«Materials for an explorator y theory of the network society1 ABSTRACT This article aims at proposing some elements for a grounded theor y of the ...»
In the last two decades of the twentieth centur y a related set of social transformations has taken place around the world. While cultures, institutions, and historical trajectories introduce a great deal of diversity in the actual manifestations of each one of these transformations, it can be shown that, overall, the vast majority of societies are affected in a fundamental way by these transformations. All together they constitute a new type of social structure that I call the network society for reasons that hopefully will become apparent. I shall summarize below the main features of these transformations, in a sequential order that does not imply hierarchy of causation in any way.
We have entered a new technological paradigm, centred around microelectronics-based, information/communication technologies, and genetic 10 Manuel Castells engineering. In this sense what is characteristic of the network society is not the critical role of knowledge and information, because knowledge and information were central in all societies. Thus, we should abandon the notion of ‘Information Society’, which I have myself used some times, as unspeci c and misleading. What is new in our age is a new set of information technologies. I contend they represent a greater change in the history of technology than the technologies associated with the Industrial Revolution, or with the previous Information Revolution (printing).
Furthermore, we are only at the beginning of this technological revolution, as the Internet becomes a universal tool of interactive communication, as we shift from computer-centred technologies to network-diffused technologies, as we make progress in nanotechnology (and thus in the diffusion capacity of information devices), and, even more importantly, as we unleash the biology revolution, making possible for the rst time, the design and manipulation of living organisms, including human parts. What is also characteristic of this technological paradigm is the use of knowledgebased, information technologies to enhance and accelerate the production of knowledge and information, in a self-expanding, virtuous circle. Because information processing is at the source of life, and of social action, ever y domain of our eco-social system is thereby transformed.
We live in a new economy, characterized by three fundamental features.
First, it is informational, that is, the capacity of generating knowledge and processing/managing information determine the productivity and competitiveness of all kinds of economic units, be they rms, regions, or countries. While it took two decades for the new technological system to yield its productivity dividend, we are now observing substantial productivity growth in the most advanced economies and sectors, in spite of the dif culty in measuring informational productivity with the categories of the industrial era.
Second, this new economy is global in the precise sense that its core, strategic activities, have the capacity to work as a unit on a planetar y scale in real time or chosen time. By core activities I mean nancial markets, science and technology, international trade of goods and services, advanced business services, multinational production rms and their ancillary networks, communication media, and highly skilled speciality labour. Most jobs are in fact not global, but all economies are under the in uence of the movements of their globalized core. Globalization is highly selective. It proceeds by linking up all that, according to dominant interests, has value anywhere in the planet, and discarding anything (people, rms, territories, resources) which has no value or becomes devalued, in a variable geometry of creative destruction and destructive creation of value.
Third, the new economy is networked. At the heart of the connectivity of the global economy and of the exibility of informational production, there is a new form of economic organization, the network enterprise. This is not a network of enterprises. It is a network made from either rms or segments of rms, and/or from internal segmentation of rms. Large Materials for an explorator y theory of the network society corporations are internally de-centralized as networks. Small and medium businesses are connected in networks. These networks connect among themselves on speci c business projects, and switch to another network as soon as the project is nished. Major corporations work in a strategy of changing alliances and partnerships, speci c to a given product, process, time, and space. Furthermore, these co-operations are based increasingly on sharing of information. These are information networks, which, in the limit, link up suppliers and customers through one rm, with this rm being essentially an intermediary of supply and demand, collecting a fee for its ability to process information.
The unit of this production process is not the rm, but the business project. The rm continues to be the legal unit of capital accumulation.
But since the value of the rm ultimately depends on its valuation in the stock market, the unit of capital accumulation (the rm) itself becomes a node in a global network of nancial ows. In this economy, the dominant layer is the global nancial market, where all earnings from all activities and countries end up being traded. This global nancial market works only partly according to market rules. It is shaped and moved by information turbulences of various origins, processed and transmitted almost instantly by tele-communicated, information systems, in the absence of the institutional regulation of global capital ows.
This new economy (informational, global, networked) is certainly capitalist. Indeed, for the rst time in history, the whole planet is capitalist, for all practical purposes (except North Korea, but not Cuba or Myanmar, and certainly not China). But it is a new brand of capitalism, in which rules for investment, accumulation, and reward, have substantially changed (see Giddens and Hutton 2000). Besides, since nothing authorizes capitalism as eternal, it is essential to focus on the characteristics of the new economy because it may well outlast the mode of production where it was born, once capitalism comes under decisive challenge and/or plunges into a structural crisis derived from its internal contradictions (after all, statism died from its self-in icted aws).
Work and employment are substantially transformed in/by the new economy. But, against a persistent myth, there is no mass unemployment as a consequence of new information technologies. The empirical record is conclusive on this matter (Carnoy 2000). Yet, there is a serious unemployment problem in Europe, unrelated to technology, and there are dramatic problems of underemployment in the developing world, caused by economic and institutional backwardness, including the insuf cient diffusion and inef cient use of information technologies. There is a decisive transformation of work and employment. Induced by globalization, and the network enterprise, and facilitated by information/communication technologies, the most important transformation in employment patterns concerns the development of exible work, as the predominant form of working arrangements. Part-time work, temporar y work, self-employment, work by contract, informal or semi-formal labour arrangements, and 12 Manuel Castells relentless occupational mobility, are the key features of the new labour market. Feminization of paid labour leads to the rise of the ‘ exible woman’, gradually replacing the ‘organization man’, as the harbinger of the new type of worker. The key transformation is the individualization of labour, reversing the process of socialization of production characteristic of the industrial era, still at the roots of our current system of industrial relations.
The work process is interconnected between rms, regions, and countries, in a stepped up spatial division of labour, in which networks of locations are more important than hierarchies of places. Labour is fundamentally divided in two categories: self-programmable labour, and generic labour. Self-programmable labour is equipped with the ability to retrain itself, and adapt to new tasks, new processes and new sources of information, as technology, demand, and management speed up their rate of change. Generic labour, by contrast, is exchangeable and disposable, and co-exists in the same circuits with machines and with unskilled labour from around the world. Beyond the realm of employable labour, legions of discarded, devalued people form the growing planet of the irrelevant, from where perverse connections are made, by fringe capitalist business, through to the booming, global criminal economy. Because of this structural divide in terms of informational capacities, and because of the individualization of the reward system, in the absence of a determined public policy aimed at correcting structural trends, we have witnessed in the last 20 years a dramatic surge of inequality, social polarization, and social exclusion in the world at large, and in most countries, particularly, among advanced societies, in the USA and in the UK (see UNDP 1999; Hutton 1996; Castells 2000b, for sources).
Shifting to the cultural realm, we see the emergence of a similar pattern of networking, exibility, and ephemeral symbolic communication, in a culture organized primarily around an integrated system of electronic media, obviously including the Internet. Cultural expressions of all kinds are increasingly enclosed in or shaped by this electronic hypertext. But the new media system is not characterized by one-way, undifferentiated messages through a limited number of channels that constituted the world of mass media. And it is not a global village. Media are extraordinarily diverse, and send targeted messages to speci c segments of audiences responding to speci c moods of audiences. They are increasingly inclusive, bridging from one another, from network TV to cable TV or satellite TV, radio, VCR, video, portable devices, and the Internet. The whole set is coming together in the multimedia system, computer-operated by the digitalized set-top box that opens up hundreds of channels of interactive communication, reaching from the global from the local. While there is oligopolistic concentration of multimedia groups, there is, at the same time, market segmentation, and the rise of an interactive audience, superseding the uniformity of the mass audience. Because of the inclusiveness and exibility of this system of symbolic exchange, most cultural expressions are enclosed in Materials for an explorator y theory of the network society it, thus inducing the formation of what I call a culture of ‘real virtuality’.
Our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured by this exible, inclusive hypertext, in which many people surf each day. The virtuality of this text is in fact a fundamental dimension of reality, providing the symbols and icons from which we think and thus exist.
This growing enclosure of communication in the space of a exible, interactive, electronic hypertext does not only concern culture. It has a fundamental effect on politics. In almost all countries, media have become the space of politics. To an overwhelming extent people receive their information, on the basis of which they form their political opinion and structure their behaviour, through the media and particularly television and radio. Media politics needs to convey very simple messages. The simplest message is an image. The simplest, individualized image is a person. Political competition increasingly revolves around the personalization of politics.
The most effective political weapons are negative messages. The most effective negative message is character assassination of opponents’ personalities, and/or of their supporting organizations. Political marketing is an essential mean to win political competition, including, in the information age, media presence, media advertising, telephone banks, targeted mailing, image making and unmaking. Thus, politics becomes a ver y expensive business, way beyond the means of traditional sources of political nancing, at a time when citizens resist giving more of their tax money to politicians.
Thus, parties and leaders use access to power as ways to obtain resources for their trade. Political corruption becomes a systemic feature of information age politics. Since character assassination needs some substance from time to time, systemic political corruption provides ample opportunity, as a market of intermediaries is created to leak and counter-leak damaging information. The politics of scandal takes centre stage in political competition, in close interaction with the media system, and with the co-operation of judges and prosecutors, the new stars of our political soap operas. Politics becomes a horse race, and a tragicomedy motivated by greed, backstage manoeuvres, betrayals, and, often, sex and violence – a genre increasingly indistinguishable from TV scripts.
As with all historical transformations, the emergence of a new social structure is linked to a rede nition of the material foundations of our life, of time and space, as Giddens (1984), Adam (see chapter below), Lash and Urry (1994), Thrift (1990), and Harvey (1990), among others, have argued. I propose the hypothesis that two emergent social forms of time and space characterize the network society, while coexisting with prior forms of time and space. These are timeless time and the space of ows. In contrast to the rhythm of biological time characteristic of most of human existence, and to clock time characterizing the industrial age, timeless time is de ned by the use of new information/communication technologies in a relentless effort to annihilate time. On the one hand, time is compressed (as in split second global nancial transactions, or in the attempt to ght ‘instant wars’), and on the other hand, time is de-sequenced, including 14 Manuel Castells past, present, and future occurring in a random sequence (as in the electronic hypertext or in the blurring of life-cycle patterns, both in work and parenting).