Media, Politics and the Network Society
Open University Press, Buckingham
Having already written The Chronoscopic Society; an innovative reflection on how the modern, time-squeezed world has fundamentally altered the way we work, think and live in an age dominated by cyberspace media, theorist Robert Hassan now proposes a new work aimed mainly at undergraduate students. He introduces the main, current ideas in media theory, cultural studies and the politics of the newly evolving networking civil society.
His previous book argued that we need to integrate technology into our lives slowly and make it work for us, rather than allow it to dominate modern life. Hassan still maintains in this book that it is possible to resist the forces of globalization that are shaping our way of communicating and ways of acting politically within network society.
The book is divided into seven chapters. It begins with the more general and theoretical issues regarding network society and moves on to discuss the most practical application of the tactical media. The final and concluding chapter, however, attempts to reconsider the first one and answer the main questions posed at the beginning of the book.
Broadly speaking, the book is written around the concept of network society and its effect upon media, culture and politics and the actors that play the most relevant roles in this new context. It can be considered as a good outline of the topic and it is written with a lively and fresh perspective. In this sense, the author develops the text in a very pedagogical style, using examples and quotes frequently to illustrate his ideas. He also adds a useful 'further reading' section at the end of each chapter and a glossary of the key terms used in the book.
Nevertheless, the ambitious objective of presenting many arguments and a wide range of bibliographic references from different literature, related to the network society, may have caused the effect that some of them are treated in an overly superficial way, without going in-depth enough in order to adequately understand all these phenomena. For example, the author talks repeatedly about the 'global civil society movement', its characteristics, objectives, strategies and effects in less than twenty pages. It can be fairly argued that some of these issues would need further clarification. Similarly, it is paradoxically amazing that the shortest and clearest definition of 'network society' is not given until the glossary, in the final part of the book, despite the author have used this term more than sixty times throughout. Thus, page 143 defines it in this way: 'A historical trend whereby the dominant functions of society, that is to say its economic, cultural and media processes, are increasingly organized around networks'. Previously, Hassan had divided the network society into four elements: digital technology, digital capitalism, digital globalization and digital acceleration, without constructing a synthesis of them in a single definition. Perhaps it would have been more useful to the reader to include the glossary of terms at the beginning of the book. Lastly, it must be noted that the aim of this book is to deal with theoretical issues, meaning that the applied research on social networks is left undeveloped.
Certainly it is useful to give the reader a general overview of the main salient debates in the field and their protagonists, such as Jean Baudrillard, Zygmount Bauman, Pierre Bourdieu, Ulrich Beck, Manuel Castells, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Geert Lovink and David Garcia, Marshal McLuhan, Nicholas Negroponte, Robert Putnam, Paul Virilio and Raymond Williams.
Based on the theoretical approaches of these scholars, the author builds up his own theses. He takes a critical perspective of the processes of neoliberal globalization and informationization and their dynamics. In this context, having reflected on the effects of the networks on the relationships and dialectics between media and culture, it is argued in Chapter 2, that 'there will always exist spaces of difference where domination and colonization will be resisted and from where other ways of being and seeing can emerge'.
Another argument developed in Chapter 3, is that 'the more we connect in the virtual network the more we are in danger of disconnecting from more proximate relationships'. This, together with the digital divide between those inside and outside the network society, is the most negative part of the processes analyzed.
The most original part of the text is presented in Chapter 4, where the author imagines two different scenarios deeply affected by information and communication technologies. Hassan reflects upon the link between the human and the network.
The second half of the book (Chapters 5 to 7) is dedicated to the influence of informationization in politics. From the author's position, civil society has lost much of its transformative and diversity-creating powers, although he still identifies resistance spaces within civil society in the information order. Some examples of tactical media are given: culturejamming, warchalking and digital direct action.
In an unusual way for an academic text, the book ends emphasizing the importance of understanding the newly forming dynamics between media, cultural production and political activism within the network society and asking the reader for a more active involvement in the contestation of neoliberalism, ideological rule and its ongoing economic and technological shaping of the network society.
The non-expert reader can use this book effectively in order to receive a comprehensive introduction to this topical issue, as well as gaining useful insights into how to broaden her knowledge on the subject.
Javier Alcalde Villacampa
European University Institute