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Manuel Castells: ‘Digital Culture, Because it is the Culture of the Youth, Offers a Tremendous Opportunity’

[I recently asked these four questions. Below is one reply, from Manuel Castells. Please join the conversation either by tweeting @Digital_Du_Bois or by leaving a comment at the bottom of this or any other post on]

Dear Ernie,

The theme is well taken, and timely, and the substance is most interesting and to the point. As you mention, this is not only for African Americans, this is for a reconstruction of intellectual leadership in the digital age. But of course, the challenge is particularly important for the African American community, given the long history of stereotypes and exclusion in the media world.

The structure of the lecture is clear, and takes one after the other the most important issues. The last one, though, is less clear. What do you mean exactly by the new role of culture in the Google age? How this affects traditional cultural expressions? What I would add is that a critical issue for the African American intellectuals has been to be tempted by integration in the dominant white elite at the expense of communication links with their own community, particularly with the poor communities and with the youth.

Of course Black separatism has already been shown as a dead end, but the issue remains of how to create links between African American intellectual leaders, who are leaders for society at large, not just for African Americans, and their community of reference. I would argue that digital culture, because it is the culture of the youth, offers a tremendous opportunity to connect high culture of AA intellectuals with the pop culture of AA youth. In other words, there is a flexibility of language and themes in the digital culture that broadens the potential reach of cultural innovation and leadership beyond the boundaries of formatted culture in academia and traditional media. In a certain way, what [Henry] Jenkins calls transmedia can be at the same time culturally specific and bridging beyond a given cultural matrix. Flexibility, communicability, remix, hybridization, all this offers the possibility of being specifically AA and networked and mixed with cultural manifestations of all origins.

This comment is in continuity with your main perspective, this is bringing the AA intellectual into the digital age. I think this is a very original perspective, goes beyond the platitude of the digital divide for minorities (obvious, but simple as a problem to deal with in policy terms) and introduces the key question of how to tackle a much deeper divide, this is the consumption of a digital culture that does not represent the experience of the AA community except in a ghettoized expression for blacks only. The new frontier is the remix of experiences that is offered by the digital culture, so superseding the dichotomy between racialized identity and dilution of cultural specificity.


Manuel Castells is University Professor and the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communication Technology and Society at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. He is Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, and holds joint appointments in the Department of Sociology, in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and in the School of International Relations.

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