The Information Society


The Network Paradigm: Social Formations in the Age of Information
by Felix Stalder

The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. I. M. Castells (1996). Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 556 pp., ISBN 1-55786-617-1

The Power of Identity, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. II. M. Castells (1997). Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 461 pp., ISBN 1-55786-874-3

The End of the Millennium, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. III. M. Castells (1997). Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 418 pp., ISBN 1-55786-872-7

Manuel Castells’ The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (1996, 1997 and 1998) is unrivaled in ambition: to make sense of the global social dynamics as they arise out of a myriad of changes around the world. It is a cross-cultural analysis of the major social, economic and political transformations at the end of this century. It is presented through interrelated empirical case studies whose number and variety are truly enormous–the bibliography alone fills 120 pages–and threatens to overwhelm the reader at times. Nevertheless, the trilogy is prodigious and sets a new standard against which all future meta-accounts of the Information Society will be measured. It will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in a grand narrative of the present.

Castells’ main argument is that a new form of capitalism has emerged at the end of this century: global in its character, hardened in its goals and much more flexible than any of its predecessors. It is challenged around the globe by a multitude of social movements on behalf of cultural singularity and people’s control over their own lives and environment. This tension provides the central dynamic of the Information Age, as "our societies are increasingly structured around the bipolar opposition of the Net and the Self" (1996, p. 3). The Net stands for the new organizational formations based on the pervasive use of networked communication media. Network patterns are characteristic for the most advanced economic sectors, highly competitive corporations as well as for communities and social movements. The Self symbolizes the activities through which people try to reaffirm their identities under the conditions of structural change and instability that go along with the organization of core social and economic activities into dynamic networks. New social formations emerge around primary identities, which may be sexual, religious, ethnic, territorial or national in focus. These identities are often seen as biologically or socially unchangeable, contrasting with the fast-paced change of social landscapes. In the interplay of the Net and the Self the conditions of human life and experience around the world are deeply reconfigured.

The trilogy concludes more than a decade of research, spanning from new social movements and urban change (Castells, 1983; 1989) to development of the high-tech industries and their organization into technopoles, clusters of high-tech firms and institutions of higher education, such as the Silicon Valley (Castells and Hall, 1994), to comparative analysis of the fastest developing countries in the Asian Pacific Rim (Castells, 1992), to research conducted in Russia before and after the 1991 revolution and the demise of the Soviet Union.

It details the diversity of social change interlinked around the globe which created the Information Age and integrates the often seemingly contradictory trends into a comprehensive analytical framework. The theoretical abstractions are developed through a broad and detailed empirical analysis "as a method of disciplining my theoretical discourse, of making it difficult, if not impossible, to say something that observed collective action rejects in practice" (1997, p. 3). This makes his account highly accessible and richly textured.

Castells’ analysis is driven by the hypothesis of a new society: "A new society emerges when and if a structural transformation can be observed in the relationships of production, in the relationships of power, and in the relationships of experience" (1998, p. 340). The observation of those transformations informs the central structure of the trilogy. The first volume focusses primarily on the changing relationships of production: the global economy, the network enterprise and the changing patterns of labor. The second focusses on the relationships of power and experience, framed as a crisis of the nation-state vis-ˆ-vis global institutions and the related crisis of the political democracy vis-ˆ-vis newly articulated identities. The third volume ties together a number of "loose ends". They are themselves important features of the Information Age, but more as effects of, rather than actors in the analyzed transformations: the demise of the Soviet Union, the growth of the fourth world of excluded regions and social groups and the emergence of a global criminal economy.

Castells’ Theoretical Assumptions

The central hypothesis of the dialectical opposition between the Net and the Self is based on an original and powerful combination of two theoretical assumptions. The first assumption structures Castells’ account of the rise of the Net: the dialectical interaction of social relations and technological innovation, or, in Castells’ terminology, modes of production and modes of development. The second assumption underlies the importance of the Self: the way social groups define their identity shapes the institutions of society. As Castells notes "each type of identity-building process leads to a different outcome in constituting society" (1997, p. 8). To appreciate the trilogy it is useful to look at these theoretical assumptions in some detail because their pervasiveness shapes the selection of phenomena covered and their specific analysis.

Social development is inseparable from the changes in the technological infrastructure through which many of the activities are carried out, "since technology is society and society cannot be understood or represented without its technological tools" (1996, p. 5). Social changes and technological changes are intimately related. Castells theorizes their interaction in the following way: A society produces its goods and services in specific social relationships–the modes of production. Since the industrial revolution, the prevalent mode of production in Western societies has been capitalism, embodied in a wide range of historically and geographically specific institutions to create and distribute profit. The modes of development, on the other hand, "are the technological arrangements through which labor acts upon matter to generate the product, ultimately determining the level and the quality of the surplus" (1996, p. 16).

The evolution of the capitalist modes of production is driven by private capital’s competitive pressures. Modes of development, however, evolve according to their own logic; they do not respond mechanically to economic necessities. Technological innovations emerge from the interaction between scientific and technological discovery and the organizational integration of such discoveries in the process of production and management. The evolutionary model of two separate modes bears some resemblance to Marxist theory formulated by Louis Althusser who introduced a similar distinction between the relations of production (classes) and the forces of production (technique) (Webster 1995, p. 196).

In the present volumes Marxist theory has been toned down to a point where the remnants can hardly be called Marxist anymore. However, they enable Castells to avoid the conceptual traps which fuel the debate over whether technology determines social development or whether social actors use technology merely as a tool (Smith and Marx, 1994). He argues that technological development does not completely mirror the economic process because the former is also influenced by other factors, for example, inventiveness and experiments with non-economic goals. The results of technological innovation open up new possibilities which may or may not be realized by social actors using them. There is a strong interaction between the two processes of invention and application, but they cannot be conflated into a linear dependence of one determining the other. The accusation of technological determinism (Webster, 1995, pp. 193-214) is therefore unjustified.

The second assumption which guides his research concerns the role of identity in societal development. Rather than seeing it as an effect, as a traditional Marxist would, he argues the opposite: identity-building itself is a dynamic motor in forming society. Identity is defined as "the process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute, or related set of cultural attributes, that is/are given priority over other sources of meaning" (1997, p. 6). He formulates a hypothesis that "who[ever] constructs collective identity, and for what, largely determines the symbolic content of this identity, and its meaning for those identifying with it or placing themselves outside of it" (1997, p. 7). Influenced by the French sociologist of social movements, Alain Touraine, Castells identifies three types of identity which are related to different social associations:

1. Legitimizing identity: introduced by the dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalize their domination over social actors. Legitimizing identities generate civil societies and their institutions, which reproduce what Max Weber called "rationale Herrschaft" (rational power).

2. Resistance identity: produced by those actors who are in a position/condition of being excluded by the logic of domination. Identity for resistance leads to the formation of communes or communities as a way of coping with otherwise unbearable conditions of oppression.

3. Project identity: proactive movements which aim at transforming society as a whole, rather than merely establishing the conditions for their own survival in opposition to the dominant actors. Feminism and environmentalism fall under this category (1997, pp. 10-12).

Castells’ particular achievement is in combining two theoretical perspectives which in their more radical form are often mutually exclusive. While Castells’ theory is distinct and original, the Information Age is not about theory but about "communicating theory by analyzing practice" (1997, p. 3). This method enables him to cover coherently an impressive range: from the high-tech laboratories in Silicon Valley to the low-tech laboratories in the Colombian jungle, from the global capital markets to the psychology of a terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system, and beyond. His analysis is strongest when he can bring both perspectives to bear.

The Network Society

In the first volume, Castells covers the structural aspects of the Information Age which have created the Network Society: the new formations into which core economic activities have been organized and the new spatial and temporal conditions they have effected. At the base of this reorganization is the pervasive implementation of technological innovation since the 1970s, clustering around the convergence of computing and telecommunication. After analyzing the history of the technology since the late 1940s and comparing it to patterns of development in the Industrial Revolution, Castells concludes that information technology evolves in a distinctively different pattern than previous technologies, thus constituting the "informational mode of development": a flexible, pervasive, integrated and reflexive, rather than additive evolution. The reflexivity of the technologies, the fact that any product is also raw material because both are information, has permitted the speeding up of the process of innovation.

This self-accelerating process has created in about twenty years a new economic condition, the informational and global economy. This new economy is informational because the competitiveness of its central actors (firms, regions, or nations) depends on their ability to generate and process electronic information. It is global because its most important aspects, from financing to production, are organized on a global scale, directly through multinational corporations and/or indirectly through networks of associations. This new global economy is more than just another layer of economic activity on top of the existing production process. Rather, it restructures all economic activities based on goals and values introduced by the aggressive exploitation of new productivity potentials of advanced information technology. Existing processes become either reorganized into new patterns, for example from national to transnational production, or repositioned vis-ˆ-vis the new highly productive sectors. What differentiates the new global economy from the world economy of previous ages is that "it is an economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time on a planetary scale" (1996, p. 92). Castells’ analysis of the global economy is exceptional for the depth with which he describes how it is played out between and within various social and regional contexts, including Latin America, Africa and Russia. Rather than creating the same conditions everywhere, the global economy is characterized "by its interdependence, its asymmetry, its regionalization, the increased diversification within each region, its selective inclusiveness, its exclusionary segmentation, and, as a result of all those features, an extraordinarily variable geometry that tends to dissolve historical, economic geography" (1996, p. 106). The global economy has been created under the drive of restructuring the capitalist enterprise since the 1970s and, with increasing pace, in the 1980s.

The new network enterprise is a phenomenon comprising not only shifting internal hierarchies, but also changing patterns of competition and cooperation across institutions. The network enterprise is "that specific form of enterprise whose system of means is constituted by the intersection of autonomous systems of goals" (1996, p. 171). Castells examines in comparison different types of business networks in Japan, Korea and China whose networked organizations have been better suited than the conventional western corporations to adopt to some of the flexible features of the spirit of informationalism: "a culture of the ephemeral, a culture of each strategic decision, a patchwork of experiences and interests, rather than a charter of rights and obligations" (1996, p. 199).

The restructuring of western corporations into more networked businesses created new work and employment conditions: the networker and flextimer replaced the full-time employee. Here Castells argues against common oversimplifications of theories of "Post-Industrialism" which have been "biased by an American ethnocentrism that did not fully represent even the American experience" (1996, p. 221). It is the specific quality of Castells’ analysis that by acknowledging differences–between a "Service Economy Model" (USA, England, Canada) and an "Industrial Production Model" (Japan, Germany), for example–he is able to work out the pervasiveness of the common trends towards individualization of work and flexible and unstable patterns of employment. These new working conditions have been developed first in Western corporations to compete with the East-Asian business networks. In the environment of stepped up global competition, however, the latter will be increasingly incapable of maintaining their traditionally very stable, long-term employment structure in which the average worker has been bonded loyally to the firm for a life-time. This, as Castells argues for Japan, is likely to produce major social problems and difficulties of adjustment (1998, pp. 229-236). The current troubles of the East-Asian economies seem to underscore this analysis.

The common theme underlying the diversity of regional and sectorial patterns of economic change is the incorporation of similar information technology into historically very different businesses. Its most distinct result is the emergence of what Castells calls the space of flows: the integrated global network. It comprises several connected elements: private networks, company Intranets; semi-public, closed and proprietary networks such as the financial networks; and public, open networks, the Internet. Social organizations reconstitute themselves according to this space of flows.

In Castells conception, the space of flows is made up of three aspects:

Technology: the infrastructure of the network.
Places: the topology of the space formed by its nodes and hubs. Hubs are defined by the network but link it to specific places with specific social and cultural conditions. Nodes are the "location[s] of strategically important functions that build a series of locality-based activities and organizations around the key functions of the network" (1996, p. 413). The importance of hubs to produce the strategic functions of the network and of nodes to concentrate decision-making are at the core of the dynamic of global cities.

People: the (relatively) secluded space of the managerial elite commanding the networks, such as gated communities, exclusive social clubs, VIP lounges at airports and hotels that are almost identical around the world. Together these dispersed and interconnected spaces build the physical base for the social cohesion of the new elite.

The space of flows has introduced a culture of real virtuality which is characterized by timeless time and placeless space. "Timeless time...the dominant temporality in our society, occurs when the characteristics of a given context, namely, the informational paradigm and the network society, induce systemic perturbation in the sequential order of phenomena performed in that context" (1996, p. 464). Examples of such perturbations are the effects of global financial turmoil on local communities or reorganization of a global corporation on any of its local branches. "The space of flows...dissolves time by disordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous, thus installing society in an eternal ephemerality" (1996, p. 467). In short, anything can happen at any time, it can happen very rapidly, and its sequence is independent from what goes on in the places where the effects are felt.

Castells remains somewhat vague in his theorization of the space of flows. Developing his argument further one might say that the distinguishing characteristic of the space of flows is binary time and binary space. Binary time expresses no sequence but knows only two states: either presence or absence, either now or never. Within the space of flows everything that is the case is now, and everything that is not must be introduced from the outside: that is, it springs suddenly into existence. Sequence is arbitrary in the space of flows and disorders events which in the physical context are connected by a chronological sequence. Binary space, then, is a space where the distance can only be measured as two states: zero distance (inside the network) or infinite distance (outside the network), here or nowhere. For example, when seeking information on the Internet, the crucial distinction is whether this information is on-line or not. The continent in which the information resides within the network is largely irrelevant. Everything that is on-line is (immediately) accessible: it is here, without distance. Everything that is outside the network is infinitely far away, completely inaccessible no matter where the network is entered; when someone puts it on-line, then it is suddenly here.

Castells’ focus is on the dynamic intersection between the space of flows and physical space. The global economy is concentrated in relatively few places, such as the Silicon Valley, Wall Street or the development zones in southern China, as its core activities become centered around the processing of immaterial, placeless information. Nevertheless, their logics are less and less determined by their history. In The Informational City (1989) he states this relationship most distinctly: "While organizations are located in places, and their components are place-dependent, the organizational logic is placeless, being fundamentally dependent on the space of flows that characterizes information networks. But such flows are structured, not undetermined. They possess directionality, conferred both by the hierarchical logic of the organization as reflected in instructions given, and by the material characteristics of the information systems infrastructure....The more organizations depend, ultimately, upon flows and networks, the less they are influenced by the social context associated with the places of their location. From this follows a growing independence of the organizational logic from the societal logic" (1989, pp. 169-170).

Increasingly, power is concentrated in the intricate space of flows, to the extent that "the power of flows takes precedence over the flows of power" (1996, p. 469). The space of flows expresses the dominant social logic in the Network Society. Financial markets, for example, have turned into the central event of the new economy to such an extent that "all other [economic] activities (except those of the dwindling public sector) are primarily the basis to generate the necessary surplus to invest in the global flows, or the result of investment originated in these financial flows" (1996, p. 472).

While the dominant social logic is shaped by the real virtuality of the space of flows, people live in the physical world, the space of places. This "condition of structural schizophrenia", where two different spatial and temporal logics clash, introduces massive perturbation in cultures around the globe. People lose their sense of Self and attempt to reclaim their identity in new forms.

The Power of Identity

The tension between social institutions supported by traditional, waning, and new, rising identities is the topic of the second volume. The increasingly vigorous articulation of resistance against and projects alternative to the logic of the space of flows empties out the legitimacy of the institutions of the political democracy. Three examples of resistance identity are examined in detail, chosen for their radical differences in context and goals: Mexico’s Zapatistas, the American Militia groups, and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo ( the group which released poison gas in Tokyo’s subway system on March 20, 1995). While each movement reflects the historical differences of its constituency and the threats it perceives in the transformation of its specific social landscape, "they all challenge current processes of globalization, on behalf of their constructed identities, in some instances claiming to represent the interest of their country [US Militia], or of humankind [Japan’s Aum], as well" (1997, p. 109).

Project identity is formulated by major pro-active movements: environmentalism, feminism, gay and lesbian movements. The latter three are jointly framed along the lines of the end of patriarchalism. They represent the conflictual and interrelated character of identity building. The possible end of patriarchalism not only opens up new possibilities of self-determination, but at the same time provokes very vehement reactions to preserve what is perceived as threatened. Castells stresses that "there is no predetermined directionality in history....A fundamentalist restoration, bringing patriarchalism back under the protection of divine law, may well reverse the process of undermining the patriarchal family, unwillingly induced by informational capitalism, and willingly pursued by cultural social movements" (1997, p. 242).

The classic embodiment of legitimizing identity, the nation state, is losing its power, "although, and this is essential, not its influence" (1997, p. 243). The loss of power stems from a loss of sovereignty, effected by the globalization of core economic activities, of media, of communication and, very importantly, the globalization of crime and law enforcement. The most obvious example of the loss of sovereignty can be found in the currency exchange markets, which have, since the late 1980s, outgrown the capacities of the central banks to control them. They now link up national currencies. This enforces financial coordination undermining the possibilities of national governments to formulate independent economic policy. As the former CEO of CitiBank, Walter Wriston, enthusiastically hails: "The global market has produced what amounts to a giant vote-counting machine that conducts a running tally of what the world thinks of a government’s diplomatic, fiscal, and monetary policy. That opinion is immediately reflected in the value a market places on a country’s currency" (Wriston, 1992, p. 9). Manuel Castells, more soberly, calls this "commodified democracy of profit making" (1996, p. 472).

Globalization has put the welfare state under double stress. Not only are national budgets tighter under the coercion of global financial markets, but also global firms can take advantage of cost differentials in social benefits and standards. As a result, "welfare states are being downsized to the lowest common denominator that keeps spiraling downwards" (1997, p. 254). Nevertheless, the nation state remains crucially important because it is still the only legitimized entity from which multilateralism can be built to address increasingly pressing global problems. However, this proves to be a dilemma. On the one hand, it increases the pressure on the nation state to effect decisions in the international arena and, on the other, it diminishes its credibility in the area of domestic policy by constraining it in an ever more restrictive network of global agreements.

The result is a crisis of political liberal democracy. The nation state loses its ability to integrate its own constituency, an integration which has been achieved through locally built instruments of the welfare state. At the same time, the policy process disappears into an increasingly abstract arena of international organizations. The traditional institutions of democracy are caught in a fundamental contradiction. "The more the states emphasize communalism, the less effective they become as co-agents in the global system of shared power. The more they triumph on a planetary scene, the less they represent their national constituencies" (1997, p. 308). The more the nation state withdraws from its citizens, the greater grows the need to find alternative sources of identity. Trapped between the increased articulation of diverse, often conflicting identities and the need to act on a global scene, the traditional democratic institutions–the civil society–are being voided of meaning and legitimacy: they lose their identity. The power of the political democracy, ironically at the moment when it reaches almost global acceptance, seems to be inevitably waning. Castells puts much hope in social movements to develop new forms of identity and democracy which could break the connection between the nation–the entity of identification–and the state–the entity of decision making–two concepts which have merged only in the modern age.

The End of the Millennium

The phenomena presented in the final book are less integrated than those in the previous volumes. They are a somewhat eclectic mix of major events or trends which do not fit easily under the two main headers presented at the outset of the trilogy: the Net and the Self.

The demise of the Soviet Union sits somewhat uncomfortably in an account which is focussed on the beginning of a new era, rather than the end of the old. The fall of the Soviet Union serves as a case study of an unsuccessful restructuring after the twin crises of capitalism and statism which became manifest in the early 1970s. "‘Something’ happened during the 1970s that induced technological retardation in the USSR. But this ‘something’ happened not in the Soviet Union, but in the advanced capitalist countries" (1998, p. 28). The West, particularly the US, due to its flexible social geometry, has been able to exploit the potential of new information technologies, thus moving rapidly from an industrial to an informational mode of production (Castells, 1996). The Soviet Union, on the other hand, with an institutional separation between research and production, a negative attitude towards innovation, and a tight control over communication media was unable to take advantage of the potential of its own research and technology, or of the imported technology on which it increasingly relied. Once communication was allowed to flow more freely under Gorbachev’s reforms, the extent of the silent withdrawal from the dominant identity-building institutions and their ideology became apparent. Suddenly, people found themselves in a vacuum looking for new orientation. Castells concludes, "while the inability of Soviet statism to adapt to the technological and economic conditions of an information society was the most powerful underlying cause of the crisis of the Soviet system, it was the resurgence of national identity, either historically rooted or politically reinvented, that first challenged and ultimately destroyed the Soviet state" (1998, p. 38). As a result of that process, large parts of what was once a military and industrial superpower entered the growing ranks of the fourth world.

"The rise of informationalism in this end of millennium is intertwined with rising inequality and social exclusion throughout the world" (1998, p. 70). Castells traces the phenomenon of exclusion across different social and geographic contexts and concludes "the evolution of intra-country inequality varies, what appears to be a global phenomenon is the growth of poverty, and particularly of extreme poverty" (1998, p. 81). Social exclusion is flexibly defined as the systematic inability of individuals or groups to access the means for meaningful survival. This enables him to connect the heritage of the colonial history of Africa with the exploitation of children around the world and the exclusion of minority groups and geographic areas in the United States. While the historic causes for their exclusion vary from case to case, they nevertheless form an entity, the fourth world, because they all entered the Information Age in positions in which their exclusion is reinforced by the structural dynamic of informationalism. In the United States, for example, "the emergence of the space of flows, using telecommunications and transportation to link valuable places in a non-contingent pattern, has allowed the reconfiguration of metropolitan areas around selective connection of strategically located activities, bypassing undesirable areas, left to themselves" (1998, p. 144). This development started long before the rise of the network society. However, it is the new ability to effectively switch off areas which are viewed as non-valuable from the perspective of the dominant social logic, embedded in the space of flows, which has created black holes of informational capitalism: regions from where there is, statistically speaking, no escape from suffering and depravation.

However, not all actors in the fourth world are simply switched off from the centers of prosperity. Some of them have established, with a vengeance, a perverse connection through the global criminal economy. Crime is as old as humanity, but its global character is a new phenomenon. Traditional, locally-rooted criminal organization, such as the Sicilian Mafia or the Chinese Triads have taken advantage of the technological and organizational opportunities provided by the new communication technologies. They have set up global networks. Joined by newcomers, such as the cartels of Colombia or the Russian Mafiyas, they now interconnect. Around the globe, they flexibly traffic illegal goods–drugs, weapons, nuclear material, illegal immigrants, women and children, and body parts–as well as providing illegal services such as contract killing, blackmailing, extortion, and kidnapping. It all comes together in the $ 750 billion which are laundered in the global financial markets (estimate for 1994, Castells, 1997, p. 260). It is not so much the existence of a shadow economy but rather the penetration of all aspects of legal economy and state institutions which is a new phenomenon. The global financial markets have been fueled by adventurous money seeking investment opportunities outside existing legal controls. Castells concludes "because of its volatility, and its willingness to take high risks, the criminal capital follows, and amplifies, speculative turbulences in financial markets. Thus, it has become an important source of destabilization of international finance and capital markets" (1998, p. 201). The societies of Japan, Russia, Italy and Colombia, among others, have been penetrated to their core by organized crime. The political processes are influenced through sheer violence, for example the killing of special investigators in Italy, or through more subtle forms, like corruption. The global criminal economy is the phenomenon which has most successfully combined the two central aspects of the Information Age: the Net and the Self. Based on strong local identities, violently established and maintained, they have created a flexible global network of fast changing strategic alliances to exploit whatever opportunity arises. Castells concludes that "criminal networks are probably in advance of multinational corporations in their decisive ability to combine cultural identity and global business" (1998, p. 204).

Another, albeit unrelated aspect of the shift away from global dominance by the centers of Western culture is the emergence of leading informational economies in the Pacific Rim. After a detailed examination of the differences among the fastest developing countries–Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong–Castells presents his concept of the "developmental state": a state that "establishes as its principle of legitimacy its ability to promote and sustain development" (1998, p. 270). This follows the lines previously proposed (Castells, 1992) and seems only tangentially related to the overall theme of the dynamic between the Net and the Self. In the case of Japan, however, Castells works out this dynamic. The institutions of the state, and societies at large, face a crisis for the same reasons as those of the Western democracies. After World War II the Japanese state nurtured forms of industrial development that were globally competitive and supported the particularities of its traditional values: stability, homogeneity and cultural isolation, and strong patriarchalism. This system has come under double stress since the late 1980s. To the extent that the Japanese multinationals have become truly global corporations, they have been disassociated from the Japanese national economy and the values expressed in it. Increasingly, the long-term stability of employment is not guaranteed. From below, a cultural change is in the making, generally more critical of traditional authorities and in particular of the repressed position of women in Japanese society. Together, the pervasive logic of the network society and the more pronounced articulation of new identities puts the system at large under increased stress. While the manifestations of the transformation are decidedly Japanese, many of its characteristics are related, not so much to Japanese history, but to the general tensions of the Information Age.

I was disappointed by Castells’ analysis of the European integration. He accurately characterizes the unification process as a defensive project that is organized around a limited set of common interests, mainly economic, among the participating nation-states. Castells labels the novel institutional arrangements of the European Union as the network state. Unfortunately, he defines it as "a state characterized by the sharing of authority (that is, in the last resort, the capacity to impose legitimized violence) along a network" (1998, p. 332). This definition is circular and it also contradicts empirical observation. Throughout its history the European Union has never been able to mobilize legitimate violence. This fact was most dramatically evident in the recent failure to act effectively during the civil war in former Yugoslavia. That is why the Yugoslavian peace agreement was signed in Dayton, Ohio, not in Brussels.


Castells argues that "two macro-trends...characterize the Information Age: The globalization of economy, technology, and communication; and the parallel affirmation of identity as the source of meaning" (1998, p. 311). He scans the globe to follow these trends. The resulting analysis is exceptional for two reasons. First, he shows the pervasive influence of those trends across a staggeringly large variety of social, cultural and geographic contexts. Out of the detailed analysis of localized phenomena emerges the fabric of the truly planetary character of the present. It is precisely because a common theme emerges out of seemingly contradictory phenomena that his Information Age is more than just another label. It is a convincingly argued historical reality. The depth and cultural sensitivity with which Castells develops the facets of each trend is in itself a major accomplishment. Second, it is Castells’ particular achievement to focus on both trends at the same time. His analysis is most interesting and most original where he works out how their interaction frames a particular set of events. His analysis of the crisis of political democracy, of the global criminal economy, of Japan, and to a lesser extent, the demise of the Soviet Union, are instant classics and open up new avenues for theoretical and empirical research. These chapters also provide the best entry-points into the gargantuan trilogy because they exemplify the effects of the interplay of trends which are elaborated in great detail in other chapters.

His method of communicating theory by analyzing practice has some drawbacks. The treatment of phenomena which fit less easily into these macro-trends is not always convincing. His political analysis of the mass media is particularly uncritical. He sees only their structural influence, stating "outside the media sphere there is only political marginality. What happens in this media-dominated political space is not determined by the media: it is an open social and political process" (1997, p. 312). Castells argues that the business interests of the news media guarantee a certain distance from the political process. Given the homogeneity of political views expressed in the mass media and the almost exclusive framing of politics as partisan politics, his analysis is surprisingly wanting. The analysis would have benefited from some references to Noam Chomsky, whose work is totally ignored.

The Information Age trilogy belongs, at least in aspiration, to the class of sociological grand theory, in the line of Daniel Bell, Alain Touraine and Anthony Giddens, whom Castells cites repeatedly as his intellectual reference points. However, he does not really abstract his findings into stringent theory comparable to, for example, Giddens’ Modernity and Self-Identity (1991), which he uses as a springboard for his own development of the concept of identity. Castells develops several fragments of a grand theory such as informational capitalism, the constitutive role of social movements in the construction of meaning, or the developmental state. However, these elements are not easily compatible and the coherence of the theory is sometimes lost in favor of expanding its scope. The theoretical sections of the book are sometimes convoluted with a language sociologists are notorious for, in contrast to the lucidity of the empirical sections. Castells excels in tracing trends across apparent differences, analyzing the patterns in which they are manifest, and pointing at their conflictual interplay which defines the possibility and the need for political and social action. What the course of action should be, however, can not be deduced from the analysis. After close to 1500 pages, he concludes his journey with: "Each time an intellectual has tried to answer this question, and seriously implement the answer, catastrophe was ensured....In the twentieth century, philosophers have been trying to change the world. In the twenty-first century, it is time to interpret it differently. Hence my circumspection, which is not indifference, about a world troubled by its own promise" (1998, pp. 358-359).


Castells, M. 1983. The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. Berkeley: University of California Press
–––––. 1989 The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and the Urban Regional Process. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell

–––––. 1992. Four Asian Tigers With a Dragon Head: A Comparative Analysis of the State, Economy, and Society in the Asian Pacific Rim. pp. 33-70 in Appelbaum, Richard; Henderson, Jeffrey (eds.) States and Development in the Asian Pacific Rim. Newbury Park, London, New Delhi: Sage

–––––. & Hall, P. 1994. Technopoles of the World: The Makings of 21st Century Industrial Complexes. London: Routledge

Giddens, A. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Smith, M.R & Marx, L. 1994. Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. Cambridge, MA; London: MIT Press

Webster, F. 1995 Theories of the Information Society. London; New York: Routledge

Wriston, W. 1992. The Twilight of Sovereignty. How the Information Revolution is Transforming Our World. New York, Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan

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