Manuel Castells’ article “Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society” does an effective job of explaining networks in a social context by taking into account the social structures that can potentially impact the way networks are constructed. Where Latour’s Actor-Network theory falls short in these considerations, Castells considers societal implications in relation to social change, and in terms of the deconstruction and reconstruction of networks.
The concept of power and experience being individualized in practice is an important concept to consider for my MRP topic surrounding the neo-nazi resurgence in light of the election of Donald Trump. For example; there exists an entire network surrounding his election. From supporters to protestors, credible news outlets, fake news, and republicans to democrats, all of these individual actors and more exist within Trump’s network. What stood out to me in terms of this was when Castell’s said “technology plays an essential role in framing the relationships of experience.”
My interpretation of this statement is that technology enables these relationships of experience to come together in a tangible form. For example, blogospheres, Facebook pages, and Instagram communities all represent materialities of potentially shared experiences by the individual members of these communities, or networks.
An example that I would like to demonstrate of these networked connections exists on Instagram. I follow multiple young, feminist meme accounts who create content based mostly on their experiences that I find I relate to. All the accounts that I follow have similar perspectives, based on their feminist values and position as women in society, and for that reason, I feel that I belong as a part of this network.
My membership to this network is physically reinforced by the fact that I follow them on a tangible platform, and the network is visible to me in that many of the accounts repost from one another, or collaborate on new content.
On the other hand, within the framework of Instagram, there exists an active, (but less popular) network of alt-right content creators. Again, these creators repost and share similar experiences, however they are not experiences that I share.
These two networks exist within the same cultural realm – a culture organized primarily around an integrated system of electronic media (Castells 12). In this case, the accounts represent a space of politics, and they are perfectly demonstrative of how enclosures of communication can allow networks to include or exclude specific nodes.
Networks surrounding political ideologies often function as echo chambers because as Castell’s points out “all that is in the network is useful and necessary for the existence of a network.” Points that do not support feminist values, or alt-right values, will not appear in their respective networks – they are phased out and rearranged to strengthen the values they aim to represent.