John Armitage on 11 Aug 2000 16:40:11 -0000

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<nettime> 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

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;  and 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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