Information has been a central theme in 21st century research, just as capital was in the 20th century. It is frequently said that society is now living in an information age, which has provided various information technologies (i.e. the internet and cellular phones). However the "information age" has not been clearly defined. Although many define the current economy as an information economy, there is still no universally accepted definition to refer to the current society. Currently, over thirty different labels for referring to contemporary society are used in academic fields and casual conversation (Alvarez & Kilbourn, 2002). Some of these labels include: information society, global village, digital society, wired society, post-industrial society, and network society. Some of the terms describe the same phenomena, while others do not.
WHO IS MANUEL CASTELLS?
Manuel Castells was born in Spain in 1942 and grew up in Valencia and Barcelona. He studied law and economics at the Universities of Barcelona and Paris. He received a doctorate in sociology and a doctorate in human sciences from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. He moved to the United States in 1979. Among the numerous scholars trying to define this new society, he is the most foremost and unique, in terms of at least two aspects:
a. He is an incredibly prolific and energetic theorist on the subject of the information age. He has written over twenty books, published over one hundred academic journal articles, and co-authored over fifteen books. He is currently a professor of Sociology and City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also served on many national and international organizations such as: the Advisory Council to the United Nations Task Force on Information and Communication Technology, the International Advisory Council to the President of South Africa on Information Technology and Development, the United Nations Secretary General's High Level Panel on Global Civil Society and the United Nations, and UNESCO.
b. His critical viewpoint toward networks and the information economy has made him more unique than other information economists and sociologists. Castells is distinguishable from “the Utopians who have taken over the information society camp” (Duff, 1998, p. 375), since he believes that the dark side of a new economy is embedded in the intrinsic characteristics of new technologies. Thus, Castells maintains a deterministic view of technology, whereas the Utopians regard information technologies as instruments for human evolution.
THEORY OF THE NETWORK SOCIETY
Manuel Castells’s theory of the network society has a unique place among the many attempts by social scientists to come to terms with the contemporary dynamics transforming the fabric of everyday life around the globe. It provides the single most comprehensive framework through which to connect, in an integrated analysis, very diverse phenomena, from the globalization of production to the renewal of democracy at the local level. This makes it the lone contender as the grand narrative of the present, signaling the return of sociological macrotheory after years of postmodern pessimism about the possibility, or even desirability, of such a project.
It brings to a close three decades of research on the “postindustrial” or “information society,” two concepts which, as Castells convincingly argues, are inadequate to frame the present. In their place, the theory of the network society opens up new perspectives on a world reconstituting itself around a series of networks strung around the globe on the basis of advanced communication technologies. Indeed, networks, as the name indicates, are what the theory is all about. Its central claim is that in all sectors of society we are witnessing a transformation in how their constitutive processes are organized, a shift from hierarchies to networks. This transformation is as much an organizational as a cultural question. There is a deep relationship between how social processes are organized and the values they embody. An uneasy adaptation of the structural and cultural logic embedded in a myriad of projects, each reflecting imperfectly the particular agendas of its members, is what drives the evolution of the network society.
SPACE OF FLOWS
Traditionally we find a prevalent idea of space being a passive form, while time is considered a separate and active entity. Castells makes the argument that space should not be disconnected from time. He asserts that space is a dynamic entity related to time, and rejects the concept that it will disappear as to create a global city. Space is defined by this idea as "the material support of time-sharing social practices". He goes on to define the space of flows as "the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows" The concepts of the “space of flows” and, somewhat less developed but equally consequential, “timeless time.” Space and time are the foundations of all aspects of social life, and the analysis of their transformations goes a long way toward unifying the theoretical framework. Despite the structural dominance of flows, places do not become obsolete as long as people have bodies as we know them.
Rather, the space of flows and the space of places interact, transforming cities and creating entirely new urban agglomerations, the metropolitan regions. This interaction is at the core of the new, nonlinear character of (urban) geography and the fragmented character of contemporary societies held together less by physical contiguity than by informational networks.
Manuel Castells argues that the technological revolution that began in the late 70s in Silicon Valley has had a profound impact on all aspects of society. The changes, he argues are most apparent in the new relationships between the economy, state and society that have been formed. He suggests that an increase in the flexibility of management, a decentralization of production and an increased reliance on networking has caused many of the immediate changes taking place. Castells suggests that it is through the decline in the labor movement and the devaluing of the laborers that capital has become an increasingly powerful network. This, he suggests has caused networks such as labor, criminal or mafia groups, and financial markets to be realized on a global rather than local scale. By looking at how new relationships and identities are being conceived of in what he calls the informational age, Castells is able to theorize about the ways in which technology and information have will continue to transform society.
Through the globalization of the production and consumption of goods, the energies going into the process have become decentralized and fragmented. This is what Castells suggests is a major factor in the uneven development of differing regions. Since productivity and development depend on symbolic communication, information processing and a technological skill, information and technology become the crucial factors in a developed society. From this, he is able to suggest that the new mode of development is informational. Rather than conforming post-industrialism as a way to describe the current period, Castells argues for what he calls informationalism. He suggests rather than being concerned with economic growth or marketing output as the industrialism was, the informationalism era is primarily concerned with technological development. Increased technological development is clearly expected to take place via increased knowledge.
· The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective by Manuel Castells,Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, Edward Edgar (2004), (editor and co-author)
· The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy. Center for Transatlantic Relations by by Manuel Castells (2006) (co-editor)
· The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, by by Manuel Castells Vol. I. Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell (1996) (second edition, 2000)