Discussion on Identity in Community

This article is an investigation into the notion of identity as explored in Information Age Vol.II : The Power of Identity.

This 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

Manual Castells – Information Age, Vol II. The Power of Identity:


The source of meaning and experience as Castells suggests, can be see as a confluence of many flows of constructed and lived experience. We can see the parallels in the construction of self and identity across cultures as lives expressed, lived and experienced.

In Social Theory and the Politics of Identity, it is put aptly that:

We know no people without names, no languages or cultures in which some manner off distinctions between self and other, we and they, are not made…Self-knowledge- always a construction no matter how much it feels like a discovery- is never altogether separable from claims to be known in specific ways by others. Calhoun (1994:9-10).

 What we do, the stories we tell, our identities manifest again through our cultural experiences & participation. From the micro to macro level, personal expressions to cultural institutions or political bodies, all engage in the process of identity formation.

Certain experiences, sets of cultural attributes and their related cultural meanings enact a process of construction of plural meanings and sources for meaning for an individual.

This negotiation, Giddens (1991) argues is a process of Individuation, whereby identity-sources for an individual will have a relative weight in influence and corresponds to the individuals ability to extrapolate meaning through of process of internalisation and constructed meaning.

With a focus on collective identities, Castells stresses what he suggests is The Power of Identity. While institutions with experiences and narrative engage an individual, they are more defined as ‘roles’, their potence of influence or an individual’s level of investment is weak when compared to ‘Identities’, which have a much larger value for an individual to engage meaning.  Indeed we can see the corresponding value negotiation in peoples lives today, such as the role and meaning of the citizen/consumer/worker in negotiation with the identity and meaning of mother/father/carer.

The social construction of identity always takes place in a context marked by power relationships, in negotiation with individuals, looking to engage individuals for investment in various symbolic contexts. Castells (2010: 8-9) proposes a distinction between three forms of identity building.

Legitimizing identity

Present in the established dominant institutions of society. These legitimising identities by their existence extend and continue to rationalize their position through a process of action of social actors.  For Castells it generates a civil society; that is a set of organisations and institutions as well as a series of structures and organised social actors, which reproduce, albeit in a somewhat conflictive manner, the identity that rationalises the sources of structural domination.

Antonio Gramsci’s original conception of civil society has parallels with Castells notion, still the inherent dynamic of the dominant structures (churches, parties, unions & civic associations) employing various apparatuses of identity construction illustrates the continuity between civil societies institutions and the power apparatuses of the state organised around similar identities (citizenship, democracy; the politicisation of social change, the confinement of power to the state and its ramifications) Castells 2010. p.9.

Theorists Gransci, de Tocqueville see democracy and civility, Foucault and Sennet and Horkheimer and Marcuse see internalized domination and legitimation of an over-imposed, undifferentiated, normalising identity.

The vulnerability of power to the continuity of identity between State and society allows for the transition of power, identity and society and consequently their apparatuses. That is, if there is continuity.

Resistance Identities

These identities appear to use a zoological term, subdominant to institutions and major apparatuses of power. Identity of resistance is built for resistance, the rejection of the logic ‘their’ domination; this forms communes and communities of collective resistance. Operating through this resistance for survival on a basis of difference from, or opposed to those permeating the institutions of society. Actors of this resistance identity still have apparatuses for generating symbolic contexts and meaning.

Castells (p.8) dubs it ‘The exclusion of the excluders by the excluded’ and refers this construction to Calhoun (1994. p.17) and the emergence of identity politics.

The defensive identities in opposition to the dominate institution/ideologies reverse their value judgement while reinforcing the reinforcing the boundary. Here there is a blurry line at which Castells points to empirical or historical specific answers about whether this identity is isolationist and fragmentary or it engages within a larger social, power or communicative network. It’s a question of information flow.

Project Identities

Castells points to the example of feminism. As feminism moved from the trenches of a resistance identity, standing for women’s identity and rights towards an overall structural change which challenged patriarchal hegemony and it’s components of production, reproduction, sexuality and personality.

Drawing from Alain Touraine (1995) Castells suggests the project identity, produces subjects. Yet subjects are not individuals, they are the collective social actor through which individuals reach holistic meaning in their experience (Touraine 1992).

The subject of the project identity is building an identity as a project of a different life, towards a transformation of society.  Subjects act, with whatever cultural materials are available, to build a new identity that redefines their position and values in society.

Answers for how these identity projects are constructed, lay in historical and social contexts.

Yet Castells refers to Giddens (1991) notion of identity in ‘late-modernity’ to tie into the transformations in the Network Age. Late-modernity identity in one in which‘self-identity is not a distinctive trait possessed by the individual, It is the self reflexively understood by the person in terms of their biography.” Giddens suggests that in the context of the post –traditional order, the self becomes a reflective project (p.32-55).

One of the distinctive features of modernity is an increasing interconnection between the two extremes of extensionality and intentionality: globalising influences on the one had and personal dispositions on the other…The more traditional loses it hold and the more daily life is reconstituted in terms of dialectical interplay of the local and the global, the more individuals are forced to negotiate lifestyle choices among a diversity of options… Reflexivity organised life planning… becomes a central features of the structuring of self-identity.

In the preface to Castells’ 2010 publication, Information Age Vol III End of Millennium he acknowledges the need for further investigation into the relationship between reactive and proactive social movements. He suggests that understanding the transition from resistance identity to project identity was based on the assumption of implicit assumption that cultural communes and resistance identity come first, followed by a nurturing of projects identity as a second stage.

Acknowledging a tentative hypothesis he suggests that these transformations occur by proposing new cultural codes with the ability to transform society. This in essence defines it as a cultural movement. The key point here is communication; the networks of information (from mass media to mass self-communication) have been labelled as the domain of emergence for this construction.



Calhoun (1994:9-10) Social Theory and the Politics of Identity . Oxford Blackwell 1994

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

Castells (2010: 8-9)

Castells (2010: 8-9) citing Buci–Glucksman, Christine (1978). Gramsci et l’etat. Paris Grasset.

Touraine (1995) La formation de sujet, in Dubet and Wieorka (eds), pp.21-46.  

Touraine (1992) Critique de  la modernite. Paris. Fayard.


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.