Theory on Urban Form and Design by Dr. Essam Hallak
Lecture 16 “Cyber city and public space”

Manuel Castells “The Space of Autonomy: Cyberspace and Urban Space in Networked Social Movements”

Live notes from Manuel Castells’ February 18, 2014 talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Event link: http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/events/lecture-manuel-castells.html

This talk was billed as follows: “Manuel Castells, University Professor and Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, will speak on a theme related to his recent book Networks of Outrage and Hope; Social Movements in the Internet Age (Polity Press), with further elaboration in relation to the recent movements in Brazil and Turkey.”

Social movements

Castells starts by noting that throughout history, social movements have been major agents of social change; he would say THE major agent of social change. Social movements are triggered by emotions that are shared collectively; individuals share emotions through communication and become shared subjects. Social change, according to Manuel, is inseparable from spatial change. He contends that all urban forms result from the relentless interaction between the reproduction of urban forms by institutions and resistance, or counteraction, by citizens who don’t feel included in the processes of automatic reproduction of the existing urban structure. Urban form results from urban structure and social movements interacting with one another. In this lecture, he’ll be talking about networked social movements. He holds that they are the key form of movement in the networked society. Next, he’ll hypothesize the interaction between these kinds of movements and urban spatial processes.

Networked social movements: the last 5 years

Next, Castells summarizes recent social movement history. Starting in Iran in July 2009, then Iceland and Tunisia in 2010, a wave of social movements has taken place around the world. He says that this wave was not expected by anyone, not led by anyone, was largely spontaneous, and affected literally thousands of cities in over 100 countries. Most of these movements were small, and escaped the attention of the media. Still, they mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, and achieved widespread social support, as indicated by opinion polls and surveys.

He finds it interesting that many of these movements display similar characteristics despite the huge diversity of contexts from which they come. He feels that we are witnessing the birth of a new form of social movement, characteristic of our type of society. His argument, he states, is based on his own observations, the observations of other scholars, and information he gathers from a network of scholars, friends, and movement acctors who work in the different locations.

Returning to the mobilization wave, he notes that we saw Tunisia and Egypt in the spring of 2011. Greece, in 2010. The Indignadas movement in Spain (which he places in the feminine form, because that’s how the movement refers to itself), which started in May 2011 but continues. Occupy Wall Street, beginning on September 17, 2011, which expanded to over 1,000 American cities over the next few months. He notes that Israel in 2011-12 saw the largest mobilization of Israeli history. Moscow was rocked by demonstrations against the authoritarian regime of Putin. Portugal saw mobilizations as well. In Italy, he notes that the social-political movement “5 Stars” has transformed the face of Italian politics. He clarifies that he’s not taking a normative position here. He isn’t saying ‘great,’ he’s saying ‘look!’ The 5 Stars movement undeniably changed the Italian political landscape. The Chilean students, who have been in the streets since 2011, have also changed the style of Chilean politics, and their influence extends to Bachelet, who says “I will fulfill the demands of the students.”
Castells mentions that in Mexico, #YoSoy 132 continues, if subterranean. The Turkish protests, around Gezi Square, continue to be active and have provoked a political crisis. He also notes “And by the way, they won: the Gezi Park development was cancelled.” In Brazil, the movement around transportation broadened to address corruption, and even corruption within FIFA. “We change one hospital for 10 stadiums” was the slogan. He asks us “Can you imagine Brazilians protesting against Soccer?” In the Ukraine, Manuel notes that social movements are redefining the relationship between Eastern Europe and the EU. Castells wants to emphasize that the theoretical background is communication power, his book of 2009. He’s interested in exploring which common trends repeat across all the movements, and reveal the patterns of a new form of social movements. He argues that some of the shared characteristics are: these movements are networked, multimodal, both global and local, viral, leaderless, self-reflective, nonviolent.

Spatial Dimensions

He wants to talk about the spatial dimensions of networked social movements. He begins by noting that the housing crisis was the result of financial speculation, the massive high risk use of mortgages as collaterals for other investment. When the real estate market collapsed […gap…] many of the movements have taken place as a result of the massive foreclosures. In Spain this was a key issue.

In other cases, there’s been a challenge of the model of growth. In Brazil, Turkey, and Israel, the movements say: “we want development, but not this development.” Castells is arguing that the movements must be seen as a direct and explicit critique of the model of top down urban development.

Castells notes that fundamentally, occupation of the streets is a key aspect of the current cycle of movements. The old model of the barricades isn’t a military tactic, he points out. “They attack you wherever you put the barricade.” It was a model of “In and Out.” Building a community within the barricades, as an opposition to the formal institutions that are themselves exclusionary. It’s also retaking of urban space, creating instant public space, which is the key issue in the speculative processes of urban development.
He wants to connect these processes to the theory he formulated in 1996: the space of places and the space of flows. In Urbanism 101, Castells notes that the question is: “what is space? Easy, right? You go crazy. Because space doesn’t exist outside of us. Space in nature is not our space. Space in human terms is a dimension of human existence.” Castells argues that space has to be defined in terms of social practices. So, he developed a material theory of space. “I went crazy myself” thinking about what space is, he says.

According to Castells, Leibnitz, in 1715, proposed the following definition of space: “something purely relative, like time. Space being an order of coexistences, as time is an order of successions. Space denotes in terms of possibility an order of things which exist at the same time [simultaneity]” Castells quips: “Not being a German philosopher, I simplified it: Space is the material support of simultaneity.”
He argues that throughout history, simultaneity depended on contiguity. In other words, cities were the main space for simultaneity. Then came the telegraph: distance communication. A new space emerged, in which simultaneity, or chosen time, would not depend on contiguity, but connectedness. So Castells’ point was, there’s a space of places, where simultaneity is based on contiguity, and a space of flows, where simultaneity is based on communication.

Originally, Castells thought the space of places was the location of experience, and the space of flows was the space of power. He thought this because in the 1990s, corporate, financial, and military communication networks were really the spaces of power. In the space of experience, people were holding out. His point was: power was run from the space of flows. People lived in the space of places, but their lives were determined by what happened in the space of flows. He asks the audience “Right?” People nod. He says “wrong!” Laughter.

Castells observed that humans started to use the space of flows for their own purposes. For sociality, friendship, family, relationships; social movements, and so on. At the same time, the space of flows began colonizing the space of places. So, he says, it turns out there is power and counterpower in both forms of space. He ends: “To enact social change, any actor has to counteract the power in the space of places with counterpower.” They must construct autonomous structures and counterpower in both the space of places and in the space of flows.


Extract – By Sasha Costanza-Chock ( http://schock.cc ) and Mine Gencel Bek



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