Book review: Networks of Outrage and Hope

Cover of the book review: Redes de indignación y esperanza

The Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies has just published a book review that I did on Manuel Castells’ Redes de Indignación y Esperanza (Networks of Outrage and Hope in its English edition).

Unlike most reviews — not my words, but someone else’s — my review is not just a description of what is in the book, but an actual review or, better put, a critique. Not necessarily negative one, mind you, but a reading with at least a critical eye.

In my review — which, by the way, is in Spanish — I begin by telling why the book is relevant and comes at a perfect timing.

Then, I go into debating on of the most important (to me) subjects of Manuel Castells’ trilogy on the Information Society and that the author revisits in his by now latest book: the question of space (or of spaces). Unlike what he did in The Information Age, though, his approach to the concept of space is somewhat changed here, and goes more in the line of what other authors have stated, like John Perry Barlow, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Javier Echeverría or Marc Augé.

The paper can be downloaded at the following link, and the bibliography that I used can be accessed after the download section.


logo of PDF file
PDF download:
Peña-López, I. (2014). “Redes de indignación y esperanza”. In Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 1-4. New York: Routledge.


Alcazan, Monterde, A., Axebra, Quodlibetat, Levi, S., SuNotissima, TakeTheSquare & Toret, J. (2012). Tecnopolítica, Internet y R-Evoluciones. Sobre la Centralidad de Redes Digitales en el #15M. Barcelona: Icaria.
Barlow, J.P. (1996). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Davos: Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Castells, M. (2004). “Informationalism, Networks, And The Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint”. In Castells, M. (Ed.), The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.
Castells, M. (2012). Redes de indignación y esperanza. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
Corsín Jiménez, A. & Estalella, A. (2013). “The atmospheric person: value, experiment and ‘making neighbours’ in Madrid’s popular assemblies”. In Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3 (2), 119–139. Manchester: University of Manchester.
Corsín Jiménez, A. & Estalella, A. (2014). “Assembling Neighbours. The City as Archive, Hardware, Method, and “a very messy kind of archive””. In Common Knowledge, 20 (1), 150-171. Durham: Duke University Press.
Echeverría, J. (1999). Los Señores del aire: Telépolis y el Tercer Entorno. Barcelona: Destino.
Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York City: Ace.
Neale, M. (2000). William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories. Los Angeles: Docurama.
Stephenson, N. (1992). Snow Crash. New York City: Bantam Books.


Towards a definition of the network party

Graphs of networks: traditional parties and the 15M movement
Traditional parties and the 15M movement according to Aragón et al. (2013) and Toret (2013), respectively.

Network Society sociologist Manuel Castells has often in his work talked about the concept of the network enterprise. Despite he does not actually provide a formal characterization of what a network enterprise is — or I failed to find one — the concept is very appealing. And is not only appealing when confronting it with aa Taylorist/Fordist model vs. a Kanban/Toyotist model, but because it is an open enough concept (its strength, its weakness) to translate it into other contexts. For instance, politics: is there something like a network party? Are many or some of the new movements that we are witnessing — the Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados, Occupy Wall Street, YoSoy132 — actually more than movements? Are some of the evolutions of these movements — in the case of Spain, Partido X, Podemos, Guanyem — not traditional parties but… network parties?

The network enterprise

Castells, in The Rise of the Network Society, defines the network enterprise as that specific form of enterprise whose system of means is constituted by the intersection of autonomous systems of goals. This idea of autonomy is essential as, on the one hand, it is one of the consequences of the detachment of the physical constraints once information and communications are digitized and, on the other hand, one of the main causes of the changes in institutions that we will increasingly be witnessing.

This autonomy enables a network made of firms or segments of firms, or from internal segmentation of firms that now have the project at their core. Projects, not assembly lines, are the operational units around which all actors and resources spin. The project is an independent partnership which can be accountable for its successes and failures, which has its own structure and its own developments.

And yes, projects can interact, leading to corporate strategic alliances and inter-firm networking, but always on the basis of horizontal cooperation. Thus, we leave behind industrialism to embrace informationalism, and we leave behind mass production to embrace flexible production.

Later, in Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society, Castells emphasises that the network enterprise is not about a network of enterprises, but about internal decentralization and partnerships with other firms having as a link, as a connector the project. Through this link, information flows: sharing information is the basis of co-operation. And when the exchange of information is no more needed, the project is dismantled and alliances are over… for that project.

Although not exactly related with the network enterprise, Castells partly depicts the impact of this change in the ways of production in society. In Local and Global: Cities in the Network Societyy, the author speculates on changes to the work-living arrangements which may be coming back to prior-industrial era times, transforming industrial spaces into informational production sites, in ways similar to how craftsmen shared knowledge and expertise.

The network party

So, can we translate these reflections into the political party arena?

I believe most of the aforementioned points can be put side by side in a comparison between traditional parties and (a mostly theoretical approach to) network parties:

Traditional party Network party

Network of (subsidiary) branches.

Network of cells, franchises.

Internal hierarchy.

Internal independence.

Internal centralization.

Internal decentralization.

Information is kept secret, even to insiders.

Co-operation based on sharing information, especially with outsiders.

The unit of production is the programme.

The unit of production is the project.

Hierachic system of procedures.

Autonomous system of goals.



Total planning.

Open social innovation.


  • Management-worker submission.
  • Especialized labor.
  • Message control.
  • Iincrease control.


  • Management-worker cooperation.
  • Multifunctional labor.
  • Quality control.
  • Reduce uncertainty.

Mass production.

Flexible production.

Inter-firm chain of command.

Inter-firm networking.

Corporate competition.

Corporate strategic alliance.

Vertical cooperation.

Horizontal cooperation.

Party is your life/job.

Work-living arrangements, casual participation.

How to more thoroughly characterize the network party, and, most important, how to identify what parties and to what degree they share these characteristics is a work that surely needs being done. Especially to test whether any of this is actually true, or if it actually works. But, at least, I believe there is some pattern that strives to match this model.


From wikileaks to the Global Spring. Logics of the Internet in collective action

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Presentation of the Conference: Manuel Castells

In recent years there have been social movements that address the lack of representativeness and legitimacy of their politicians and governments. Institutions have been emptied of content.

It is not that democracy has ceased to be “democratic”, but many citizens believe so, which is a serious issue. And that is why many citizens look for alternative and more effective ways of participation.

So, what we are witnessing is not a minor protest, but a new pattern of behaviour that leads to change. Change of institutions and forms of institutionalization that should lead to new ways of decision-making that affects people’s lives. It is not (only) about building a new future, but about fixing our present. And it is not (only) about finding new ways of participation, but about designing new democracies.

We should be able to tell the difference between the actual mobilizations that imply occupations, fights with the police and some times some violence, from the ideas that boost these mobilizations. There of course is much debate and disagreement around the way mobilizations take place, but the consensus arises when the debate focus on the reasons and foundations of the mobilizations.

What forms of activism and mobilization in the public space can be carried on so that they affect the public agenda, real politics and decision-making? And this is the field of experimentation that we are witnessing. And what happens when the red line of violence is trespassed, as it implies the death-sentence of the movement.

This is what is at stake and it is very likely to intensify until it finds a solution.

Round table: From wikileaks to the Global Spring. Logics of the Internet in collective action
Chairs: Arnau Monterde

Marga Padilla (

Protests in the Internet have their own specificities, fights in the Internet work, if not different, with their own rules of the game.

So, what is the Internet? What is the cyberspace? In his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow defines it as a free non-physical space where physical violence cannot be enforced, where the rules of a material world do not apply any more. Despite the romantic approach of the declaration, it is absolutely true that the cyberspace, or the Internet, does imply many challenges to law and governance as we know them. This feature of an disembodied space implies:

  • The Internet can be experienced in many ways depending on the interests that drive action on the Net, interests that are often opposed. Ambiguity is, thus, the very nature of the Internet.
  • If a device can work in many ways and its not physical, it cannot be controlled. The Internet, and the messages that go through it, cannot be controlled.
  • Last, a very specific thing about the Internet is that we have its code, we know how it works.

What is then at stake is (1) how to control access to this virtual space and, as a consequence, (2) how to control access to virtual goods that are not scarce, that can be freely and costlessly distributed and replicated.

The case of Wikileaks

Wikileaks presents a paradigmatic case of ways to attack the freedom of speech in the Internet, taken as a separate space from “reality”: while Wikileaks was haunted all along cyberspace (attacking their hosting services, their domain names, etc.), newspapers publishing Wikileaks’ documents were not attacked. Why was that so? Was Wikileaks more dangerous on the Net that on paper? Or was it because of the nature of the Internet?

One of the explanations is that while newspapers are usually national and politically-biased, Wikileaks acted internationally, with no political-bias, attacking the core of governments without a political agenda behind (did not want to substitute a government by another, which would have been understood as “fair”), it provided raw data and not just interpreted or mediated information.

Wikileaks is an unfinished device, it needs a solidarity network that “completes” what Wikileaks is providing. Wikileaks contributes to the commons by resigning control. All other nodes in the network acknowledge that Wikileaks is providing wealth to the network, which is good in itself (despite agreement or disagreement on what is specifically providing). Providing content, networking, wealth, is of most value in a network. And it is that value that was attacked.

On the other hand, the Internet is still seen as a lawless space, where the rules and law of the “real world” somewhat do not apply. Freedom of speech, the right to have a name or a website, etc. can be more easily attacked on the Net that on the flesh-and-bones world.

The cyberactivism kit

  • Deep professional and technological knowledge.
  • Capability to react quickly.
  • Deliberate ambiguity, confusion, comfortability with chaos.
  • Decentralized information &mash; vs. centralized traditional independent news sources.

The case of Anonymous

Anonymous — a non-organization, with an undefined political goal — can be understood as the reply of the lack of (or violation of) human rights on the Internet. If governments and firms act illegally or a-legally on the Net, Anonymous will do tantamount from the approach of the citizen.

Anonymous can also be understood as the result of the clash of two different rights: the freedom of speech, the freedom to access culture, and copyright.

Anonymous adds to the cyberactivism kit:

  • Citizen politics with generic and plain English words
  • Aim of anonymization, in the sense of unselfishness.

Laura Pérez Altable (UPF)
Informative flows during the Arab Spring: the case of Tunis

Some examples of digital networks of communication helping social movements:

  • Castells labels the Zapatist Movement (1994) as the first informational guerilla: it used international media intensively to both diffuse their message and also to organize themselves around the message.
  • The Battle of Seattle (1999) used for the first time the blog to organize and also diffuse their message.
  • Iran lived unrests in 2009 against the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad where Twitter was broadly used as a tool to organize the protests.
  • The Arab Spring (2010–), which witnessed how the message was co-built and co-broadcasted by citizens and corporate media.
  • Others: Occuppy Wall Street, YoSoy132, etc.

Sampedro (Opinión pública y democracia deliberativa. Medios, sondeos y urnas. Istmo, Madrid, 2000) states that there are two different public spheres: the central one, where politics and media act, and outer or periferic public spheres that is where citizens act.

The traditional scheme of a political sphere that affects media that affect the public sphere is intercepted by a new actor: the digital networks of communication. These networks intercept the message especially between media and the public sphere, but actually affect all levels and actors in the scheme. With the appearance of the new actor, both the Agenda-Setting Theory and the Gate-Keeping Theory are altered and have to be explained from scratch, now including the new actor. Media are transformed: from being gatekeepers that filter information they turn into gatewatchers that make it visible.

Citizens hack local media and the official discourse of the government by aiming at international media and the international civil society.


Q: People on the Internet may not suffer violence in it, but they definitely do outside of it because of their virtual actions. So, it is just partially true that there is no violence in cyberspace. How can this be counteracted? What is disobedience in cyberspace? Marga Padilla: the best way to perform disobedience is by hacking, that is, not going against the law on a straightforward manner, but circumventing it or even using it for one’s own purposes.

Eduard Aibar: The decentralized structure of the Internet is it true or just an illusion? How can the Egyptian government shut the Internet down in a matter of hours? A: While it may be physically possible to shut down the Internet, alternatives to connect to the Net were possible. On the other hand, the social and economical impact of shutting down the Internet implied that shutting it down was not sustainable in the medium-term. Marga Padilla: the best way to avoid Internet shut-downs is the ability to have a plan B by creating mirrors, for which both knowledge and the physical layer are required. Any social movement should have a hacker in their lines: hacking should be in each and every political or citizen agenda.


Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)

Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (XIII). Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, held in Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2010. More notes on this event: eLChair10.

Round Table: Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies
Jill Attewell, Steve Vosoo, Matthew Kam & John Traxler. Moderates: Manuel Castells, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3, UOC)

Social entrepreneurship?

Eva de Lera: What about social entrepreneurship?

John Trexler: there does not seem to be a lot of activity in social entrepreneurship in the field of learning. Maybe other models, like free schools in the UK would be a better option if we are talking about education.

Matthew Kam: it depends on the definition of social entrepreneurship. If entrepreneurship is doing something that benefits your community, we may find some. And some of this deliver pretty good education.

New colonialism?

Emma Kiselyova: Can we do more wrong than good?

Jill Attewell: I’d rather use technology enhanced learning, not e-learning. This way, what we are doing is not creating something new from scratch, but enhancing something that already existed.

Steve Vosloo: how carefully is too careful? Sometimes going “too” carefully may imply losing lots of opportunities.

John Trexler: It is OK to go as quick as possible. The problem is that reflections need their own pace, and we sometimes take decisions on flawed reflections.


Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: What are the conflicts between formal and informal education? What is the role of motivation in this apparent dichotomy? Does it have to be informal to motivate? Is that good or bad?

John Trexler: It depends on what we understand by motivation. Motivation has sometimes been “triggered” by just pouring money or free devices in the users’ hands.

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: Indeed, motivation should come from other channels rather than — or added to — technological ones, like organizational change, institutions, etc.

[I personally wonder whether we might be “crowding out” formal education for too much focusing in informal education].

Success and failure

César Córcoles: How do we know which projects are successful and which a failure? And which ones are more likely to succeed and which others to fail? What is the tolerance to failure?

Matthew Kam: One of the problems is that most of the projects do not count as scholarly research, which means that many resources (especially human) are automatically kept away from being applied in many projects. On the other hand, most funding goes to successful projects, even if some failures may imply interesting lessons learnt that could be applied to following projects.

What infrastructure

Carlos Fernández: What about one-cellphone-for-all (the style of OLPC)?

Manuel Castells: the matter is that almost everyone already has a mobile device, and thus is why many projects address mobile phones.

John Traxler: this is the story again of the ideology behind the technology.

Jill Attewell: people in poor areas want the same devices as everyone else and they want the same features.

Julià Minguillón: the OLPC project failed because it never was an educational project. It never had the educational community in its design, teachers were not trained, contents were not created, etc.

Educational institutions

Ismael Peña-López: if industrialization — with its flaws — brought education to everyone, why do most educational projects keep on circumventing educational institutions instead of strengthening them? Why so much focus in informal education?

Matthew Kam: agreed. Nevertheless, there are many aspects of informal education, gaming, etc. that could contribute a lot to improve and bring a wind of change to institutions [which I in turn agree too].

Manuel Castells: indeed, most schools are not about education and empowering the kids, but about politics. Nevertheless, if change is to be made, institutions definitely have to be an important part of it.


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (2010)

Pekka Himanen: The Hacker Ethic: The Way Forward after the Current Global Economic Crisis

Notes from Pekka Himanen’s conference The Hacker Ethic: The Way Forward after the Current Global Economic Crisis held at the Open University of Catalonia/Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona (Spain), on November 2nd, 2009.

Manuel Castells: Introduction

The hacker ethic is the cultural factor that emerges from the Network Society. If the Network Society is a new social paradigm, the hacker ethic is the culture that results from all the changes that conform the Network Society.

Pekka Himanen: The Hacker Ethic: The Way Forward after the Current Global Economic Crisis

An emphasis to be made is that the hacker ethic is not only about computer scientists, or about geeks and nerds, but it is a wider cultural transformation in the sense of the number and kind of people that might fit the definition. The hacker ethic can effectively be taken out of the technological sphere.

So, in context, if this is a Network Society and this is its culture, what is the role of hacker ethic in today’s economy and today’s crisis? Beyond economic development we need a broader sense of development. And it is likely that this new ethic can be part of the solution, of this broader sense of development.

Fundamental challenges nowadays:

  • Clean: Climate change, being radical innovation the way to go forward;
  • Care: Welfare society 2.0, as inequality increases and more people are unattended;
  • Culture: Multicultural life, how to cope with the increasing cultural crossroads that globalization is creating.

How can innovation turn challenges into opportunities? How can hacker ethic help in creating innovation-based solutions? Hackers can help to discover cleaner energy sources, biohackers will eventually help in creating a healthier society (being DNA the open source of life), cultural hackers can help in creating new and more meanings in multicultural life.

The problem is that the world economic, innovation and scientific centres are not evenly distributed across the world, but mainly concentrated in the US, Europe and some Asian countries. Why are these so much concentrated?

Innovation centre dynamics, or what do you need to have an innovation centre:

  • Culture of creativity: hacker ethic
  • Community of enrichment, where failing is accepted, where entrepreneurship is fostered, where ideas are economically supported (funded)
  • Creative people

Face-to-face communication — added to virtual communication and knowledge exchange — is what creates this climate or environment of innovation. This is what we find in Silicon Valley around Stanford University, or in other innovation centres around the world.

Increasingly, creative, innovative, knowledge intensive jobs are any more at the edges of the economic system, but at their sheer centre. Thus, it is important to know how to enable and foster the creation of such centres, as they are likely to be the solutions — or the solutions providers — for the crisis and for future development.

Ancient Athens went through an important era of huge investments that concentrated a lot of creative activities driven by Plato, Socrates, Pericles, etc. The Agora and surrounding buildings was an infrastructure for communication and interaction that brought together people from different backgrounds. Just like Silicon Valley and Stanford University.

Hacker’s ethic: creativity, that relies on a community of enrichment, that relies on mutual confidence. In this three layer structure, you both (a) feel like part of a big, powerful community and (b) are actually acknowledged as a person (not as a number). And it is a self-feeding logic.


Ismael Peña-López: how do you change mindsets? how do you transform a short-run profit system into a meritocratic, hacker system? Himanen: the most important thing to do is to change education. On the other hand, there are plenty of good examples of applied hacker ethic; there are also good ideas that get funding for addressing the more urgent challenges, and maybe what’s changed is that, instead of having a project, or a business plan, is having a mission.
Castells: it is not about being good or bad, but clever or stupid. All major innovations come from communities and just rarely from individuals or even small teams. All major advances are based on smart collaboration.

Enric Senabre: What’s the acceptance of the hacker in public opinion? Himanen: hackers are not computer criminals; and hackers are not computer nerds. It is about a real ethos. It’s an informational work ethic, a creative ethic.
Castells: The good thing about the term “hacker ethic” is that it challenges many prejudices and ex-ante thoughts at the same time.

Daniel López: How to move forward the concept of “hacker”? What about “craftmanship”? Himanen: Of course, hacker has something to do with craftmanship. But the term hacker is also a self-adopted term by hackers themselves, which makes it special.

Q: Do you consider yourself a hacker, or feel like one? Himanen: yes, it is all about passion, a creative passion, and the way of doing things almost obsessively, though a pleasant obsession.

Q: Is hacker ethic spreading? Is there more people becoming hackers? Himanen: There is some evidence that in two years there’ll be work shortage, as many people will retire. And people will be able to chose their works and do it on a mission-basis or on an environment-basis, more than just wage or other similar conditions.

Ricard Ruiz de Querol: Is the actual crisis a financial crisis? If so, what’s the feeling like in hackers environments about it? Himanen: hacker ethic is a neutral term, it just describes the relationship with work. And it is independent from social values. Notwithstanding, it is difficult that lack of specific social values (e.g. a better world) is compatible with hacker ethic. What, then, would your creativity serve?

Anna Soliguer: How can hacker ethic inspire social movements? Himanen: In some sense, Obama followed a hacker ethic. The thing is how to link participation in social movements with leadership.

Q: Is there any particular reason why hacker ethic is stronger in welfare states (e.g. in Scandinavia)? Are people from the Pirate Bay hackers? Do they pursue a better world? Himanen: Finland, for instance, is a place where, in general, there is this creative environment that is so strongly needed for hacker ethic to emerge (e.g. it took Linus Torvalds 8 years to finish his Masters’ thesis and nobody made an issue about it). On the other hand, if you have some basic needs covered (by a welfare state) you’re not that urged to make profit out of your ideas or personal time.
Castells: most hackers come originally from the US, where not welfare but the idea of freedom is what predominates. The idea being that you can have different economic systems that lead to hackerism, but what is necessary is the aim to create and a system that allows this creation. On the contrary, continental Europe, traditionally the craddle of the welfare state, has not a huge community of hackers.

Ismael Peña-López: Reality has change so much from the origins of the hacker ethic in the late 60s and the early 70s. Will the hacker ethic fade out and disappear? What, then, will happen with the Network Society? Himanen: political involvement is only partly true. People where not that involved in politics but in social rights movements, and, on the other hand, people still are involved, though in different ways: people are not interested in political hierarchies, but other ways of engagement. Indeed, people are increasingly engaged, though in newer ways.
Castells: hacker ethic is not a cause of the Network Society, but a consequence. Hence, the whole world is entirely inside the Network Society and there is no way back. On the other hand, the creativeness of the hacker ethic had to cut through the system during the late 60s and early 70s, to fight against bureaucracies. Nowadays, on the contrary, it is the corporate world who is adopting hacker ethics (e.g. Google), and most big companies are increasingly relying on the passion to create, even Microsoft is doing this. If we forget about the label “hacker”, we will find plenty of examples of “creativity” and “innovation”, which is at the core of hacker ethic.

Begoña Gros: at our schools, we are promoting neither creativity nor passion. What’s it like in Finland? Himanen: curiosity is fostered in Finland. When you’re passionate about one thing, you begin putting questions about that, and this is something that the Finnish educational system is comfortable with. On the other hand, you’re invited to find what you want to do in life, to find a meaning, before going on (e.g. to the job market). The good thing about Linus Torvalds is not only his talent, but the ability to develop things, to help things become important not only for you but for others. This means, notwithstanding, that we have to go on encouraging creativity and innovation at school, so to make a hacker ethic possible amongst students.


Manuel Castells: Politics and Internet in Obama era

Live notes at the research seminar Politics and Internet in Obama era by Manuel Castells. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 26th, 2009.

This lecture is part of Manuel Castells’ new book Communication Power.

Politics and Internet in Obama era
Manuel Castells

Internet Usage

Was what truly surprising and unpredictable was not that Democrats won the election — most likely to happen after the crisis, the wars and so — but that Obama won the primary elections. And the Internet was decisive. If Howard Dean leveraged the power of the Internet in the benefit of his campaign, in Obama’s, it was not only leveraged by determinant.

But it was not only the Internet, but also additional factors in the design of Obama’s campaing.

A first reason the Internet played such a role, was Internet usage, that has hugely increased compared to the previous elections four years before: 46% of adults used Internet or cellular phones to get political information, twice as much in Howard Dean’s times. And, indeed, there also were more Democrat voters using the Internet than Republican voters. And social networking sites (SNS) are just pervasive — even more than “standard” website usage — in general and, specifically, among youngsters. 40% of SNS users used SNSs to engage in political campaigning: social networking on the web is social networking with political connotations.

A huge discovery was that 58% of youngsters used the Internet for political mobilization, while only 20% of people over 65 did: the Internet help mobilize young voters, which normally have a lower voting ration than elder people.

Fundraising and web interaction

The campaign was centralized in plus a myriad of sympathising websites. But fundraising was centralized: any event, any action, led towards raising funds that inevitably led towards the Internet and the central website. Obama refused to be mainly funded by federal lobbies, which enabled him to propose political measures that went against specific lobbies’ interests. And this financial independence was made possible by the total (micro)donations raised and collected through the Internet. On average, Obama got US$250 per donor, 62% of which were through the Internet.

But, besides money, a huge database was created with people contacting Obama. Profiles were created and, thus, mobilization could be made almost on a personal basis. And this database was way better than the one the Democratic Party had.

Contacting the profiled people required a constant accountability of what Obama was doing with the money. It was all based on interaction, not just sending information out.

The turnout of Iowa’s campaing was 90%, but the overall campaing’s turnout was 135%: the young people were mobilized in a proportion that had never been seen in previous elections in the US.

The convergence of very important people around Obama’s campaing made it possible to bring it to a higher level. Experts from the Web world and, specifically, the SNS world, helped to design a campaign perfectly fitted for a Web 2.0 environment, being the flagship the “Yes We Can” viral video.

Indeed, web campaigning was also used in offline campaigning: the level of detail in the supporters’ profile allowed to identify who was supporting Obama in the territory, who should be addressed to, who was willing to vote, to engage… or who was “in need” of a final push to join Obama. These people knew each other, met on the Internet, and self-organized.

This self-organization meant that the message was delivered not by the “candidate” or the “apparatus” but by “normal” people, by neighbours, that explained why were they voting Obama, on a personal basis.


Despite the fact that “most” people is connected to the Internet, it is also true that intensive Internet users (read online, interact online, are heavy SNSs users, etc.) are below 40. This meant mobilizing the youngsters.

Indeed, Obama used the campaign not only for campaigning, but to send out a social message. And this was a major difference in relationship with Hillary Clinton.

On the one hand, Obama showed a different attitude towards the Iraq war, being against it from the beginning.

On the other hand, Obama detached himself from the mainstream powers of Washington, detaching himself also from John Kerry’s campaign who would never made it clear, for instance, whether he was for or against the Iraq war. Obama addressed people that were outside the political system, or disenfranchised from the whole system.

Organizing strategy

Triggering the social movement, socializing the campaign, bringing it to the grassroots level was crucial. The values of campaigning were transformed.

Saul Alinsky, based in Chicago, created the modern way of organizing communities. Barack Obama entered political mobilization when joining in churches in Chicago that worked in the Alinsky-like way of mobilizing communities. And Obama organized his campaign this way too. He applied Alinsky techniques to mobilize voters… and increase the voting rate. And he adapted it for the Internet age.

The platform is the message

Obama himself was a message. If Hillary Clinton decided that “she was a woman”. In Obama, he was the message and words mattered. And words were “hope” and “change”. Not gender, not race.

“Hope” became a framework, a framework within another framework characterized by crisis or war. And in this framework, he would bring “change”.

Obama mastered communication. A first pint was to dismantle Hillary Clinton’s attacks ( on his person. But this was a minor issue.

But most attacks, Obama fought them by being himself. And he also responded by bringing the level of debate to higher grounds, to more “philosophical” levels, avoiding personal reasons or personal confrontation.

Simonetta Taboni develops the concept of ambivalence, on how people innovate without being trapped in their approaches: I want to change the world, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I will try, and I will experiment. And, in this sense, Obama is ambivalent. Why is it so important to be ambivalent? Because goals are clear, but they leave enough blank spaces that citizens, experts, politicians, can fill in and participate. The means are collectively constructed… but led by the leader. People are engaged, people are involved through constant interactivity to go through constraints.


Ismael Peña-López: how narrow is the line that separates the theory of ambivalence from the theory of ignorance? What makes the difference between being ambivalent and simply incompetent (i.e. really does not know what to do)? Manuel Castells: the fundamental difference is that most political parties (e.g. Spain’s) have clear goals and clear means: to stay in power and do it at all costs. There’s no room in the political apparatus of the party for engagement or debate, less for collective construction. The major difference from ambivalent approaches is that parties write the full script. In ambivalence, something originating from outside the party is embedded in the discourse and even can transform the system. In an ambivalent approach, the Internet fuels the debate; in a non-ambivalent environment, the Internet is yet another bureaucratic tool. And the shift from non-ambivalent to ambivalent is almost impossible, and only likely to happen in a situation of total political crisis, where a deep change is needed (e.g. the case of Italy and Berlusconi that, ironically, mobilizes the voter against the established political parties).

Rachel K. Gibson: to what extent can Obama act like he did during the campaign now that he is the President? Will involvement still be possible? Manuel Castells: A simple observation is that the campaign still goes on, especially on the Internet. It is likely that engagement and mobilization will fade out, as it normally happens. The question is how much degree of change, how much demands will be put into practice before the system metabolises the inertia triggered during the election campaign. The secret will be how to keep this feeling of “revolution” or “change” alive for as long as possible.

Mike Jensen: Did Obama really transformed the system, or just a new campaign? Why cannot Obama’s model be extrapolated to Europe? Aren’t we seeing “politics 2.0” in Europe? Manuel Castells: he did change the system, as he brought inside many new voters and from different strata. And these new people do feel that they can change the system, which, at its turn, inevitably changes the political landscape. There is a true opening up of the system while, at the same time, avoiding to enter in a “civil war” against the establishment, which he needs to “professionally operate” the country. About transporting Obama’s model to Europe: it’s true that there is an Obamization of politics, and that there are shy approaches towards Web 2.0, but they are mainly technological, not conceptual. Everything remains under the control of the party machines, including the leaders — especially because there are no presidentialist elections. Power must be taken from political parties. And this will only happen under a sever catastrophic crisis of politics and political parties. Will this happen in the next UK elections? Will the Conservative Party be able to do it? Not only to beat the Labour Party, but to transform the whole political system.

Eduard Aibar: what happened to television? Manuel Castells: television still is the most important way to get (political) news (though this is not true for young people). And Obama paid a lot of attention to television, especially in the last days of the campaign, when he got a lot of money left and little time to spend it. On the other hand, he got a lot of air coverage, in part because it reported profits for TVs to cover his campaign. But TV was information and would have never been able to raise a grassroots movement.

Jasmina Maric: Internet propelled Obama… or Obama propelled the Internet? Manuel Castells: The huge difference in Internet adoption from the previous election and Obama’s was crucial. He boosted it, but the terrain was prepared to.

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