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«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 ...»

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The space of ows refers to the technological and organizational possibility of organizing the simultaneity of social practices without geographical contiguity. Most dominant functions in our societies ( nancial markets, transnational production networks, media systems etc.) are organized around the space of ows. And so to do an increasing number of alternative social practices (such as social movements) and personal interaction networks. However, the space of ows does include a territorial dimension, as it requires a technological infrastructure that operates from certain locations, and as it connects functions and people located in speci c places. Yet, the meaning and function of the space of ows depend on the ows processed within the networks, by contrast with the space of places, in which meaning, function, and locality are closely interrelated.

The central power-holding institution of human history, the state, is also undergoing a process of dramatic transformation. On the one hand, its sovereignty is called into question by global ows of wealth, communication, and information. On the other hand, its legitimacy is undermined by the politics of scandal and its dependence on media politics. The weakening of its power and credibility induce people to build their own systems of defence and representation around their identities, further de-legitimizing the state. However, the state does not disappear. It adapts and transforms itself. On the one hand, it builds partnerships between nation-states and shares sovereignty to retain in uence. The European Union is the most obvious case, but around the world there is a decisive shift of power toward multi-national and transnational institutions, such as NATO, IMF/World Bank, United Nations agencies, World Trade Organization, regional trade associations, and the like. On the other hand, to regain legitimacy, most states have engaged in a process of devolution of power, decentralizing responsibilities and resources to nationalities, regions, and local governments, often extending this de-centralization to non-governmental organizations. The international arena is also witnessing a proliferation of in uential, resourceful non-governmental organizations that interact with governments, and multinational political institutions. Thus, overall the new state is not any longer a nation-state. The state in the information age is a network state, a state made out of a complex web of power-sharing, and negotiated decision-making between international, multinational, national, regional, local, and non-governmental, political institutions.

There are two common trends in these processes of transformation that, together, signal a new historical landscape. First, none of them could have taken place without new information/communication technologies. Thus, while technology is not the cause of the transformation, it is indeed the indispensable medium. And in fact, it is what constitutes the historical novelty of this multidimensional transformation. Second, all processes are enacted by organizational forms that are built upon networks, or to be more Materials for an explorator y theory of the network society speci c, upon information networks. Thus, to analyse the emerging social structure in theoretically meaningful terms, we have to de ne what information networks are, and elaborate on their strategic role in fostering and shaping current processes of social transformation.


A network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point where the curve intersects itself. Networks are very old forms of social organization.

But they have taken on a new life in the Information Age by becoming information networks, powered by new information technologies. Indeed, networks had traditionally a major advantage and a major problem, in contrast to other con gurations of social morphology, such as centralized hierarchies. On the one hand, they are the most exible, and adaptable forms of organization, able to evolve with their environment and with the evolution of the nodes that compose the network. On the other hand, they have considerable dif culty in co-ordinating functions, in focusing resources on speci c goals, in managing the complexity of a given task beyond a certain size of the network. Thus, while they were the natural forms of social expression, they were generally outperformed as tools of instrumentality. For most of human history, and unlike biological evolution, networks were outperformed by organizations able to master resources around centrally de ned goals, achieved through the implementation of tasks in rationalized, vertical chains of command and control. But for the rst time, the introduction of new information/communication technologies allows networks to keep their exibility and adaptability, thus asserting their evolutionary nature.

While, at the same time, these technologies allow for co-ordination and management of complexity, in an interactive system which features feedback effects, and communication patterns from anywhere to ever ywhere within the networks. It follows an unprecedented combination of exibility and task implementation, of co-ordinated decision making, and decentralized execution, which provide a superior social morphology for all human action.

Networks de-centre performance and share decision-making. By de nition, a network has no centre. It works on a binar y logic: inclusion/exclusion. All there is in the network is useful and necessar y for the existence of the network. What is not in the network does not exist from the network’s perspective, and thus must be either ignored (if it is not relevant to the network’s task), or eliminated (if it is competing in goals or in performance). If a node in the network ceases to perform a useful function it is phased out from the network, and the network rearranges itself – as cells do in biological processes. Some nodes are more important than others, but they all need each other as long as they are within the network. And no nodal domination is systemic. Nodes increase their importance by 16 Manuel Castells absorbing more information and processing it more ef ciently. If they decline in their performance, other nodes take over their tasks. Thus, the relevance, and relative weight of nodes does not come from their speci c features, but from their ability to be trusted by the network with an extrashare of information. In this sense, the main nodes are not centres, but switchers, following a networking logic rather than a command logic, in their function vis-à-vis the overall structure.

Networks, as social forms, are value-free or neutral. They can equally kill or kiss: nothing personal. They process the goals they are programmed to perform. All goals contradictor y to the programmed goals will be fought off by the network components. In this sense, a network is an automaton.

But, who programmes the network? Who decides the rules that the automaton will follow? Social actors, naturally. Thus, there is a social struggle to assign goals to the network. But once the network is programmed, it imposes its logic to all its members (actors). Actors will have to play their strategies within the rules of the network. To assign different goals to the programme of the network (in contrast to perfect the programme within the same set of goals), actors will have to challenge the network from the outside and in fact destroy it by building an alternative network around alternative values. Or else, building a defensive, non-network structure (a commune) which does not allow connections outside its own set of values.

Networks may communicate, if they are compatible in their goals. But for this they need actors who possess compatible access codes to operate the switches. They are the switchers or power-holders in our society (as in the connections between media and politics, nancial markets and technology, science and the military, and drug traf c and global nance through money laundering).

The speed and shape of structural transformations in our society, ushering in a new form of social organization, come from the widespread introduction of information networks as the predominant organizational form.

Why now? The answer lies in the simultaneous availability of new, exible information technologies and a set of historical events, which came together by accident, around the late 1960s, and 1970s. These events include the restructuring of capitalism with its emphasis on deregulation and liberalization; the failed restructuring of statism unable to adapt itself to informationalism; the in uence of libertarian ideology arising from the countercultural social movements of the 1960s; and the development of a new media system, enclosing cultural expressions in a global/local, interactive hypertext. All processes, interacting with each other, favoured the adoption of information networks as a most ef cient form of organization.

Once introduced, and powered by information technology, information networks, through competition, gradually eliminate other organizational forms, rooted in a different social logic. In this sense, they tend to assert the predominance of social morphology over social action. Let me clarify the meaning of this statement by entering into the heart of the argument, that is, by examining how speci cally the introduction of information Materials for an explorator y theory of the network society networks into the social structure accounts for the set of observable transformations as presented in the preceding section. Or, in other words, how and why information networks constitute the backbone of the network society.



Information networks, as de ned above, contribute, to a large extent, to the transformation of social structure in the information age. To be sure, this multidimensional transformation has other sources that interact with the speci c effect of information networks, as mentioned above. Yet, in this analysis, I will focus on the speci city of the interaction between this new social morphology and the evolution of social structure. I will be as parsimonious as possible, tr ying to avoid repetition of arguments and observations already presented in this text.

A social structure is transformed when there is simultaneous and systemic transformation of relationships of production/consumption, power, and experience, ultimately leading to a transformation of culture. Information networks play a substantial role in the set of transformations I have analysed in my work and summarized here. This is how and why.

Relationships of Production Although I suppose information networks will shape, eventually, other modes of production, for the time being we can only assess their effect in the capitalist mode of production. Networks change the two terms of the relationship (capital, labour), and their relationship. They transform capital by organizing its circulation in global networks and making it the dominant sphere of capital – the one where value, from whichever origin, increases (or decreases) and is ultimately realized. Global nancial markets are information networks. They constitute themselves into a collective ‘capitalist’, independent from any speci c capitalist (but not indifferent to), and activated by rules that are only partly market rules. In this sense, capital in the Information Age has become a human-made automaton, which, through mediations, imposes its structural determination to relationships of production. More speci cally, global nancial markets and their management networks constitute an automated network, governed by interactions between its multiple nodes, propelled by a combination of market logic, information turbulences, and actors’ strategies and bets (see Castells 2000b).

Relationships between capital and labour (all kinds of capital, all kinds of labour) are organized around the network enterprise form of production. This network enterprise is also globalized at its core, through telecommunications and transportation networks. Thus, the work process is 18 Manuel Castells globally integrated, but labour tends to be locally fragmented. There is simultaneous integration of production and speci cation of labour’s contribution to the production process. Value in the production process depends essentially on the position occupied by each speci c labour or each speci c rm in the value chain. The rule is individualization of the relationship between capital and labour. In a growing number of cases, self-employment, or payment in stocks, leads to workers becoming holders of their own capital – however, any individual capital is submitted to the movements of the global automaton. As labour comes to be de ned by a network of production and individualized in its relationship to capital, the critical cleavage within labour becomes that between networked labour and switched-off labour which ultimately becomes non-labour. Within networked labour, it is the capacity to contribute to the value-producing chain that determines the individual bargaining position. Thus labour’s informational capacity, by ensuring the possibility of strategic positioning in the network, leads to a second, fundamental cleavage, between self-programmable labour and generic labour. For self-programmable labour, its individual interest is better served by enhancing its role in performing the goals of the network, thus establishing competition between labour and co-operation between capital (the network enterprize) as the structural rule of the game. Indeed game theor y and rational choice theor y seem to be adequate intellectual tools to understand socio-economic behaviour in the networked economy.

While for generic labour, its strategy is survival: the key issue becomes not be degraded to the realm of discarded or devalued labour, either by automation or globalization, or both.

In the last analysis, the networking of relationships of production leads to the blurring of class relationships. This does not preclude exploitation, social differentiation and social resistance. But production-based, social classes, as constituted, and enacted in the Industrial Age, cease to exist in the network society.

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