Posts Tagged With: Barry Barnes

Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power in the Context of Tim Jordan’s ‘Cyberpower’

Barnes               TimJordan

It is said that the communications revolution signals “the death of distance[1] as it has allowed activists to gain more influence as new communications and information technologies are beginning to enable advances in e-government, e-democracy and e-participation. On the other hand, they also empower NGOs, social movements and activists, among others.[2]

Michael Ayers and Martha McCaughey document and critique in their edited Cyberactivism the growing importance of activism taking place through the Internet by showing that it can be used for protest as well as in supporting real-life protests.[3] It is shown in a similar volume that given its transnational, many-to-many communication facility, the internet offers revolutionary potential for social movements to speak directly to the citizens of the world. Moreover, electronic mail, mailing lists, websites, electronic forums and other online applications provide powerful tools for coordinating activity.[4]

In dealing with “cyberpower” – defined as the power that structures culture, politics and economics of cyberspace and the Internet – Tim Jordan discusses in length three theories of power as the theoretical toolbox of his book. First, he touches on power as a possession and its three elements that are accordingly ought to be identified. First, according to him, power is intentional as someone wills something to be done and it is done. Second, power understood as a possession needs resistance to manifest itself and unless power manifests itself there is no idea that it exists. Third, if power, says Jordan, concerns the ability to overcome resistance then stable patterns of power can be equated with forms of domination, or simply put, systems of domination occur when there are patterned relations of power. He identifies this theory of power with Max Weber, quoting him to have said: “In general, we understand by ‘power’ the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action.”

Having discussed this “common sense conception of power”, Jordan points out some questions that in his view are remained unanswered: What is it that enforces obedience to the powerful will? What is it that ensures compliance? What overcomes resistance? In attempting to address these questions, Jordan also looks in turn with other understandings of power that begin from just such a criticism of power understood as a possession: power understood as strategies that situate subjects as dominated or dominator and power understood as the result of interactions between knowledgeable individuals.[5]

Jordan associates Michel Foucault with the conception of power as domination whose principles are that power is a force that generates structures of inequality between people; that a form of power both intends to produce certain effects but is not driven by any one’s will, implying that different elements move in a way that fulfills an overall purpose and which is served by a number of tactics common to different micro-parts of the army; that domination implies both dominated and dominator and power as a relation implies both powerful and powerless; that power is manifested in great strategies of inequality; and that attempting to define power in the abstract is not necessary; instead, a methodology for studying power is needed and only then can specific forms of power that exist in particular times and places be analyzed.[6]

While elucidating his theory of power as social order, the British sociologist, Barry Barnes, explicates:

In a stable normative order knowledge that an action is normal and routinely done encourages the performance of the actions, so that the general dissemination of the knowledge suffices to validate it in practice… Any specific distribution of knowledge confers a generalized capacity for action upon those individuals who carry and constitute it, and that capacity for action is their social power, the power of the society they constitute by bearing and sharing the knowledge in question.[7]

In order to make his argument clearer, Barnes cites the classic example of traffic light. Why do cars stop at red light? Why the pedestrians do not cross the street at red light? For both the drivers and the pedestrians, two off-putting things can be pointed out. First, in the case of the drivers, they are afraid that fatal car accident involving them might occur as the drivers of cars in the adjacent street are most likely to go by following the green light which means, “Go!” As for the pedestrians, they are afraid to be hit most likely by the running cars as it is green light for them. Second, the drivers know that even if by chance no car mishap happened as there are no nearby cars in the adjacent street, they might not escape the wrath of the traffic policemen who will definitely penalize them for violation of traffic rules.

Similarly, the pedestrians know that even though the running cars are still far away from the pedestrian lane, their crossing the street at red light is tantamount to being legally charged with jay-walking. In other words, both the drivers and the pedestrians are taking into account two kinds of sanction for their action: physical (accident) and legal (penalty). This established social norm for the drivers and pedestrians will be more embedded within them if they regularly observe more people, i.e. more drivers and pedestrians following the same social norm – drivers stopping at red light and pedestrians not crossing the street at red light. There will be the same effect if they see more people penalized by either or both the physical and legal sanctions – cars bumping on other cars from the adjacent street or drivers whose license are confiscated by the traffic officers for violation, and pedestrians hit by running cars or penalized for jay-walking.[8]

On the contrary, should the people start to witness that more cars are not stopping at red light and are neither having accident nor incurring penalty for doing so, and similarly, more pedestrians are crossing the streets at red light and yet they are not hit by running cars or incurring penalty for jay-walking, they will also tend to gradually remove in their minds the two restraining physical and legal sanctions. The social norm of the red light will die out. The red light’s ‘power’ of stopping cars and preventing the pedestrians from crossing the street will cease to exist as the people believe it so.[9]

In a recent work, Barnes states:

Suppose we think of so many responsible agents, acting and interacting together as members on the basis of their shared knowledge. Now concentrate on that part of their shared knowledge which is knowledge of their own social and institutional order, made of statuses and the associate rights, powers, responsibilities, and so forth. This is knowledge of things that are what they are because they are counted as being what they are, that is, because they are known to be what they are.[10]

In this context, he cites how banks work as social institutions. Banks are external to us, he says, because we all know them to be so and the important knowledge we have is the knowledge of what we all do in relation to banks. That some deposit money in the bank which lends it out to others and making itself formally bankrupt at all times is overcome by the shared knowledge of individual depositor that others are not about to withdraw their money. In short, a bank’s objectivity hinges on the knowledge all its depositors on the likely actions of other depositors. This will be exposed when there is a run on a bank and the shared knowledge of depositors changes into “Most other depositors are going to withdraw their money and I have to do the same”. Accordingly, the outcome of such a shift in collective knowledge is the eventual bankruptcy and collapse of even a competently run bank.[11]

In the above explanation there are two crucial elements that constitute a social order: routine and knowledge. Along this line, Tim Jordan argues that social objects and structures exist on the basis of persisting routines of behavior of individuals and these persisting routines are based on common, collective knowledge of those routines. Societies and communities are nothing more or less than the knowledge that members of those communities hold about their societies, he states.[12] He explains:

In short, while social structures appear external and objective to the individuals who constitute them, such structures are wholly internal to the collective or group. Social structures can change but only through concerted collective action. The structures that constitute a society can now be understood as the result of the knowledge individuals have of those structures and of the consequences actions will probably have. This knowledge is self-referring; it is knowledge about what others do, and it is self-validating – the more knowledge is used the more valid it becomes.[13]

Put in a diagram for clarity sake, we have the following:

knowledge-routine

            Therefore, the proposition here is that the persistent routines of a certain behavior create a common, collective knowledge of those routines. At the same time, the commonly and collectively held knowledge of those routines by the people reinforces their continuous observance of the same routines of behavior. The constant interaction between the routine and knowledge establishes social order. Once the routine-knowledge interaction is not sustained, the resultant social order will consequently fade away.

——-

Notes:

[1] Frances Cairncross, The Death of Distance 2.0: How Communications Revolution Will Change Our Lives (London and New York: Texere, 2001), p. viii.

[2] Jonathan D. Aronson, “Causes and Consequences of the Communications and Internet Revolution,” in The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 3rd edition, ed. John Baylis and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 630-633.

[3] Michael D. Ayers and Martha McCaughery, “Introduction,” in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, ed. Michael D. Ayers and Martha McCaughery (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 5-14.

[4] Wim van de Donk et al., “Introduction: Social Movements and ICTs,” in Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movements, ed. Wim van De Donk et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 1-9.

[5] Tim Jordan, Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 9-10.

[6] Ibid., pp. 15-19.

[7] Barnes, The Nature of Power, pp. 56-57. Quoted in Jordan, p. 14.

[8] Ibid., p. 56.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Barry Barnes, Understanding Agency: Social Theory and Responsible Action (London: Sage, 2000), p. 149.

[11] Tim Jordan, “Social Movement and Social Change,” Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Working Paper Series No. 7, September 2005, p. 7.

[12] Jordan, p. 12.

[13] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

(Images courtesy of phillwebb.net and digitalactivismnow.org)

Cyberpower(Excerpt from Mansoor Limba, THE POWER OF INTERNATIONAL QUDS DAY IN THE CYBERSPACE (Manila: Cultural Section of IRI Embassy, 2012), pp. 39-44.)

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Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel

Tunnel

This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.

With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…

Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.

During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).

This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.

As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of  Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”

For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.

As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.

I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.

“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

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