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A monumental work

Jürgen Turek reviews Manuell Castell's publication "The Information Age"

Manuel Castells, The Information Age. 3 Vol., The rise of the network society, The power of identity, Turn of the Millenium, Opladen: Leske + Budrich 2003


04.05.2004 · Reviewed by Jürgen Turek


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The information age, the network society, globalization, technology dominance - all these terms are ciphers to describe the current socioeconomic change. What often sounds to be an empty word shell, takes shape in the monumental work of Manuel Castell. On the basis of numerous facts and analyses the American sociologist tries to develop a systematic theory of the information society, which opens up the fundamental significance of the information technology to the modern world. The result is an interesting sociology of the information age.

The work, based on the first edition published between 1996 and 1998 in the USA, is more than a pure translation. On the contrary, for the German edition the author brought his analysis up to date. In the first volume of his trilogy the author applies himself to the social consequences of an increasing networked world. According to Castell networks are the new social morphology of our societies. In the course of spreading the network logic the function and the results of production processes, experience, power and culture would change. In contrast to the past the network society would give priority to the power of streams over the streams of power.

The today's business is organized in global networks of capital, management and information and their access to technical know-how fundamentally decides about productivity and competitiveness. Companies and to a growing degree also social institutions and organizations are organized in networks with a "variable geometry". Their interlocking would replace the traditional differentiation between bigger and smaller companies and spread through all sectors. Working processes, therefore, would be increasingly individualised, taken to pieces and, in the end, re-integrated through numerous coherent tasks at different locations. This would open up the ground for a new kind of division of labor, which is based on the characteristics and abilities of each single working capacity and no longer on the organization of individual work steps.

The consequences would simply be revolutionary, because they not only change the basis of the livelihood of the individual and the society but also form a new architecture of power. Not only the institutions, which once shaped the industrial society - state, parties, church and unions - would loose their relevance, moreover, something like a new social issue of an information age would arise. The mechanism could not be related to the Manchester capitalism but to something quite different: The exploitation in the industrial capitalism would be replaced by another form of discrimination: the exclusion - internal, regional and, above all, international. He especially points out to the growing asymmetries between the developed and the less developed world. On the one hand there is a highly dynamic core of mankind, endowed with knowledge, capital and technology, which comprehends about one third of the world population and on the other a second third without access. On balance a fourth world is forming according to his opinion, which keeps excluded.

What are the consequences for the ego and the self? The liberal left-wing social theorist takes up this question in the second volume with great sensibility by picking the opposing trends globalization and identity out as central themes. Since globalization would produce a globally acting economy, which is characterized by flexibility and uncertainty of work and a culture of "real virtuality", "resistance identities" would grow up. A collective identity would express itself powerfully and would form cultural communes of the information age, which would take cover in their local heavens and would refuse to be flushed away by the global streams and the radical individualism. They would set themselves against globalization and would insist on cultural independence and on self-determination over life, environment and culture. Castells describes and analyses the origins, aims and effects of comprehensive movements relating to religion, ethnic roots, family, nation and the relationship between men and women. This would affect the role of the woman in an outstanding way -the worldwide mixture of cultures would undermine the patriarchy and would grant new liberties to the women.

The reflexes of mankind against globality and new networks could be realized worldwide and the excluded would answer by excluding others themselves. From this fundamentalism would be fed in all its forms: religious, ethnic or nationalistic. This regards to the Islamic fundamentalism in Arab countries as well as to the Christian fundamentalism in the United States. In this context Europe has to face rather with a Jörg Haider, who combines hostility to strangers, racism and nationalism. Everybody, who would not want to loose control, would identify himself with him. But right-wing populism would only be one of the answers to globalization and to the network society. Each answer would clearly show: The network society would basically undermine state sovereignity and the legitimacy of democratic governing, what would vent on the one hand in the retreat to clear and familiar opposite worlds or on the other in active resistance. In addition, the international crime would reap the benefits of the "Fourth World" through a "perverted coupling", in order to drive forward the development of a global criminal economy.

Castells summarizes in the third volume of his trilogy and takes a look on the situation of the whole of the world. At the turn of the millenium the world would shape anew as a result of the information-technological revolution, the crisis of capitalism as well as the strengthening of the governance and the rising of new social movements. According to Castells inequality, polarization, social asymmetries and a new landscape of conflicts would increasingly characterize the fate of the network society in the future; this would lead to a world-wide increase of poverty, need, inequality, social exclusion and following violences. At the same time the author shows, that and how a further proliferous globally organized crime threatens state and society of many countries and he finally draws the attention to the Asian-Pacific area, which he identifies as one of the most insecure factors of influence in the network economy. Finally he focusses on the fragmentation and multipolar split-up of the world's nations. Interesting in this point of view is, that he recognizes the seed of a state adequate compensation of the excesses of the network society in the European integration, although the integration of the continent would still be restricted too much to economic matters.

Manuel Castells has drawn up a marvellous description and analysis of the network society. Again and again he points out, that the present and the future does not result inevitably; it would be under control of mankind, if a positive or negative development would predominate. He also tracks down hope horizons and chances, although he himself keeps to be rather sceptical. Although the rigorousness of his judgement sometimes irritates, he peels off the new preamble of the future society contract: The network society bears greater risks, less security but new chances.


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