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Communicating with Power

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Edited By Cherian George

Communication is ubiquitous and information is abundant. Political and economic markets are more open than they have ever been. Yet, there is no escaping the fact that communication continues to flow across fields where power is distributed unevenly. This collection of articles analyzes and responds to asymmetries of power in a diversity of contexts. They are drawn from presentations at the 2016 Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, held in Fukuoka, Japan. The conference theme presented an opening for scholars from various disciplines and academic traditions to engage with the questions of power at different levels of analysis—from micro sites of power like a doctor’s consultation room, to the geopolitical arenas where nations wage war, make peace, and spy on one another. The resulting collection straddles different methodologies and styles, from survey research to essays. Leading scholars and junior researchers have combined to create a volume that reflects the breadth of communication scholarship and its contemporary concerns.

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Chapter Five: The Rise of Computational Power: Accountability, Imagination and Choice (Robin Mansell)

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CHAPTER FIVE

The Rise OF Computational Power

Accountability, Imagination and Choice

ROBIN MANSELL



This chapter considers the implications of the increasingly common juxtaposition of three keywords—surveillance, power and communication—specifically in the context of the role of algorithms in society. The question addressed is a deceptively simple one: is it reasonable to assume that contemporary digitally mediated communication is governable? This question is important because it concerns the way the media and communication technologies are implicated in social, political and economic life. Put differently, “what kind of world will be borne through the midwifery of our new and more powerful communications tools?” (Smythe 1950, 2). At the time, Smythe was concerned about the market consolidation of the communication industry in the post-war period. Consolidation, he argued, was having a deleterious impact on democratic freedoms including the public’s right to access information, the right of citizens to be free from surveillance, and the protection of privacy. In the contemporary period, similar issues are at stake with respect to the right of citizens not to be tracked, analyzed or acted upon in harmful ways. Are alternatives realistically available to societies that embrace today’s digital technology innovations and how might the course of their development be imagined differently and changed to become better aligned with citizen’s interests in democracy and a “good” society (Mansell 2012)?

In this chapter I review how a variety of traditions in the...

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