Network Society

Castells definition of networks: According to Castells, a network is a decentralized matrix of “nodes” through which communication can occur with a multidirectional freedom which is neither time-bound nor spatially-restricted.

In his trilogy, Castells traces the effects of three independent processes that have come together to produce a new society:

  • The information technology revolution.
  • Economic crisis of capitalism and communism.
  • New social movements like environmentalism and feminism.

Together, these three processes are causing a new social structure (the network society), a new economic structure (global informational economy), and a new culture (a culture of ‘real virtuality’). Castells concludes that the “dominant functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organized around networks.” The new information technology paradigm provides the basis for the pervasive diffusion of networking throughout society.

In the network society, power no longer is controlled by institutions, organizations, or symbolic controllers. It is diffused in global networks of wealth, power, information, and images, which circulate around a variable landscape. A new culture is formed by networks in which a space of flows transcends a space of places. According to Castells, space is inseparable from time. A space of flows produces timeless time. Together, the space of flows and timeless time produce a culture of “real virtuality,” through a system of codified meaning that becomes reality, a concept that strongly resembles Baudrillard’s theories on simulation and simulcra.

Characteristics 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.
  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.
  3. National, regional and local economies depend ultimately on the dynamics of the global economy to which they are connected through networks and markets.
  4. The network enterprise is a new form of organisation characteristic of economic activity, but gradually extending its logic to other domains and organisations.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

References

Castells, M. (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Reflections on the Internethe Internet Galaxy. Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society, Oxford University Press, Chapter 4., pp.116-36