From networked protest to 'non-capitalism'

Farm workers union members dig abandoned land they have occupied Farm workers union members dig abandoned land they have occupied during the crisis. Castells' survey shows large numbers of people in Spain have engaged in co-operative or non-profit work since the crisis

When most of us were still struggling to work our analogue modems, in the mid-1990s, one man had worked out where the internet was going.

Manuel Castells, one of the world's most cited sociologists, proclaimed the dawn of the "network society".

In pioneering quantitative research, he discovered that internet use and "projects of personal autonomy" fed off each other: that the internet, in other words, was changing our social attitudes and even our very selves.

For Radio 4's Analysis, on Monday night at 8.30pm, I quiz Professor Castells about his new book Aftermath - which looks at how the current financial crisis has produced networked protest movements, and even new "non-capitalist" forms of economic behaviour (the programme was recorded with a live audience at the London School of Economics last week).

"People have decided not to wait for the revolution to start living differently," he says. "We're seeing barter networks, social currencies, co-operatives. Networks of providing services for free to others in the expectation people will do the same for you. This new sector in the economy is expanding throughout the world."

'Crisis of trust'

Prof Castells conducted a large survey among people in Catalonia, Spain which found that 32% had lent money at zero interest rates to non-family members.

I tried this out on the 800-strong audience at the LSE - who were mostly students and young academics. On a rough tally, at least 20% had done so here.

Prof Castells believes this is not just an expansion of a kind of protest counterculture - what activists call "living despite capitalism":

"It's a combination of two things. A number of people have been doing this for quite a while already because they don't agree with the meaninglessness of their life. But now there is something else - it's the legion of consumers who cannot consume.

"And therefore since they don't consume - they don't have the money, they don't have the credit, they don't have anything, then they try at least to make sense of their lives doing something different."

Prof Castells, who himself has taken part in the Occupy movement in Barcelona, says:

"There is a crisis of trust in the two big powers of our world - the political system and the financial system. People don't trust where they put their money and they don't trust those they delegate in terms of their vote. All the statistics are there.

"It's a dramatic crisis of trust and if there is no trust, there is no society. It's simply institutions that still try to control citizens."

Backlash prediction

One of Prof Castells most famous phrases is that "society is defined by the bipolar relationship between the network and the self". I ask him to explain this:

"The more we are connected to everything and everybody and every activity, the more we need to know who we are. Unless I know who I am, I don't know where I am in the world, because then I am a consumer, I am taken by the market, I am taken by the media.

"And therefore people decide that they are going to be different. But to do that, they have to identify themselves as individuals, as collectives, as nations, as genders, all these categories that sociologists have already constructed time ago.

"With Facebook and with all these social networks what happened is that we live constantly networked. We live in a culture of not virtual reality, but real virtuality because our virtuality, meaning the internet networks, the images are a fundamental part of our reality. We cannot live outside this construction of ourselves in the networks of communication."

As to the future, Prof Castells says - neither the crisis nor the resistance it has summoned is over.

"Politicians and financial leaders keep saying 'the crisis is over, don't worry'. And it's not over and not over and we are already in the fourth year of this endless crisis; unemployment grows, social services are cut and it looks like the only solution to the crisis is to destroy the welfare state.

"The combination of this economic, social crisis and crisis of political legitimacy could provoke a joint backlash from the welfare state users, from the public sector unions, with all the new alternative movements in a very confused way and with simply individuals - people who want to take control of their lives."

From the man who knew what Facebook and Twitter would look like before they had been invented, that's some prediction.

Paul Mason will be in conversation with Manuel Castells on BBC Radio Four on Monday 15 October, at 2030 BST. The broadcast will be available on the BBC iPlayer or via the Analysis podcast.

Paul Mason, Economics editor, Newsnight Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    32. All for All (or great sage )

    No trust based on rationale means no belief = no faith in institutions we " gullible trusted ". We learn / find that they are unfair, and without conscience. We don't learn, as we grow older, we actually want to believe more, but remain disappointed, yet hope rather than learn. If you tried plain English, rather than mystic enlightenment, people would understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "people don't understand"
    "arithmetic, promises, value"

    As often, nail-on-head: but, going in straight?

    Can we ever 'understand' enough?

    Kids discover 'fairness', most 'conscience', some 'courage'

    Busy with training, family, career, even retired 'still learning'

    What we need, have always needed, is 'ability to trust'

    Not 'gullible trust', but 'rational trust', as Equal Partners

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    #29 proof of what ? my brain has not been washed

    people seem to have forgotten the value of there votes ?

    my view is that people do not understand what they are voting for nore can do basic arithmetic either , they just wanted promises to spend others money and did not care even if the end produced was used?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    WANAITT @29
    "signed, sealed, delivered"

    Not then for Equal Partnership Democracy, with 'plebs and all'?

    Post-revolution: children born knowing; delivered by '3-Rs', knowing; from a few years of 'real life' - or Brave New Virtuality - to be made knowing'?

    Without 'a knowing culture', understanding & agreeing need of Equality, you will wait until Doomsday for social justice, perhaps not too long

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    IR35_SURVIVOR - Proof that brain washing works!

    21.Jericoa - the list consists of plebs then?

    No chance of any rebellion with minds like these at work - yup we are all in this together : signed, sealed and delivered to the gullible!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    so whom elected SPAIN governement for instance. was it the people
    it wa sthe poeple that had jobs fro mthe buiuldign of airports that now have no customers.

    so how is responsible then is it not the people ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.


    Men v Women

    think that was created by labour well at least the fathers V mothers parts of that

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I've just finished Castells' book "Aftrematch, The Cultures of the Economic Crisis",. Book examines cultures & institutions at root of financial crisis, as well as conflicts/debates that will lead to NEW SOCIAL LANDSCAPE, including the rise of alternative economic cultures. Life beyond crisis requires transformation of MINDSET that led to speculative finance & political irresponsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Just watched:
    Prof. Manuel Castells, sociologist on the Rise of the Newtwork Society.
    I hope that many people will make the time to watch this brilliant video on what is happening in the aftermatch of political/financial failure in western culture. It is 30 minutes long and worth every minute!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    In the programme Manuel Castells was very compelling. I personally have got involved in non-capitalist activities, such as transition towns, where we grow food using volunteers, teaching them and giving the food away for free. More and more will this be necessary.

    Resistance to austerity will become ever more extreme. I'm glad to see positive movements and changing values come out of the crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    thought Mandy had left office some time ago,

    DC/GO are not a patch on TB/PM when it comes to PR

    I'm affraid to say

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The People cry!
    Just for a Leader
    What of King Log?
    To reign, constitutionally, over Equal Partnership Democracy

    Yes we need 'leaders', a fusion of youth & experience, not just One but an abundance, people who 'know their worth', determined our children will not be slaves, that Mammon will be deposed before too late for precious Earth

    Who can 'lead', if we are not 'together', Equal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    # 18 divide and rule works to a degree but when the aspirational middle class lose hope and join in with the poor the game is up. Hence ths enormous emphasis on peddling hope to the middle class when there is none that I can see.

    revolutions are middle class led, teachers doctors lawyers engineers police who all think they are going to pick up final salary pensions.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    There is one vital ingredient missing for there to be a rebellion: a charismatic & forceful leader. The incumbents and the Oppositions offer much the same. Those that dare to question the so called Austerity policies are treated as illiterate morons: "deficit deniers", "borrowers", "scroungers", "skivers" so we now have positive phrases instead: "strivers", "aspirational" that we must accept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Events may confound

    Of course duvinrouge - with common-sense & Karl Marx & Francis Maude - tells 'a truth': politics tends to follow 'realities', for or against, reluctant mercenary often to sway

    Data-set grows, internet facilitates, youth naturally 'revolting', even stopped clocks eventually 'right'!

    Might help to commend Equal Partnership Democracy!

    Or 'right messages' in reserve?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The UK govt is applying the trusted and proven method: divide and rule. They have created so many divisions that there is no unity, and thus no common cause to rebel against:
    Men v Women
    Indigenous v Immigrants
    Employers v Employees
    Private Sector v Public
    Rich v Poor
    Privileged v Under Privileged
    Able Bodied v Disabled
    Tax Payers v Welfare dependent
    EU v Non-EU
    Aid v No Aid
    Old v Young

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    UK is proof that if you control the right people (ie the Press, which is 80% Right Wing) you can actually send out the messages you want to and if you slag off your opponents through your mouth pieces enough times there will be no rebellion.
    Where else can you get erosion of workers rights, people scared to strike? Welcome to the Tory way of doing things!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    As the material conditions change so the politics catches us with the economics. And the economics is likely to get dramatically worse. 'To big to fail' but 'to big to save'.

    Is IOPS what the future looks like?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    In the UK we have the masters of PR in charge: telling us that 1 million new jobs created (not true) and economy is "healing" (not true), and if you send the right messages often enough (unchallenged by the right wing press in the UK) you create an element of "hope" and hides the hopelessness that is the reality -they have proved that you can control people even in the age of Networking

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The docile population of the UK seems to be exception. Here the common people (plebs) are being driven into penury by an incompetent govt, with workers rights being eroded, the most vulnerable in society being attacked, snoopers charters being advocated. Yet no rebellion - may be because the UK right wing press (in the pockets of this govt) are brain washing people into submission?


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