Review: The Rise of the Network Society

Manual_Castells_Information_Age_Vol_1In this first of three volumes on the ‘Information Age’, Castells attempts to grasp what clearly is a wide ranging, evolving change surrounding technology, people, labor practices, consumption and economy. While suggesting that in a sense we have always been a society organised by networks and information, he compels the reader to conceive of the drivers of the post-industrial revolution and beyond to the global economy as the embodiment of the Information Society. A series of ever increasing changes in communication technology and technological applications in general has been a conduit for dramatic changes in how we function.

From flex-timers, network enterprises, blurring of life cycles, timeless time, space of flows and a virtualisation (from labor to reality), Castells divulges these changes by conducting a wide ranging examination of global economic changes. He empirically illustrates the emerging (and by the day ever more emergent) social structures of the global economy facilitated by technology.

An encapsulation of the notion of what the information age comprises of is a difficult task, one in which Castells has had to commit over 1,500 pages across three volumes to exposure trade and labor practices and their relationship to socio-technological environments. Citing specific studies he traces economic development (including a segmented breakdown) across advanced economies and emergent economies from the post world war two era.

Castells sees the transformations of trade markets primarily from national or localised to the global and inter-connected. Including and beyond the traditional resources trading of oil, minerals, gas and weapons, we see financial, manufacturing, agricultural and services under-go fundamental reorganisations.

An examination and comparision on the national level illustrates a stratification, or separation of modes of production. One general trend, that many cite as the implication of globalisation, the loss of jobs to offshore and the degrading of the nations economic prosperities, in part reflect a reality, but not the whole picture.

While human labor production is being integrated and distributed into global system in an effort to avoid labour costs, streamline larger productions networks. Where there is a lack of employment opportunities in certain production industries (primarily human labor) Castells illustrates there is corresponding growth in other production sectors. The inverse trend is that in ‘high technology’ producer states experience a surge in information production, management sectors.

The example of the United States financial industry sector or as the Burero of Labor Statistics defines it as ‘Producer Services’ (which includes Banking, Insurance, Real Estate, Engineering, Accounting & Legal Services) can be show to have experienced the highest level of growth relative to all other sectors accept Social Services from the period stretching from 1920 to 1991.

Castells (2006) Table 4.1 United States: Percentage distribution of employment by industrial sector and intermediate industry group. p.304

This confluence of many factors still, does illustrate the changing dynamic and the multivalent make-up that is the globally networked information society.

What informs these transformations is the development of communication technologies and the underlying applications of technology. All within a social political framework, there are flows of production and consumption battling for a supreme network position, to be key in production of flows in order to secure future production flows, wealth and security.

The conglomerate of interactions, influences and connections between the mix of labor, society, economy and technology can be seen to embody these changes that

Castells sees as facilitated by technology. And this can be hard to deny.

Far be it to argue for technological determinism or question individual freedom of use, what Castells is concerned with the ‘Network Logic’, a disposition of assemblages between embedded amongst our global system, a techno-socio-economic information production network.

Castells does not argue to define a static arrangement of the engagement between various institutions and modes of distribution but to illustrate and trace the forces at play intersecting across the multiple spheres of production, power and distribution.

A mix of social analysis and evidence from key global economic developments Castells provides a strong base for further incursions into what the network is comprised of, and what it could be.

With two more volume there’s plenty to discuss.