Review: The Power of Identity

the-power-of-identity-200x300This is the second of  three volumes on the ‘Information Age’ by Manual Castells. Follow this link to read the review of the first volume here

In this volume Castells brings a keen focus on the social motivations that are embodied in the relationships and community we keep. Across 6 chapters Castells examines the forces behind the structure of various social groups to tease out the transformations that lead to their creation, and continuation.

In the first chapter, of ‘Our World Our Lives’ Castells takes to contruction of identity. In what is an important introduction the author make notes that in this volume the primary focus is on social movement and politics as a result of an interplay between technology-induced globalization, the power of identity (gender, religious, national, ethnic, territorial, socio-biological) and the institutions of the State.

Castell’s defines social movements as being: purposive collective actions whose outcome, in victory as in defeat, transforms the values and institutions of society. He makes note that investigation of sociological movements there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ progressive and regressive social movements from an analytical perspective (2010. p.4). This is an important point to make and one to reflect back on when conducting an sociological analysis of any particular group. Engendering any analysis can be inaccurate one, if not dangerous.

For Castells’ in ‘Imagined communities or Communal Images?‘, he highlights the incongruence between some social theory in relation to identity construction and contemporary practice.

Nations and nationalism have a life of their own, independent of statehood yet embedded in cultural constructs and political projects. However attractive the notion of ‘imagined communities’ from Anderson (1983) may be, it is either obvious or empirically inaccurate. Drawing from Gellner (1983), Castells uses this definition of nations as pure ideological artefacts, constructed through arbitrary manipulation of historical myths by intellectuals for the interests of social and economic elites, then the historical record seems to support such an excessive deconstructionism.

The author, in addition suggests that ‘to be sure ethnicity, religion, language, territory per se do not suffice to build nations and induce nationalism’

There are four major points which relate to contemporary nationalism for Castells:

  • Contemporary nationalism may be orientated towards the construction of a sovereign state.
  • Nations are not historically limited to modern incarnations of the state since the French revolution. Avoid Eurocentrism.
  • Nationalism is not an elite phenomenon.
  • Contemporary nationalism is more reactive than proactive it tends to be more cultural than political, and thus already more orientated towards defence of an already institutionalised culture than construction/destruction of a nationalism.

All of these points are important to note when attempting to trace the engagement between identity formation and negotiation of the Nation and the individual or social group.

Castells comes to see this collective identity construction as a fundamental function of the nation-state system but that nations and nationalism has a new significance in the information age

Nations as Castells see it are cultural communes constructed in the people minds and collective memory by the sharing of history and political projects (p.54). Within this it is also Castells hypothesis that language, and particularly a fully developed language, is a fundamental attribute of self-recognition, and of the establishment of an invisible national boundary less arbitrary than territoriality. (p.55)

Castells discussions in the first and second volume of The Information Age trilogy highlight the changing forces that are acting upon our nations, culture, communication and experience.

The space of flows, and timeless time are but two attribute that have shaken up certain primary way of understanding who we (individually and collectively) are. The network state and network identity in all of it’s dominant and subordinate flows fundamentally alter the ‘sharing of history’, ‘language’ and ‘political projects’. Geography and time alone are transcended to enact new conditions for the formation of identity, nationalism, and nation.

As modes of communication change, so to does our notion of shared history and space.

Consequently a mediated and shared communication space can have profound impact upon identity construction.

These ideas, more realised when traced through a specific case study (which is another chapter in its entirity) can help identify the forces at play in the construction and power of identity.

Further References

Gellner, Ernest (1983) Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca. NY Cornell Uni Press

Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London Verso.

Giddens, Anthony. 1985. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism: Vol.II The Nation State & Violence.



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.