21 Nov 2011 5:00pm - 6:30pm Room 3, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane, Cambridge


Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media 2011: Manuel Castells

The Humanitas Chair in Media has been made possible by the generous support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation

Lecture 3: Social Movements in the Internet Age (2)



The analysis of the spontaneous, autonomous networked social movements is extended to other contexts, particularly to the Indignant Movements in Spain and to the Occupy Wall Street in the US, both in 2011.


A summary of findings is as follows: Social change involves an action, individual and/or collective that, at its root, is motivated emotionally as all human behavior, as Damasio says. The theory of affective intelligence in political communication argues that the trigger is anger, the repressor is fear. Anger increases with the perception of an unjust action and with the identification of the agent responsible for the action. Fear triggers anxiety, which is associated with avoidance of danger. Fear is overcome by sharing and identifying with others in a process of communicative action. Then anger takes over: it leads to risk taking behavior. When the process of communicative action leads to collective action and change is enacted, the most potent positive emotion prevails: enthusiasm, powering the purposive collective behavior. Enthusiastic networked individuals, having overcome fear, are transformed in a conscious collective actor.


Thus social change comes from communicative action that involves connection between networks of neural networks from human brains stimulated by signals from a communication environment through communication networks. The technology and morphology of these communication networks shapes the process of mobilization, thus of social change, both as a process and as an outcome.


Internet based social networks and wireless networks have the following chracteristics:


  • They are instant, support the spark of indignation
  • They are multimodal, images impact
  • They are horizontal and selective, so they induce trust and solidarity among peers.
  • Because they disintermediate formal leadership affected by legitimacy crisis they stimulate cooperation and reciprocity
  • They are viral, they diffuse fast. They are expansive.
  • They cannot be controlled because they have no center and they reconfigure the networks endlessly. Technologically and organizationally are difficult to suppress.
  • When and if they reach legitimacy in society at large, which is the case of all movements presented here, police repression, particularly when they are seriously injured demonstrators (eg Scott Olsen), strengthens the movement, barring massive bloody repression, difficult to enact in a liberal democracy.
  • They are local and global at the same time
  • They are self-reflective
  • They can connect with places and spatial networks, keeping the dynamics of interaction flows/places
  • They form a public space, both in the urban space and cyberspace to engage in continuing deliberation.
  • Yet, they cannot formalize any organization or leadership because they limit the consensus depends on ad hoc deliberation and protest, not on program and specific goals. Accordingly, they cannot focus on one task or project, as they cannot be channeled in political action that is instrumental, they cannot be coopted by political parties (that are distrusted) although political parties may profit from the change of mind provoked by the movement in the public opinion.
  • Thus, they are social movements, changing the values of society, and they can also be public opinion movements (in elections), and in that sense they are also political insurgency movements, arguing for democracy and representation but they are not programmatic and instrumental. They aim at transforming the state but not at seizing the state. They express feelings and stir debate but do not create parties or support governments – although they are becoming a target of choice for political marketing.
  • However, they are very political in a fundamental sense. This is when they propose and practice direct, deliberative democracy based on networked democracy. The utopia of networked democracy based on local communities and virtual communities in interaction. But utopias are a material force. 


Further events in the series are:




The lectures are free and open to all, no registration required. Free registration will be required for the symposium.

About Manuel Castells

Manuel Castells is University Professor and the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Prior to his appointment at USC he was Professor of Sociology and Professor of City Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, for 24 years.  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, a Fellow of the Spanish Royal Academy of Economics, and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. He has received 14 honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He has published 25 books including his trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (Blackwell, 1996-2003) translated into 21 languages.

About the Professorships

Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the Programme is managed and funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of a series of generous benefactors, and co-ordinated in Cambridge by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). Humanitas Visiting Professors are held by distinguished academics and leading practitioners who have contributed to interdisciplinary research and innovation in a broad range of contemporary disciplines in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Covering areas of urgent or enduring interest in today's society as well as the performing arts, Humanitas Visiting Professors will present their pioneering work through a series of lectures or performances open to University audiences and the wider public.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
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