Manuel Castells on the Network Society
Major historical events are transforming our lives:
the diffusion and deepening of the IT revolution, including genetic engineering;
Castells clings to rationalist project of understanding all this in a coherent manner that is somewhat empirically grounded and theoretically oriented.
The main features of the emergent dominant structure - the network society that is characteristic of informational capitalism.
The network society results form the historical convergence of three independent processes:
The main features and processes of the Network Society
1. An informational economy in which sources of productivity and competitiveness for firms, regions, countries depend, more than ever, on knowledge, information and the technology of their processing, including the technology of management and the management of technology. An informational economy includes informational agriculture, manufacturing, services and extraordinary potential for solving problems. At the same time it is potentially more exclusionary than the industrial economy if it is not adequately regulated.
2. A global economy that is not the same as a world economy, and is a new reality. At its core it has strategically dominant activities which have the potential of working as a unit in real time on a planetary scale.
National, regional and local economies depend ultimately on the dynamics of the global economy to which they are connected through networks and markets. It reaches out to whole planet but does not include whole planet and excludes the majority in an uneven geography, and switches on and links up valuable inputs, markets and individuals whilst it switches others off. The Third World has become increasingly diversified internally, the First World has generated exclusion and an emergent Fourth World of exclusion is populated largely by women and children.
3. The network enterprise is a new form of organisation characteristic of economic activity, but gradually extending its logic to other domains and organisations. It is a network made either from firms or segments of firms, or from internal segmentation of firms. It includes MNCs, strategic alliances between corporations, networks of SMEs, and link-ups between corporations and networks of SMEs.
4. The transformation of work and employment; the flexi-workers.There is no major surge in unemployment (except in Western Europe) but there is great anxiety and discontent about work. Power relations have shifted in favour of capital with much downsizing, subcontracting and networking of labour, inducing flexibility and individualisation of contractual arrangements. There is a growth of self employment, temporary work, and part-time, particularly for women.
5. Social polarisation and social exclusion - processes of globalisation, business networking and individualisation of labour all weaken social organisations and institutions that represented/protected workers in the information age, particularly labour unions and the welfare state.
6. The culture of real virtuality - the emergence of a similar pattern of networking, flexibility and ephemeral symbolic communication in a culture organised around the electronic media. The media are extremely diverse and send targeted messages to specific segments of audiences and to specific moods of audiences. They form a culture of real virtuality in which our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured in an inclusive, flexible, diversified hypertext, in which we navigate every day. The virtuality of this test is in fact our reality, the symbols from which we live and communicate. The enclosure of communication in the space of flexible media and the media become the essential space of politics.
7. Politics now needs to occupy media space if actors and ideas are not to be marginalised. The media has become the essential space of politics, particularly television. Media politics needs to simplify the message; the simplest message is an image; the simplest image is a person; the most effective political weapons are negative messages; the most effective negative message is character assassination of opponents' personalities; the politics of scandal and spin; political marketing, PR and corruption; crisis of political legitimacy.
8. Timeless time - time and space are related in society as is nature and their meanings and manifestations in social practice evolve throughout histories and across cultures. The network society is organised around new forms of time and space: timeless time and the space of flows.
9. The space of flows is the material organisation of time-sharing social practices that work through flows. The space of places continues to be the predominant space of experience. In the Network Society a fundamental form of social domination is the prevalence of the logic of the space of flows over the space of places and induces a metropolitan dualism and a form of social/territorial exclusion which bypasses and marginalises people and places. A new spatial dynamics is resisted/opposed by new social movements that appropriate technologies and penetrate segments of the space of flows with forces of resistance and expressions of personal experience.
Network society is structured in its dominant functions and processes around networks and current manifestation is capitalist and but very different from industrial capitalism.
The dynamics of networks push society towards an endless escape from its own constraints and controls, towards an endless supersession and reconstruction of its values and institutions, towards a meta-social, constant rearrangement of human institutions and organisations.
Cosmopolitan democracy is needed to regulate the network society and the network state. Networks and social actors increasingly require the shared cultural codes - values, categories, and meanings that networks can process effectively. They need to redefine cultural code and alternative meaning - to change the rules of the game/society. This is what identity based social movements are seeking to do as sources of change in an information age, for example environmentalism. They affirm experience over instrumentality, meaning over function, the value of life over the values in the networks.
Network Society opens up a new realm of contradictions and conflicts as people around the world refuse to become shadows of global flows and begin to project their dreams, and sometimes their nightmares into the light of new history making.
An introduction to the information age, Manuel Castells, CITY
7, May 1997, pp. 6 and 16
Fonte bibliografica: Articolo pubblicato in TIDE~Teachers in development education