Castells and the Network Society

Castells and the Network Society


The term ‘network society’ was first coined in
1981 by Norwegian sociologist and social
psychologist Stein Braten, to describe a society powered by networked
information and communications technology. Since then, the Spanish sociologist, Manuel
Castells, has written extensively about the
network society, which he argues emerged as human societies
moved from the Industrial Age into the Information
Age. In this transition, capitalism is no longer centred
on the production of material goods, but on
information and knowledge. The term ‘the network society’ refers to the social
structure of this new age. Castells termed its economic manifestation, the
global informational economy, and its cultural
expression, the culture of ‘real virtuality’. According to Castells, networks now form the
new architecture of society, and are the dominant
mode of organising social relations. A network, for Castells, is a decentralised
system of “nodes”, through which communication
can occur. Each and every node is necessary for the
system to function, though nodes are not all of
equal importance. Networks have an open structure, and are able
to expand and contract as necessary. The communication that occurs across these
networks via nodes is multidimensional and
multidirectional, and not restricted by either time or space. Castells claims that while social networks
themselves are not new, and have existed as
models of social organisation for a very long time, their current form is directly related to the
Information Age. The difference in a network society is that the
process of managing information within social
networks is achieved using micro-electronic based communication
technologies, such as the internet or mobile
telephones. As a result, societies do not have to be attached
to a specific geographical space, such as a
nation state, but simply to the space of communication and
information flows. These technologies and flows decentralise
communication and increase the efficiency of
networks, compared to the hierarchical bureaucratic
structures that preceded them. Castells argues that these new social networks
are highly efficient because they are very good
at managing complexity, they are highly dynamic and innovative, and able
to adapt rapidly to changing social conditions. they are highly dynamic and innovative, and able
to adapt rapidly to changing social conditions. The rise of the network society has also led to
transformations in social dynamics and
interpersonal relationships, as well as how individuals relate to institutions
and organisations. Access to networks is no longer dominated by
one powerful social group. While economically disadvantaged groups may
find it more difficult to use the new networks,
particularly amongst the poor in the Global South, networks are increasingly available to more and
more people around the world. Castells referred In 1997 to the Zapatistas, a
political group of Indigenous peoples in Mexico, as an example of how marginalised and
disenfranchised groups can use the network
society and disrupt traditional power structures. The Zapatistas used the internet to coordinate
events, block government websites and servers, and even stage virtual protests and sit-ins in their
campaign to gain autonomy and self-
determination from the Mexican government. More recently, we can look to other examples of
internet activism as democracy in action,
such as Wikileaks. Castells also argues that, as a result of these
structural changes to society, place and time are
grdually becoming less relevant to social life. This is because the network society is organised
around new forms of time and space: timeless
time and the space of flows. While spatially bound networks determined by
proximity and shared ways of being are still
meaningful, they exist side by side with new identities and
ways of life that are formed and maintained in the
space of flows. Just as space is differently conceptualised and
used in the Information Age, time also operates differently within a network
society: timeless time. Timeless time refers to the disordering of social
action and interaction, as the perception and use of time becomes more
complicated and compressed, and sequences of
life become scrambled and even randomised. Timeless time makes it possible to be in several
places at the same time, and to participate in more
than one activity in one place, such as browsing on the internet at the same
time as listening to a podcast and updating one’s
Facebook page. Timeless time refers to not the disappearance of
linear time, but the decline of the significance of
linear time. It’s less important to think about the consecutive
order in which the concurrent activities that make
up our network society occur, and more about how they are grouped together. For example, individuals can speak to each other
from different countries at any time in real time,
and even to multiple users at once, through applications like Skype. While each person in that interaction is situated
and bound by a particular spatial and temporal
realm, the interaction itself transcends those realms. Castells is largely positive about the global
network society, and optimistic about its future. The network society provides people with the
opportunity to communicate and interact with
people from different places instantaneously, allowing for the creation of social networks that
draw from a myriad of cultural and ideological
worldviews. In Castells’ mind, this ultimately leads to a more
connected, productive, accepting and open-
minded global society. However, not everyone agrees with Castells’
vision of the network society. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman believes that
Castells is too idealistic and utopian in his
assessment of the current situation of the world, with all of its social, political and economic
ailments. Frank Webster argues that Castells places too
much emphasis on the influence of technology on
social relations, and not enough on how humans correspondingly
shape and reshape communications and
networks. Many also refute his claim that the present
economic and social situation unprecedented. Nicholas Garnham contends that what Castells
calls network society is simply an extension of
industrial capitalism, and suggests it is dangerous to focus so heavily
on the novelty of the changes in post-industrial
society, while overlooking important continuities between
it and past socio-economic formations. Despite these criticisms, it’s clear that Castells’
overarching theory of the increasing
interconnectedness of human society and our reliance on information and communications
technologies is an important contribution to our
understanding of globalisation. Castells theory of network society has been
hugely influential in the sociological understanding
of the relationship between new technologies and society.

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    Thant Zaw

    Interesting project. Will follow how it will develop. I hope the Sponsy network will improve in the crypto world.

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    TDItaly98

    I'm italian and my university professor tried to explain Castells to us. Let's just say it didn't end up very well. Thanks for this video.

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