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.