means of control (through ideas) was that much stronger.  Think of the modern work place.  They typically don't have 12 layers of management anymore: they just read your email and log into your facebook account.

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