John Armitage on 10 Aug 2000 15:06:34 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Castells

Hi all

One of the best reviews/critiques of Castells around is the one by Roger
Bromley in _Radical Philosophy 97_  Sept/Oct 1999. 

Don't know the page numbers but check the RP web site and the intro below
--its all the web site will allow one to copy.

Best wishes

John Armitage

The space of flows and timeless time
Manuel Castells's The Information Age
Simon Bromley
Manuel Castells's trilogy The Information Age* has been widely heralded as
one of the most significant works of substantive social theory to appear for
several decades. Its three volumes have been described by Anthony Giddens as
`perhaps the most significant attempt that anyone has yet written to come to
terms with the extraordinary transformations now going on in the social
world', and the work as a whole has been compared favourably to the great
achievements of nineteenth-century social theory - Marx's Capital and
Weber's Economy and Society. It will take some time to digest and fully
assess this vast work; whether or not these commendations and comparisons
are justified remains to be seen, but Castells surely deserves praise for
the sheer ambition, scope and imagination of the enterprise. 
Castells believes that we are witnessing a fundamental transformation in the
nature of modern societies - the emergence of the network society - and The
Information Age seeks not only to provide a theoretical account of this new,
global order but also to substantiate this argument by means of a concrete
examination of the main social processes and institutions which comprise the
network society and to investigate these developments on a worldwide basis.1
The network society is a social order embodying a logic which Castells
characterizes as the `space of flows' in contrast to the historically
created institutions and organizations of the space of places which
characterized industrial society in both its capitalist and statist
variants.2 The central focus of the work is thus the organizational logic of
society, understood primarily in terms of the spatial and temporal
patterning of social practices. Of course, this argument is not new.
Giddens, for example, has argued that the world is increasingly moving
towards a situation where `the consequences of modernity are becoming more
radicalized and universalized than before', and in both The Consequences of
Modernity and Modernity and Self-Identity he has attempted to trace the
institutional, cultural and personal consequences of these dramatic
changes.3 Similarly, Scott Lash and John Urry have charted the
disorganization of capitalism as it becomes ever more global, increasingly
organized in networks of electronic flows, and the rise of individual and
institutional reflexivity in response to this.4 Likewise, Ulrich Beck has
examined the reflexive modernization within contemporary societies that
brings about a transition from the industrial to the risk society.5 Castells
draws freely on these (and other) contributions, but, as we shall see, he
develops the argument in novel directions.
A second major theme of The Information Age concerns what Castells refers to
as the `power of identity'. For alongside the rise of the network society,
partly in response to it and partly constituted by a logic that is external
to it, Castells argues that there has also been a `widespread surge of
powerful expressions of collective identity that challenge globalization and
cosmopolitanism on behalf of cultural singularity and people's control over
their lives and environment'.6 Once again this is not a particularly
original argument in itself: there are obvious parallels (as well as
contrasts) between Castells's counterposing of the old and new social
movements and Giddens's treatment of `emancipatory' and `life' politics, not
to mention the ever growing literatures on reflexivity, new forms of
identity and the cultures of social movements. But the detailed nature of
Castells's treatment of new social movements, his attempt to relate their
development to the new logic of the network societies, and especially the
scope and depth of his empirical investigations into such a broad range of
social and political developments represent a major achievement. 
Finally, Castells has important things to say about the relationships
between globalization and the nation-state. Broadly speaking, he endorses
what is probably now the conventional wisdom: namely, that both the
legitimacy and the power of nation-states are being eroded and undermined by
processes of globalization. Many others have also suggested that if
industrial capitalism was basically organized and national in form, then
post-industrial capitalism is essentially disorganized and global.7 But
Castells casts his diagnosis within the terms of his theses on the rise of
the network society and the power of identity, seeking to show, through an
impressive global comparative analysis, the different ways in which the
nation-state is transformed in different contexts. Caught between the global
if uneven logic of the network society, on the one hand, and the local and
particularistic assertion of the power of identity, on the other, he argues
that the dominant institution of industrial society - the nation-state - is
called into question, as are those social movements - most notably the
labour movement - which once organized on its terrain in order to occupy and
control it. 
Informational capitalism and the origins of the network society
Castells begins his account of The Information Age with his theory of The
Rise of the Network Society. In fact, two rather different discussions of
the network society can be found in Castells's work, and these are not
always differentiated from one another, and then related to each other, as
clearly as they might be. Castells offers both a genetic account of the
origins and social causes of the rise of the network society and a
structural examination of the new social logic which its emergence
instantiates. Let us consider, first, the genesis of the network society.
The historical and social development of the network society, according to
Castells, is rooted in a new, global socio-economic structure of
informational capitalism. To characterize this socio-economic structure,
Castells argues, we must focus on both its (capitalist) mode of production
and what he terms its (informational) mode of development or technological
system. In this respect, Castells's work can be read, in general, as an
attempt to integrate the insights of Marxist theory with the work of such
theorists of (post-) industrial society as Daniel Bell and Alain Touraine.
In particular, in his account of the economy, Castells seeks to combine an
account of capitalist restructuring since the 1970s with a focus on the
simultaneous emergence and consolidation of a new information technology
paradigm as formulated by the (Schumpeterian) theorists of technological
In the modern world there have been two major modes of production,
capitalism and statism. Castells understands capitalism in broadly Marxist
terms. Considered as a mode of production, capitalism is based on the
commodification of labour power, the private ownership of the means of
production and hence the private appropriation of the surplus, with
production organized for exchange subject to the demands of accumulation.
Statism (Castells's term for the mode of production dominant in the state
socialist or communist bloc) is based on the partial decommodification of
labour power and state control over the means of production and
appropriation of the surplus, with production oriented towards maximizing
the power of the state over society and the determination of social
objectives by the state. Castells takes for granted that much of the logic
of contemporary global society is capitalist: capitalist restructuring in
response to the worldwide economic crisis of the 1970s played a central role
in shaping the development of societies, both nationally and globally,
including the formation of the informational mode of development itself; the
purpose of this capitalist restructuring at the most general level has been
to escape from those social, cultural and political controls placed upon the
economy in the era of essentially nationally based industrial capitalism;
	the linkage path between information technology, organizational
change, and productivity growth goes, to a large extent, through global
competition.... [Such that] a new, global economy ... may be the most
characteristic and important feature of informational capitalism.9 
"The military is the message."
John Armitage
Principal Lecturer in Politics & Media Studies
Division of Government & Politics
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 0191 227 4971
Fax: 0191 227 4654
E-mail (w):;
Read: Paul Virilio: From Modernism To Hypermodernism and Beyond

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