Castells’ The Information Age

Manuel Castells
The Information Age: vols. 1-3
Area: Digital Media
From Felix Stadler’s Review

•    Castells’ main argument is that a new form of capitalism has emerged at the end of this century: global in its character, hardened in its goals and much more flexible than any of its predecessors. It is challenged around the globe by a multitude of social movements on behalf of cultural singularity and people’s control over their own lives and environment.
•    This tension provides the central dynamic of the Information Age, as “our societies are increasingly structured around the bipolar opposition of the Net and the Self” (1996, p. 3).
•    The Net stands for the new organizational formations based on the pervasive use of networked communication media. Network patterns are characteristic for the most advanced economic sectors, highly competitive corporations as well as for communities and social movements.
•    The Self symbolizes the activities through which people try to reaffirm their identities under the conditions of structural change and instability that go along with the organization of core social and economic activities into dynamic networks.
•    Transformations amongst the trilogy
o    First: Changing relationships of production
o    Second: relationships of power and experience: crisis of the nation-state
o    Third: ties together the loose ends
•    Technology and society can’t be understood or represented without its technological tools
•    Rather than seeing identity as an effect, as a traditional Marxist would, he argues the opposite: identity-building itself is a dynamic motor in forming society
•    “A new society emerges when and if a structural transformation can be observed in the relationships of production, in the relationships of power, and in the relationships of experience” (1998, p. 340).
•    The first assumption structures Castells’ account of the rise of the Net: the dialectical interaction of social relations and technological innovation, or, in Castells’ terminology, modes of production and modes of development.
•    The second assumption underlies the importance of the Self: the way social groups define their identity shapes the institutions of society. As Castells notes “each type of identity-building process leads to a different outcome in constituting society” (1997, p. 8).
•    A society produces its goods and services in specific social relationships–the modes of production.
o    Since the industrial revolution, the prevalent mode of production in Western societies has been capitalism, embodied in a wide range of historically and geographically specific institutions to create and distribute profit.
o    The modes of development, on the other hand, “are the technological arrangements through which labor acts upon matter to generate the product, ultimately determining the level and the quality of the surplus” (1996, p. 16).
•    Identity is defined as “the process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute, or related set of cultural attributes, that is/are given priority over other sources of meaning” (1997, p. 6).
•    Castells concludes that information technology evolves in a distinctively different pattern than previous technologies, thus constituting the “informational mode of development”: a flexible, pervasive, integrated and reflexive, rather than additive evolution. The reflexivity of the technologies, the fact that any product is also raw material because both are information, has permitted the speeding up of the process of innovation.
•    This new economy is informational because the competitiveness of its central actors (firms, regions, or nations) depends on their ability to generate and process electronic information. It is global because its most important aspects, from financing to production, are organized on a global scale, directly through multinational corporations and/or indirectly through networks of associations.
•    Rather than creating the same conditions everywhere, the global economy is characterized “by its interdependence, its asymmetry, its regionalization, the increased diversification within each region, its selective inclusiveness, its exclusionary segmentation, and, as a result of all those features, an extraordinarily variable geometry that tends to dissolve historical, economic geography” (1996, p. 106).
•    Its most distinct result is the emergence of what Castells calls the space of flows: the integrated global network. It comprises several connected elements: private networks, company Intranets; semi-public, closed and proprietary networks such as the financial networks; and public, open networks, the Internet. Social organizations reconstitute themselves according to this space of flows.
o    Technology: the infrastructure of the network.
o    Places: the topology of the space formed by its nodes and hubs.
o    People: the (relatively) secluded space of the managerial elite commanding the networks,
•    The space of flows has introduced a culture of real virtuality which is characterized by timeless time and placeless space.
•    Binary time expresses no sequence but knows only two states: either presence or absence, either now or never.
o    Within the space of flows everything that is the case is now, and everything that is not must be introduced from the outside: that is, it springs suddenly into existence.
•    Sequence is arbitrary in the space of flows and disorders events which in the physical context are connected by a chronological sequence.
•    Binary space, then, is a space where the distance can only be measured as two states: zero distance (inside the network) or infinite distance (outside the network), here or nowhere.
•    Power is concentrated in the intricate space of flows, to the extent that “the power of flows takes precedence over the flows of power” (1996, p. 469).
•    The classic embodiment of legitimizing identity, the nation state, is losing its power, “although, and this is essential, not its influence” (1997, p. 243).
•    Trapped between the increased articulation of diverse, often conflicting identities and the need to act on a global scene, the traditional democratic institutions–the civil society–are being voided of meaning and legitimacy: they lose their identity. The power of the political democracy, ironically at the moment when it reaches almost global acceptance, seems to be inevitably waning.


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