Connections: Jumping the ladder

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As clearly noted in Manuel Castells “Why networks matter” networks are an integral part of all the dimensions in our society. Networks have existed since the existence of man, but today’s networks are far more interlinked and flexible than the pre-historic networks we might find in the Stone Age due to the advancements in technology.

An interesting point that that Castells points out is that power resides in the networks that form this society. It does not lie within the institutions or the state. I recently did a trip to China and found this to be contradictory. The state does hold a lot of the power. This is partly because it controls and restricts the networks within the Chinese society. Anyone who’s been to mainland China will know that youtube, facebook and twitter are blocked. Why? Because the government controls the network so that it does not lose its power.

I also noticed that government officials hold a lot of power. This is contrary to what Castells has said that there are no power elite. I discovered that your “关系” (guanxi) which is the chinese word for connections/networks, can get you to a lot of places. It’s common knowledge that privately owned companies are able to get big state projects due to a personal connection behind the scenes. Former Fairfax China correspondent John Garnaut noted in his article “China inside out” that having the right connections can get you anything, “guanxi reigned supreme”.  In China power resides in particular individuals. Even though you may have retired from a particular post a long time ago you still have considerable influence and power. The network is empowering the elite, however I discovered that even though you may no longer be a current, active part of the network, power and influence still resides within the individual.  Connections is like the ladder when you play snakes and and ladders. It’ll get you up there without you having to do as much work as all the others did.

Garnaut, John 2013; China inside out; the Sydney Morning Herald; http://www.smh.com.au/world/china-inside-out-20130607-2nvnw.html

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12 thoughts on “Connections: Jumping the ladder

  1. The ‘connections’ you made with this topic are fascinating. I hadn’t considered that there would be such a profound difference in social/technological networks across countries and cultures. If ever evidence was needed of the power of a network, it is the fact that they are so rigorously controlled by the Chinese government.
    You finish with an excellent point; that connections are a power not to be underestimated. Connections are, afterall, the atoms of a network, comprising its body and dictating its function.
    I look forward to reading what other comparisons you are able to draw in relation to different topics. 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed that you brought light to the contradictions found within Castells work. Although Castells does state that power does not reside within the state, you clearly pointed out that it obviously does in a lot of situations. I have not been to China, yet I can still see that the state does have a lot of control and power over networks – like you said with the blocking of some social networking sites. This control over network does then, as you said, give power to the elite. You have made a very strong argument against some of Castells views and I believe the reason I agree with you so strongly is because I am an International Studies student, and I find your point to be very relevant to my studies. Because of this I think I am going to be an reader of your blog!

  3. Interesting points. I often fail to look at the negative side of networks or how they can be/are used unethically. I guess that’s partly due to how intriguing and exiting I find the possibilities for equal and free distribution of information and therefore power, that an idealized network can bring. But you’re right in pointing out that in some cases, the network is wrangled by higher-ups who hoard the all information for themselves and limit its potential for those below them. Just like with any valued commodity I suppose.

  4. This was a great post. It’s good to see another perspective – I had no idea China had blocked social media sites. That seems kind of scary (considering we have so much online freedom) but it’s so interesting to read how different cultures distribute power in various ways. It hardly seems fair, I feel that everyone has the right to communicate with each other online, however I suppose it could just prompt more human interaction. Most places you go now whether it be a restaurant, a gig at work etc people are glued to social media sites.

  5. Nice blog-post! I like your point of view on China’s structural resistance on social networks unless it has been affirmed by China to be a network that benefits what China is trying to represent or how it is being represented. The constant change of technology and thus social networks was slowly introduced so China has the ability to capture anything or anyone that would see a risk to Chinese culture. I only suspect that the need for a global network is with the power of the people not the government or somewhat with the state itself.

  6. Fantastic point about the Chinese state inhibiting it’s citizen’s networks. I would argue that despite there still being a ‘power elite’, there are citizens moving against traditional norms and thus gaining power. For example, the recent wave of mistresses dismantling their political lovers’ image and embarrassing the government in the course of doing so. Furthermore, this embarrassment has been covered in mainstream foreign media despite the governments attempt to control negative media coverage. Even North Korea can’t fully censor it’s people and they keep tight physical borders. I think Castell’s notion still stands, because an individual can bypass the state’s previously exclusive power.

  7. I did not even give a thought to China while debating current our current network society.
    China is often lost due to it having disconnected from some major networks used such as Facebook. This is a great post I enjoy how you questioned and provided evidence against Castell. I found Castell’s reading tended to ignore points such as these and any negative’s to having such a networked society.

  8. Hey, nice post Yoshi. China is a good example of a country that somewhat stands against Castell’s views.

    I found it interesting though, to see how many people in Shanghai used things like VPNs to access blocked web content. Despite the government’s best attempts at exerting power, even the networks that the ‘elite’ had tried to block were still able to permeate through to the society.

  9. This was one of the aspects I questioned in my blog too. I believe there are massive disparities in terms of access and freedom of access to the forms of technology that Castells suggests as the modes of the Network Society. This is also apparent in the Government of Egypt’s reactions and subsequent shutting down of Twitter and the Internet during the 2011 ‘Arab Spring Uprisings’. Key individuals and governments absolutely hold the power over the access to technologies that can connect every person in the world however if an individual wants to connect and network with others they will find ways to do this. Whether it is online or face to face.

  10. I think it’s good how you have shown how different networks have different characteristics, such as the Chinese government or powerful individuals having power rather than regular citizens.

  11. I had been told been told about how in China the internet channels had been blocked, and it has always made me wonder why? Are these people so scared of losing all this power because their people are exposed to more than what they think? If it is true about the ‘guanxi’, then why are these people so afraid that they will lose the respect and power that people hold for them? If it’s something that they have worked so hard for and people already know that then surely they would realise their citizens would not be swayed so easily by western ways. If the Government can’t find trust in their people then maybe their power isn’t as strong as they think… In saying that, it’s amazing that the internet has sparked such a debate from me, and just goes to show how powerful a tangible network is.

  12. I also agree that there are issues with Castells idea of power not residing in the state and that in China that is not quite the case, however I don’t think the power is either in the hands of just the government and/or the users. In the case of the ‘Arab Spring Uprisings’ (2011) the government did have the ability to shut the internet down, however people utilized their mobile phones to access the internet and the social networks. So doesn’t this mean that telephone and internet providers and the various platforms that people communicate and transfer files through also hold some power in networks and whether or not parts of them can run or exist in the first place.

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