Continuing on from yesterday’s media theme:

Book: Communication PowerCommunication Power
Manuel Castells
Hardback, 575 pages (of which the Appendix, Bibliography and Index take up the last 150 pages)
Published: July 2009
Oxford University Press
Ease of reading: 1/5

It needs to be said up front that this is an academic book, written in an academic style with references within the text to other academics and books. It builds on from Castells’ series of three books looking at the Information Age published in the late 90s and early 2000s and his book The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective.

Castells starts by relating his personal experiences living and growing up in Franco Spain – where if he wanted to read Freud he had to go to the only library in Barcelona with access to his work and fill out a form explaining why or if he wanted to read Marx or Satre a journey in to neighbouring France was necessary – and how this influenced his understanding and interest in power and communication.

In the first part of the book Castells takes us from an anlysis of power – referencing a great number of thinkers not normally grouped together along the way – to how this understanding of power can be applied to a network society. He describes his perspective on power as “ecectic” and summarises that:

…power is not located in one particualar social sphere or instituion, but it is distributed throughout the entire realm of human action. Yet, there are concentrated expressions of pwer relationships in certain social formas that condition and frame the practice of power in society at large by enforcing domination. Power is relational, domination is institutional.

The book then examines communications in a digital age, looking at areas such as key relationships between multinational media and diversified internet corporations, regulatory policies and creative audiences. The majority of the book delves into how the relationship between communications and politics within this networked society; how it is programmed and how it needs re-programming.

As an aside, Castells comes to similar conclusions as Nick Davies regarding Rupert Murdoch:

Murdoch is an ideologically conservative media tycoon who keeps personal control over the third largest and most profitable mutlimedia business conglomerate in the world. But he is, above all, a successful businessman who understood that his power would be maximised by keeping his options open.

Castells concludes his book with a task: to ensure the preservation of the internet – “a free creation of freedom lovers” – against the power-holders within the network.

… if you think differently, communication networks will operate differently, on the condition that not only you, but I and a multitude choose to build the networks of our lives.

Whilst Castells hopes that anyone interested in communication and power would read this book, it is only for the most determined within that group. As ‘Norman‘ amusingly, but unfairly points out with his Amazon review: “Considering this is a book about communication it is the most badly written book I have ever read. There are some good (and interesting) points made but a very difficult book ‘to get into’.”

If you want a less hard going book this summer on the media read Flat Earth News. But if you want a book that gives a wider perspective of how communications, not just the media, operate in the context of politics, commercialisation and the network society this is your mountain to climb.