This week reading is really a tough one as it included several theories and abstract idea on power relationships, intercultural communications and underlying factors that direct them, as contract to the previous week readings that focus on historical developments of international communications in chronological order.
First of all, in Manuel Castell’s “Power in the Network Society” from Communication Power, the author first defined what is “power” and its components as “Power is relational capacity that enable a social actor to asymmetrically influence the decision of other social actor in a way that favors the empowered actor’s will, interest and values. ” This is broad definition that can explain all kind of power relationships from nation-to-nations power relations to individual person-to-person power relationship. It is notable that power is exercised by coercion and constructing of meaning while power relation is framed by dominion which is embedded in institutions.
Besides the definitions, the author characterized the elements of power relationship: power relationships are always asymmetrical that is the power relationships are always reciprocal and there is no absolute or zero degree of influences between two relating actors. Furthermore, there are always compliance and acceptance as well as resistance and rejections toward the influences of empowered actor. When the later has become significantly stronger than the former, the relationship is transformed leading to institutional and structural change or the power relationship would become non-social relationship.
At this point, it need more clarifications on the meaning of non-social relationship, which author defines is the dominion backed by violence of those in power and obliterations of resisting actor. He seemed to refer to the situation where an authoritarian power tried to maintain the former power relationship by exercising forces and non-democratic means, that is why, it is called non-social relationships.
While I am impressed by the author’s attempt to define and characterize the complicated notion of power and associated relationships, I am also doubtful that the real power relationship in real world can be explained in a set of definitions. I believe that power relationships, especially in Asian landscape, are occurring at multiple layers and played by plural actors based on political, economical, cultural, situational and even personal background.
For example, the power relationship between China and South East Asia countries are occurring at multilateral level shaped by a variety of actors and outside factors. The major power relationships are determined by political relations of ruling parties of these countries, but the economics dominions of oversea Chinese in all South East Asian countries, the prevalence of Chinese soap operas, Hong Kong’s film celebrities, widespread of Chinese traditional medicines and martial arts, excellence of Chinese sports teams and showcase of 2008 Olympic games, all play the important role in promoting the dominion of China in South East Asia. Meanwhile, the personal friendships of individuals such as Thai King’s Bhumibol Adulyadej being partial Chinese and deceased Cambodia leader Sihanouk who had close ties with top figures of People’s republic, draws these countries into closer vicinity of China than other South East Asian countries. Sometime, power relationships are totally conditional such as Burma (Myanmar) was crippled by economic sanctions imposed by Western Countries leading to total reliance on China in trade, investment and diplomacy while the Philippines, with strong supports and historical ties from United States, is on a resistance path toward China.