|Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.
Blackwell Publishers: Malden (Mass) and Oxford. Vol. I: The Rise of
the Network Society. 1996. 556pp. Vol. II: The Power of Identity.
1997. 461pp. Vol. III: End of Millennium. 1998. 418pp.
I do believe that there is a new world emerging in this end of millennium...
Yet this is not the point I want to make. My main statement is that
it does not really matter if you believe that this world, or any of its
features, is new or not. My analysis stands by itself...After all, if nothing
is new under the sun, why bother to try and investigate, think, write,
and read about it? (Manuel Castells, End of Millenium.1998:336,
Introduction: critical sociology discovers the network
It is some 16 years since liberal theorists or ideologues began telling
us that our world was being transformed by networking and/or globalisation
(Lipnack and Stamps 1982, Naisbitt 1982). I found Naisbitt in an airport
bookstall while doing a little global networking of my own. He told us
about the Ten (corporate-friendly) Megatrends that were Transforming our
Lives. These were 1) Industrial Society to Information Society; 2) Forced
Technology to High Tech/High Touch; 3) National Economy to World Economy;
4) Short Term to Long Term; 5) Centralisation to Decentralisation; 6) Institutional
Help to Self Help; 7) Representative Democracy to Participatory Democracy;
8) Hierarchies to Networking; 9) North to South; 10) Either/Or to Multiple
Option. Underneath the glibness, the hype, and the uniquely US symbiosis
of naivety, optimism, and omnipotence, I could see profound transformations
being addressed. I asked myself why a book of this type had not been written
by a socialist in a more people-friendly/corporate-unfriendly spirit. The
answer is that until - say - 1989 the left was still playing out its role
as the counter-culture of national and industrial capitalism. Globalisation
was still called `internationalisation’, `imperialism’, or `the new international
division of labour’, and thought of in primarily political-economic terms.
The `information society’ was bourgeois ideology. We networked but hardly
talked about it, far less thought it worthy of theorisation.
Over the last ten years or so, however, a number of prominent radical
sociologists, many associated with or sympathetic to the new radical-democratic
social movements, have been trying to offer their own critical understanding
of a society that is globalised and/or informatised and/or, in some problematic
sense, `post-modern’. These include Ulrich Beck (1992), Anthony Giddens
(1990), Hall, Held and McGrew (1992), David Harvey (1989, 1996), Alberto
Melucci (1989), Mark Poster (1984, 1990) and Boaventura de Sousa Santos
(1995). They talk of ‘complex society', ‘high modernity', ‘radical modernity',
‘risk society', ‘post-traditional society', ‘the mode of information',
the need for a `historical/geographical materialism’ or for `a new commonsense’.
(Women and feminists seem to have been pre-occupied with other urgent matters,
though actively contributing to discussion of informatisation, as with
Spender 1995, Turkle 1997). This whole body of work certainly represented
a breakthrough for the left. But I do not think any of the authors ever
gave Naisbitt or Lipnack and Stamps as much as a dismissive wave of the
Now Manuel Castells has boldly gone where no critical sociologist has
gone before, to tell us that it actually is a globalised network
society. Although, in this magisterial work, Castells strikes many notes
that have been struck by the earlier-listed writers, this is a pathbreaking
book. Anthony Giddens, himself no mean sociological innovator, considers
it comparable to Weber's Economy and Society (Giddens 1996).
Having recently struggled to produce my own understanding of Things
to Come (Waterman 1998a), I have felt both reassured and challenged by
Castells' work. How I understand it is as follows: that the world taking
shape around us, and giving new shape to even familiar processes, institutions,
movements and values, has to be increasingly understood in communicational
and cultural terms. This reading may be a partial one that ignores extensive
parts of the whole. But I would argue that it is a useful way of both entering
and ordering this rich and ambitious work. It also draws dramatic attention
to the distance Castells has moved from Marxism. Castells is quite at home
with political economy, as with a Marxist political-economic critique,
and with a socialist moral condemnation, of capitalism. He knows that our
brave new world is fundamentally capitalist, but he also knows it is of
a profoundly different kind. What is different is the increasing shift
of culture and communication to the centre, with all the implications this
has for domination and emancipation. Castells has no taste for revolution,
at least in its classical political-economic sense, but, in spelling this
out, he has written a revolutionary work.
A sketch of the work: an encyclopaedia con brio
What, firstly, does this massive opus look like? The three volumes (henceforth
CI, II and III) add up to over 1,400 pages. I think this may be more than
either the Holy Bible (TI and II), or Das Kapital (MI and
II). CI and II appear to me to be focused in turn on what used to be called
the ‘base’ - technology and political economy - and the ‘superstructure’
- politics, ideology, social movements. The reference here to industrial-age
Marxism seems appropriate in so far as Castells comes from this tradition
and does not so much dismiss as surpass it, whilst, I would argue, retaining
much of the materialism, the social-movement inspiration and address. In
an explicit attempt to avoid what I call Westocentrism, his analyses give
considerable attention to what we used to call the Second and Third Worlds
(even if he does not): to their place in the latest international divisions
of labour, to Chinese business networks, to Islamic and indigenous social
movements, to national movements in the ex-USSR, to women's movements in
Latin America and Taiwan, to the crisis of the Mexican state. Oh, yes,
and he also has things to say about New Age music, changes in the life-cycle,
Barcelona airport, and Chinese technological development in and from the
Each book has an Introduction, with the Prologue to CI acting for the
project as whole. CI and II each have a Conclusion of ten pages or less
which stands alone as a thought-provoking essay. Each of the three has
a brief summary of the other volumes, enabling readers to relate the part
to the whole. Each volume, and many parts of each volume can, I think,
be similarly read independently. CIII has a 25-page General Conclusion,
which also acts for the work as a whole. Since my own treatment below does
not necessarily follow the structure of the work, let me describe the three
volumes, in summary, here. (A detailed chapter breakdown is provided in
footnotes to the three following paragraphs).
Volume I, The Rise of the Network Society, covers not only the
infotech revolution (Part 1), economic globalisation (Part 2), the networked
enterprise (Part 3), labour (Part 4) but also the culture of the electronic
media, space and time (Parts 5-7). Although this volume has largely to
do with political economy, in quite a familiar manner, it is already clear
from this description that Castells does not actually divide either his
thinking or his work between `base’ and `superstructure’.
Volume II, The Power of Identity, does not begin, as one might
expect, with politics and ideology but with identity and meaning (Part
1), continuing with insurgent, environmental and feminist movements (Parts
2-4). It ends with the transformation of the state and the crisis of democracy
(Parts 5-6). This again turns upside down a conventional Marxist ordering
(as Marx claimed to do with Hegel).
From Castells’ earlier trailer for Volume III, End of Millenium,
I had thought it was going to be about `everything Castells could not get
into CI and II’. So it turns out to be, dealing with such diverse topics
as the collapse of the Soviet Union (Part 1), social exclusion , Africa
and the `wasting’ of children (Part 2), globalised and informatised crime
(Part 3), the Pacific basin and the European Union (Parts 4, 5). There
is something odd about being served with several hundred more pages of
analysis after having dealt with the forces for transformation. My feeling
is that, at this point, Castells must have been as exhausted by his writing
as I was by my reading. C3 lacks some of the earlier energy and hope. And,
as we will later see, it raises other questions.
The argument: all the world's a network
Castells begins with a now-familiar post-1989 litany: of technological
innovation, capitalist de-structuring, mobility and transformation, military
threat and ecological destruction, the globalisation of crime and corruption,
the collapse of blocs, the disempowering of political parties, governments
and the nation-state, the rise of fundamentalist movements, the successes,
divisions and confusions of pluralistic and emancipatory ones. Globalisation
here appears primarily as domination and control. Castells argues that
capitalism has, with networking, achieved the pinnacle of its development,
to the point at which disembodied capital, in the process of its self-expansion,
rules over capitalists. Consistent with this Frankensteinian image is the
idea that society is increasingly dominated by a ‘bipolar opposition between
the Net and the Self’ (CI:3). This coincides with a similar binary opposition
between a global elite and what could be called, I suppose, ‘people world-wide':
With the exception of a small elite of globalpolitans (half
beings, half flows), people all over the world resent loss of control over
their lives, over their environment, over their jobs, over their economies,
over their governments, over their countries, and, ultimately, over the
fate of the Earth. Thus, following an old law of social evolution, resistance
confronts domination, empowerment reacts against powerlessness, and alternative
projects challenge the logic embedded in the new global order, increasingly
sensed as disorder by people around the planet. (CII:69)
I will postpone discussion on nets, selves and flows. However we should
note that, contrary to the image of networking as emancipation - the commonsense
of our New Age managerial consultants, but also of international NGOs and
new social movements - its first appearance within Castell's drama is as
villain. The network here appears as a global relationship of dominant
forces, inspired by a universal instrumental rationality. As for the self,
it is defined no longer by what people do - till the land, operate the
machine, feed the baby - but by their self-identity, by what they (believe
they) are. What they do identify with is, moreover, not necessarily
rational, tolerant and humane. It is often an ideology or movement defined
in defensive/aggressive terms, with the non-believer or non-member as a
less than fully-human Other.
In so far as Castells distinguishes between modes of production (capitalist,
socialist) and modes of development (industrial, informational), the explosive
and often destructive or marginalising effect of the informational mode
seem to nonetheless allow for an alternative, post-capitalist civilisation,
though none is spelled out by him. I will return to this reluctance. In
the meantime we are confronted, worldwide, with a ruthless and efficient
capitalist networking process that undermines previous notions of the self,
leaving masses of differentially alienated, marginalised and exploited
people to choose or create a new collective sense of belonging that can
provide both the material and imaginary goods they lack. Who are these
people and how do they act?
Castells' significant new social actors are not simply those familiar
from the New (or Nice) Social Movement literature of the 1980s. Whilst
he gives much room to the ecological movement (CII, Ch.3) and those around
sexual rights and identities (CII, Ch.4), he begins Volume II with chapters
on communal identity (religious, national, ethnic, local, cultural) and
on insurrections against globalisation, of both ‘left' and ‘right'. He
starts this volume with the declaration that ‘Our world, and our lives,
are being shaped by the conflicting trends of globalisation and identity'
(CII:1). He then distinguishes between three types of identity: those of
legitimation, of resistance and of project. The first
is one introduced top-down, as by the nation-state, and gives rise to a
civil society, providing an ambiguous terrain for domination/confrontation.
The second, coming out of a sense of exclusion, results in the formation
of communes or communities, as a basis for ‘excluding the excluders'. The
third produces ‘social subjects', collective social actors:
In this case the building of identity is a project of a different
life, perhaps on the basis of an oppressed identity, but expanding toward
the transformation of society as the prolongation of this project of identity...as
in...a post-patriarchal society, liberating women, men, and children, through
the realisation of women's identity. Or...the final reconciliation of all
human beings as believers, brothers and sisters, under the guidance of
God's law... (CII:10)
‘Project identities', then, are again not simply the historically-progressive
and ethically-approved ones. However, whilst Castells gives methodological
reasons for avoiding the categorisation of contemporary social movements
according to the traditional binaries, or along a spectrum between them,
he does distinguish between those that, in the face of globalisation, are
reactive and those that are proactive (CII:2). The former
would seem to be those that are reactionary, conservative, backward-looking,
militaristic, dogmatic or sectarian. The latter would seem to correspond
with his own values: of being rational without being rationalistic, cognisant
of different identities without espousing individualism or fundamentalism,
of favouring transformation without utopian absolutism (CI:4). The lines
between legitimising, communal and project identities, between reactive
and proactive tendencies, seem to run within as well as between movements:
the roots of the proactive lie in the reactive movements; the proactive
movements can, apparently, contain their own extremisms. I am not sure,
however, whether, after this long march through the concepts, we do not
eventually arrive back to find, in new costume perhaps, the progressive,
tolerant, pluralistic, globally-conscious NSMs of yore. Nor whether Castells
really uses his own model to explore contradictory elements within his
Communal zappers and global environmentalists
I am going to have to leave on one side Castells’ reactive project identity
movements in order to concentrate on the proactive ones. This is simply
because I find the construction of such new social forces both an urgent
task and one that is problematic enough. We can consider Castells' handling
of the widely (not to say wildly) differing Zapatista movement in Mexico
and environmental movement worldwide, to see how he seems to understand
the proactive project identity movements within and against a globalised
and networked capitalism (henceforth GNC).
The Zapatista movement has brought together a complex of traditional
(anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist) and high-modern elements
to create what Castells calls ‘the first informational guerrilla movement'
(CII:72-80). Thus we find an increasingly pressurised and dispossessed
peasantry, increasingly marginalised ethnicities, a popular and radical
Church, (ex)Maoists, an armed uprising, identification with the Mexican
Revolution, demands for self-determination, national independence, political
democratisation, opposition to neo-liberalism - and the use of media (including
the Internet) as a basic strategy, not merely a tactical weapon. Whilst
having no particular expectations about the capacity of the Zapatistas
to achieve their none-too-clear ends, Castells recognises the manner in
which, from their communal base and resistance identity, they have already
impacted on not only the nation state and civil society, but even on the
global arena, at least potentially (actually, according to Cleaver
1998, Forthcoming). It would seem, moreover, that an informational guerrilla
is not simply a guerrilla movement with information technology and
sensitivity, it is also a guerrilla within the media of a GNC. As
we will later see, there are more such guerrillas, both within Castells
(CII:328-333) and without.
The global environmental movement(s) seem, for Castells, to represent
for the information age what the labour movement did for the industrial
one. He points out their achievement, during a comparatively short period
of existence, in making environmentalism part of the political commonsense
of our time. He recognises the movement's multiplicity, in terms of its
understandings, organisational forms and social objectives, as well as
in relative moderation or radicalism (up to and including its own fundamentalists).
He stresses its ambiguous but foundational relationship with science and
technology, having begun as a movement of scientists against dominant understandings
and uses of science. He records its challenge to the changes being currently
wrought by information capitalism in the understanding and use of time
and space. He tells us that it was the social movement that first developed
alternative use of computer-mediated communication. But he also recognises
the ambiguities that accompany this - as any - successful social movement,
namely its institutionalisation and adaptation within the society and by
the forces that it initially identified as the problem. At the same time,
however, he notes the appearance of an ‘environmental justice' trend within
the movement, with a capacity to both reach out to and make room for the
demands of women, poor urban communities, workers, the homeless, rural
and human-rights movement. Environmentalism, for Castells, appears to provide
the necessary understanding for a social transformation under contemporary
The ecological approach...emphasises the holistic character of all
forms of matter and all information processing. Thus, the more we know,
the more we sense the possibilities of our technology, and the more we
realise the gigantic, dangerous gap between our enhanced productive capacities,
and our primitive, unconscious and ultimately destructive social organisation.
This is the objective threat that weaves the growing connectedness of social
revolts, local and global, defensive and offensive, issue-oriented and
value-oriented...This is not to say that a new international of good-willing,
generous citizens has emerged. Yet...this is to say that embryonic connections
between grassroots movements and symbol-oriented mobilisations on behalf
of environmental justice bear the mark of alternative projects. These projects
hint at superseding the exhausted social movements of industrial society,
to resume, under historically appropriate forms, the old dialectics between
domination and resistance, between realpolitik and utopia, between
cynicism and hope. (CII:133)
Here, again, one hears echoes of the (self-understanding of the) old labour
movement, which itself was once identical to or closely articulated with
the social movement, the democratic movement and the
international of goodwill and generosity. To consider such echoes, as well
as to examine the general relationship Castells finds between the old and
new social movements, I will turn next to the two I myself use when comparing/contrasting
the old and the new. But first we should note, I think, that Castells does
not look as critically as he might at the ecological movements, which are
as full of intra- and inter-network problems, tensions and conflicts as
the old labour movement. He does not really, moreover, go into his environmental
justice tendency (c.f. Harvey 1996:Ch. 13), which would have allowed or
required him to consider the class address and composition of environmental
Old labour and new women
Castells' analysis of the literally destructive, dispersing, heterogenising
and individualising impact of a GNC on labour is one familiar from what
I call ‘critical and committed globalisation theory' (Waterman 1998a: Ch.
7). He argues that whilst there is no such thing as a global labour force,
in the sense that there is globally-mobile capital, there is increasing
interdependence between local and localised labour forces as a result of
1) global employment in multinational corporations and their cross-border
networks, 2) the impacts of international trade on employment and conditions
both North and South, and 3) the local effects of global competition and
flexible management. If this suggests simply a new terrain for organised
labour action (one that is being belatedly recognised by the institutionalised
labour movement internationally), his conclusions about a continuing labour
identity and capacity for (inter)national action are grim (CI:474-475).
Work and labour are not going to disappear under the new mode, but labour’s
relationship with capital is being transformed. Labour is localised, disaggregated
in performance, fragmented in organisation, diversified in its existence
and divided in its collective activity. Under a networked and continually
reshaped capitalism, it is difficult to even identify the owners, producers,
managers and servants:
[W]hile capitalist relationships of production still persist...capital
and labour increasingly tend to exist in different spaces and times: the
space of flows and the space of places...Thus they live by each other,
but do not relate to each other. Capital tends to escape in its hyperspace
of pure circulation, while labour dissolves its collective entity into
an infinite variation of individual existences...The struggle between diverse
capitalists and miscellaneous working classes is subsumed into the more
fundamental opposition between the bare logic of capital flows and the
cultural values of human experience. (CI:475-476)
So labour continues to exist but the labour movement has no transformatory
or emancipatory capacity. And for this reason the labour movement has no
chapter, or, indeed, existence in CII. As for the urban social movement,
to which Castells in the past devoted a major work (Castells 1983), it
has only a walk-on part (CII 60-65). This is consistent with his general
thesis about the relative weight, under a GNC, of self-identity compared
with social role or position. Are labour organisations simply to remain
in the wings of social protest? Can they only contribute in so far as they
and their organisations prioritise feminist and ecological over - or at
least alongside - labour issues? The answer seems to be yes and yes:
[L]abour unions are influential political actors in many countries.
And in many instances they are the main, or the only, tools for workers
to defend themselves against abuses from capital and from the state. Yet...the
labour movement does not seem fit to generate by itself and from itself
a project identity able to reconstruct social control and to rebuild social
institutions in the Information Age. Labour militants will undoubtedly
be a part of new, transformative social dynamics. I am less sure that labour
unions will. (CII:360)
If people, as workers and as urban residents, seem to lose emancipatory
significance in Castells’ new world order, the opposite seems to be the
case for women, in a chapter concerned with gender, the family and sexuality.
The development of a movement around women’s rights, family structure and
sexual orientation, comes over from Castells as more revolutionary than
anything of a class-like character. In CII women get, along with Castells’
other social movements, a chapter, including a section on feminism as global.
But let us first consider the relationship between a GNC and the end
of patriarchalism. Castells roots patriarchy, in its most diverse and general
forms, in the family. And whilst he recognises the contribution of earlier
feminist movements to the present crisis of the patriarchal family, he
ties this crisis more immediately to ongoing changes in the economy, labour
market, reproductive technology and a globalised and networked capitalism.
The last nail in the coffin is, however, the diffusion of feminist ideas
in a globalised and interconnected world and culture. Castells seems to
think that the breakdown of the traditional patriarchal family, and the
consequent search for substitutes or compensations for this, leads to the
creation of a less-authoritarian and more-experimental personality. Whilst
he does not relate this to the end of capitalism, he does seem to see it
as a necessary accompaniment of a more general social transformation, or
of a more civilised global society.
Castells recognises the fragmentation/differentiation of feminisms nationally
and internationally, nonetheless insisting on 1) a commonality (if not
an essence) in the de- and reconstruction of womanhood in independence
of and opposition to the partiarchally-imposed role, and 2) this differentiation
as a source of strength in a society characterised by networking and flexibility
in power struggles. Whilst recognising that, in many parts of the world,
feminist consciousness is the possession only of an educated elite of women,
he also includes as feminist the practical or social struggles of women
who do not necessarily define themselves as such. Although he does not
actually concern himself with the movement as global (in my book
- both literal and figurative - inter-related, co-ordinated and even integrated),
he certainly shows it to be a world-wide one.
Castells writes off the old labour movement too easily. And he tends
to give the women's and sexual rights ones the image previously accorded
by socialists to labour. He here reproduces the much-criticised New Social
Movement theory opposition between interest and identity, old and new.
The admittedly old labour movement was as concerned with values, ideas,
images and utopias as the admittedly new - or renewed - women’s movement.
Most women’s movements are intensely engaged with women’s interests (and
feminists with argument about them). Conversely, there are signs of movement
within the labour movement internationally. I am not talking here of the
‘new labour movements' of the 1980s, like the Polish, South Korean, Brazilian
or South African ones. Nor am I referring to those labour specialists inspired
by such movements, such as Kim Moody (1997), whose energetic socialist
defence of autoworkers internationally - and autoworker internationalism
- is innocent of any insight into the TV they watch, the air they both
breath and pollute, the 40,000 US citizens directly killed, every year,
by their products. These unions and specialists are, indeed, still largely
trapped within roles and values related to national and industrial capitalism.
I am thinking of moments, movements, and even organisations, that are beginning
to respond to the new social subjects, new social issues and new social
movements that Castells identifies. A national trade union confederation
organising a conference of its gay, lesbian and bisexual members is really
something new (Kinsman 1997). Castells might take this as merely evidence
for his argument, that labour becomes a movement in so far as it takes
up the new cultural or identity issues. However, there is beginning to
be a new body of writing which 1) recognises the general situation Castells
so graphically portrays, 2) is in agreement on the necessary articulation
or imbrecation of labour and the newer social movements, but which 3) argues
for the possibility of, and necessity for, what we might call a ‘new social
labour movement', that relates to an informatised and globalised capitalism
(Munck and Waterman 1998). This is, after all, the only international social
movement that consists of poor and increasingly impoverished people,
and which is customarily led by people of this same low-class social origin.
If we fail to address them, they will be `identified’ either by right-wing
fundamentalists (as in France, India or Poland) or by left-wing ideologues
who, if not fundamentalist, are tilting at the windmills of an earlier
As I have suggested, certain national and international labour movements/trade
union organisations are beginning to respond to their global crisis in
a way that reveals their learning from the movements Castells identifies
with (John and Chenoy 1996, Danish Industrial Workers Union 1997). Writers
on unionism are beginning to consider their possible and necessary reinvention
in the light of globalisation and informatisation (Catalano 1998, Grieder
1997, Hyman Forthcoming A and B, Waterman 1998b).
On the other hand, and Castells not withstanding, differences and conflicts
within the women's movement cannot be simply seen as a source of flexibility
and creativity. The women's movement in Latin America, for example, has,
since 1996, been in a condition of some crisis due to 1) the devastating
social impact of neo-liberal globalisation, 2) the movement's extensive,
and related, ongizacion (ngo-isation), 3) its over-concentration
on the national and international state-political sphere and, finally,
4) an ultra-radical response to this crisis that reproduces, in both word
and deed, the style of male ultra-leftism in the labour movement (Alvarez
1997, Waterman 1997).
The problem, it seems, is not that labour is no longer the, or a, privileged
emancipatory subect but that that there are no such privileges, only potentials,
and that such potentials have to be sought for and released. Continuous
reinvention would seem to be the requirement of any emancipatory movement.
The increasing reality of the virtual
I have suggested that the essence of Castells' argument is that communication
and culture are increasingly in command. This is most clearly revealed
in his understanding, on the one hand, of networking and, on the other,
of the media.
Networking. Let us firstly consider Castells on networking.
Although coming from Spain, or, rather, Catalonia, and partially educated
in France, Castells does not share the Latin penchant for refusing to define
often complex or ambiguous terms. So, revealing his own globalised intellectual
itinerary, he treats us to an Anglo-Saxon-type definition. True, network:
definition of, is not in the index, so you do have to first read 469
pages of CI to find it. But here it is, somewhat abbreviated:
A network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point at
which a curve intersects itself...The topology defined by networks determines
that the distance...between two points...is shorter if both points are
nodes in a network than if they do not belong to the same network...The
inclusion/exclusion in networks, and the architecture of relationships
between networks, enacted by light-speed operating information technologies,
configurate dominant processes and functions in our societies [...] A network-based
social structure is a highly dynamic, open system, susceptible to innovating
without threatening its balance. Networks are appropriate instruments for
a capitalist economy based on innovation, globalisation, and decentralised
concentration; for work, workers, and firms based on flexibility, and adaptability;
for a culture of endless deconstruction and reconstruction; for a polity
geared towards the instant processing of new values and public moods; and
for a social organisation aiming at the suppression of space and the annihilation
of time. Yet the network morphology is also a source of dramatic reorganisation
of power relationships...The convergence of social evolution and information
technologies has created a new material basis for the performance of activities
throughout the social structure. This material basis, built in networks,
earmarks dominant social processes, thus shaping social structure itself.
This is communication as what I would call a ‘relational form’ (the previously
dominant social relational form being the organisation). Now for communication
Media. It is in Castells’ chapter about the media that we begin
to see that what could be conceived of as a development within capitalism
is, simultaneously, an epochal transformation. The present integration
of most modes of communication into a meta-language, combining the written,
oral and audiovisual, is compared by Castells to the invention of the alphabet
in Greece, 2,700 years ago! That technical revolution led simultaneously
to the possibility of conceptual discourse and to a separation/hierarchy,
in which the word of the intellectual and scientist were privileged over
the sound and image of the emotional, the ritual and the popular (at least
by the intellectual and scientist). There is here at least a suggestion
that we are moving toward a re-combination not only of these modes of expression
or communication but also a re-encounter between the classes or categories
that began to be divided nearly three thousand years ago. In some areas
this is already occurring, as the specialists of the (emancipatory) word
begin to be replaced by those of the (emancipatory) image (Franco 1994).
In CI, Part 5, Castells provides us with a short and pithy history of
the mass media (or media massification), recognising the centralisation
and homogenisation, whilst rejecting notions of a passive and infinitely
manipulable audience. This will be familiar to radical media specialists
but is nonetheless welcome in a work of general social theory. Castells
then deals with the recent development of the increasingly decentralised/diversified
electronic media on the one hand, that of the Internet on the other, and
with the implications of their coming merger for the future. First, then,
on the developing culture of ‘real virtuality'. The latter
is a system in which reality itself (that is, people's material/symbolic
existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting,
in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the
screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience.
(CI:373. Original stress)
He gives us, as illustration, the case in which Dan Quayle (I understand
he was a Vice-President of the US and a potential presidential candidate)
came into conflict with Murphy Brown (female character in a TV soap of
that name, who had decided to become a single mother). Murphy Brown
later incorporated the Dan Quayle TV interview, and Murphy Brown responded
forcefully to it. The `fictional' Murphy Brown won, the ‘real' (if improbable)
VP lost. We could probably take a more-recent and complex case, that of
Princess Diana, both largely created and destroyed by the mass media, which
then found itself `mediating’ forceful public revulsion against itself,
and making its own criticism of the British monarchy (a creation, it should
be remembered of industrialising capital, nation-state creation, the democratisation
of liberalism...and the rise of the popular press). What on earth - or
in the ether - is going on here?
Castells argues that the new and increasingly integrated communication
system is both comprehensive and inclusive, to the point of marginalising
other modes of cultural expression:
Only presence in this integrated system permits communicability and
socialisation of the message. All other messages are reduced to individual
imagination or to increasingly marginalised face-to-face subcultures. From
society's perspective, electronically-based communication (typographic,
audiovisual, or computer-mediated) is communication. (CI:374.
Since the new system is diversified, multimodal and versatile, it allows
for all forms of expression, including those of social conflict. The price
paid for entry, however, is that of adapting to the logic of the system,
such as it is or may become. This makes quite crucial the current battle
over the model chosen, over whether this is to be of the Internet type
(horizontal and multinodal) or of the video-on-demand one (which actually
means choosing between options offered by a central controller). Other
crucial battles concern accessibility, in the sense both of barriers to
entry and of passwords for circulation and diffusion of messages. These
battles will determine who are, in Castells' words, the interacting
and the interacted.
Whilst this suggests a general terrain of struggle for democratisation
of the new media, it is clear from Castells' treatment of social movements
in the global arena - both reactive and proactive - that these are increasingly
aware of, active on, and even successful within, the new terrain (cf. Keck
and Sikkink 1998). The media-consciousness - even media-centredness - of
Greenpeace is only hinted at in his treatment (CII:118-119), but Castells
waxes poetical, as he occasionally does in this work, about the movement
as a whole ‘tap-dancing with the media' (CII:128). He also recognises,
as earlier mentioned, the pioneering role of the environmental movement,
particularly in use of the Internet for organising and mobilising (it has
also long used it for accessing and processing government data for radically
non-governmental ends, as recognised long ago in Downing 1989). And here
we come to the other side of the network society. Through computer networks
grassroots groups around the world become suddenly able to act globally,
at the level where the main problems are created. It seems that a computer-literate
elite is emerging as the global, co-ordinating core of grassroots environmental
action groups around the world, a phenomenon not entirely dissimilar to
the role played by artisan printers and journalists at the beginning of
the labour movement, orienting, through information to which they had access,
the illiterate masses that formed the working class of early industrialisation.
The Zapatistas have also made effective use of the Internet to circumvent
the official media and censorship within Mexico, to both inform and mobilise
a national, regional, North American and world public in their own defence.
Castells recognises the extent to which the movement, and its communications-educated
spokesperson, Marcos, have created attractive, intriguing and challenging
images of themselves for the mass media (CII:76-9). What he does not mention
- though it would be consistent with his general model of social movements
- is the Zapatista impact also on or through low-technology artefacts,
such as posters and dolls. (I had a teeny-weeny, armed and masked, cloth
female Zapatista doll beside my computer in Quito when I first drafted
this passage, even if there was a giraffe-legged, blond-haired, anorexic,
plastic gringa Barbie doll in the bathroom of the same house).
This is an important point (I mean the Zapatista, not the Barbie, one)
and it challenges Castells' argument that ‘from society's perspective'
there is no communication that is not electronic. Apart from doubts about
whether society (rather than classes and categories within different societies)
has or have a perspective, Castells himself states somewhere in his 1,400
pages - or was it someone else? - that succeeding communication forms or
technologies do not replace earlier ones but, rather, supplement them.
I see no particular reason, apart, of course, for capitalist ones, why
the new electronic media should not stimulate rather than destroy earlier
forms. One hopes so, since otherwise Castells has chosen (and I am reviewing)
a medium of expression that relates not simply to a passing phase
of capitalism but also, apparently, to a passing epoch of written
and printed communication!
New worlds for old: a fourth world and an underworld
Although C3 is largely concerned with providing us more analyses rather
than additional theory, it does do us one or two considerable favours.
The first is in its paradoxical concept of the Fourth World (CIII, Ch.
2, 70-165). This Fourth World is not a socio-political-geographical bloc.
Castells includes under one term Africa, the inner-city ghettos of the
United States, and what is being done to children and childhood internationally.
The Fourth World is a paradoxical concept in so far as Castells seems not
to believe in either a Third World or its `development’. (But, then, as
either a liberal or radical concept, capable of either explaining or changing
anything, `development’ has surely long passed its sell-by date). His Fourth
World reveals the extent to which the phenomena that Development Studies
confined to its Third one are not global (produced by universalising processes)
but already international (found everywhere). Perhaps, to avoid people
searching in his work or world for a Third one, Castells should
have called this one the Underworld. But that would have created
confusion with what now follows.
This is the second favour done us in CIII, the chapter on globalised
crime (CIII, Ch. 3: 166-205). It deals with that part of the capitalist
economy that capitalists consider illegal, illegitimate, an obstacle
to progress, or an embarrassment. Capitalism always treads a fine and often
arbitrary line between the legal and the illegal. This line becomes increasingly
blurred when capitalists - and politicians - treat the market as the sole
source of ethics and when they are involved in ever-more ferocious competition.
As capitalists and politicians are involved in more and more shady deals,
so criminals seek to reverse Proundhon’s dictum by turning theft into property.
Castells’ treatment of the criminal economy reveals its massive stimulation
by, and profound influence on, a globalised and informatised capitalist
economy, politics and culture. The criminal economy is, Castells points
out, a part of capitalism little analysed and less theorised by social
scientists. (Perhaps left social scientists first require it to consist
of transnational corporations, quoted on the New York Stock Exchange?).
Yet the drugs economy is actually bigger than the oil one. And this
is not some kind of side-effect of a globalising and informatising capitalism:
the ugly face is one half of the Janus-headed creature. It is, surely,
simply a matter of which face we see, or want to see. And whether we are
prepared to recognise that effectively limiting and reducing criminality
implies inroads into the freedom of capital.
Time, space and information capitalism
In his understanding of space and time under a GNC Castells is developing
and specifying previous conceptions of space-time compression and intensification,
the increasing socio-geographic stretch of ‘society', the increasing domination
of space over time (Harvey 1989). His dominating and alienating network
consists of a ‘space of flows', opposed to a non-informatised ‘space of
places' (CI:423-428), and of ‘timeless time', opposed to previous experiences
and senses of such - and to a possible alternative future one (CI:464-468).
Let’s have a closer look at space and time. It helps if one already
has a notion of space that is not place-bound - as psychological space
for personality development; or, indeed, electronic space that, whilst
both invisible and intangible, is one that we relate to when watching TV;
or that one can increasingly enter, as with virtual-reality helmets in
amusement arcades. It also helps if one is familiar with the notion that
time is relational: that relevant time, and measures of such, have varied
historically; vary according to whether we are concerned with ecology,
harvests, or making hamburgers make money; that time is also class-determined,
there being ‘time ghettos' and ‘time peaks', leading to ‘time wars' (Rifkin
1987). It helps, finally, to be reminded, as Castells does remind us, that
classical social theory (such as that of Marx) assumed that time was the
active and space the passive element, and that time conquered space. Castells
presents these as interacting and mutually-defining, but evidently sees
his space of flows as the dynamic element in the relationship.
Space: Castells apologises for going into abstract theory here,
but he does provide pointers and maps to help us through the maze. Space,
he says, is the material base for social practices that share the same
time. Traditionally, this kind of space meant continguity, the face-to-face
community. Our society, however, is increasingly constructed around flows
- from those of capital and of organisational interaction to those of sounds
and symbols. This particular kind of space, that of flows, is thus the
material base for time-sharing activity that works through flows. As the
material base of dominant process and functions under a GNC, the space
of flows combines three elements. The first is the circuit of electronic
signals, acting as the spatial equivalent of the city or region under earlier
phases of capitalist development, and defining/determining significant
places as once railways defined economic regions and national markets.
The second support of the space of flows is its hubs and nodes, as with
the so-called global cities that concentrate decision-making power, the
continental or regional economies that relate to/depend on them. The third
element is the spatial organisation of dominant elites. Here we are on
more familiar, or at least tangible, terrain. Domination depends, he says,
on the simultaneous capacity of these elites to articulate themselves and
disarticulate the masses. Basically, he argues, ‘elites are cosmopolitan,
people are local' (CI:415). Elites form their own communities, made exclusive
by their very cost, within which major decisions can be taken and then
be executed electronically. Elites create a global lifestyle and spatial
forms, as in exclusive and standardised airport lounges, indistinguishable
hotels, eating/dieting, clothing, exercising and other practices.
Whilst I have difficulty understanding the more abstract constituents
of these spaces-that-are-not-places, I am simultaneously wondering how
they actively disorganise the customarily-disorganised masses rather
than merely excluding them, or exhibiting a lifestyle the excluded can
either aspire to or vicariously enjoy (as one anti-globalist friend of
mine does The Bold and the Beautiful). I also wonder whether it
is not precisely in the third element above that the global elites are
localised, grounded - and most vulnerable. The problem is not so much,
as historically, to invade (Versailles), occupy (Winter Palace) and/or
destroy (Cultural Revolution) these privileged spaces and the elite pleasures
they contain, but to surpass them, so that they are not reproduced by new
elites, desired by new masses. This is cultural-political work (for which
see the outstanding collection on Latin American social movements of Alvarez,
Dagnino and Escobar (1997)). I can think of one example - the corporal
activity and verbal discourse of the American ex-autoworker and film-maker,
the fat, funny and ferocious Michael Moore (1996). His stock in trade is
precisely 1) the invasion and desecration of these places, and 2) the deflation
of those who - since they are human - have to touch base somewhere.
Elites are not only in cosmopolitan electronic intangible space; people
are not only in local tangible place. Moore, significantly, began as an
`alternative’ video maker, but had his video converted into a commercial
movie, and then got his own show on TV.
Time: To match his notion of the space of flows, Castells brings
in that of timeless time. We are, perhaps, most familiar with the tendency
toward the latter in the form of the financial markets, operating 24 hours
a day, with quasi-instantaneous decision-making, leading to increasing
financial instability, to dramatic - and tragic - effects for vulnerable
national societies and poor people everywhere. Castells sees this model
being reproduced throughout the economy, society and culture -with similar
effects on those on the periphery of , or excluded from, the space of flows:
Timeless time belongs to the space of flows, while time discipline,
biological time, and socially determined sequencing, characterise places
around the world, materially structuring and destructuring our segmented
societies. (CI: 465. Original stress)
Castells illustrates this with the contrasting use of the cellular phone.
It gives time/space advantages to those within the charmed circle. But
it is also being used by petty-traders in Lima, hiring them out to those
without access to phones and suffering ‘maximum flexibility in endless
working days of unpredictable future' (465). Once again, I think, Castells
has allowed a real tension to become an absolute opposition. In the first
place, we cannot assume that the charm of quasi-ubiquitous, quasi-universal
and quasi-instantaneous communication for the elite individual is going
to outweigh its collective costs for the same elite - or even its individual
ones (think of the car). In the second place, his own example shows how
a symbol of globalised elite status can be degraded into an article of
mass use (think of the car). And, in the third place, the cellular phone
can be used, and has been used, in the organisation of strikes, pickets
Conclusion: the war of the beginning of the world
I earlier suggested that, for Castells, what is presently occurring
is more than a change within capitalism, even if it is also this. I have
called it an epochal transformation. I think this is suggested by Castells
when he talks of a ‘qualitative change in human experience' (CI:477). Here
he discusses historical transformations in terms of the nature/culture
relationship. The first epoch was that of the domination of nature over
culture. The second, at the beginning of the modern age, saw the increasing
domination of nature by culture. The third, ours, sees the beginning of
a new stage, in which culture refers to culture - ‘nature' itself being
preserved, revived or reconstructed as a cultural form. I also wonder (though
this is not necessarily a thought of Castells) that it might be just this
epochal transformation that allows for an emancipatory movement that could
surpass capitalist barbarism without degenerating into the socialist kind.
This is how Castells himself sees the matter at the very end of Volume
[W]e have entered a purely cultural pattern of social organisation.
This is why information is the key ingredient of our social organisation
and why flows of messages and images between networks constitute the basic
thread of our social structure...[H]istory is just beginning, if by history
we understand the moment when...our species has reached the level of knowledge
and social organisation that will allow us to live in a predominantly social
world.. It is the beginning of a new existence, and indeed the beginning
of a new age...marked by the autonomy of culture vis-à-vis
the material bases of our existence. But this is not necessarily an exhilarating
moment. Because, alone at last in our human world, we shall have to look
at ourselves in the mirror of historical reality. And we may not like the
If this seems to express a fashionable fin de millenaire
pessimism, it would seem to be in contradiction with Castells' own rejection
of such. And, indeed, the Conclusion to Volume II identifies as the main
agency of change under a GNC as a
networking, decentred form of organisation and intervention, characteristic
of the new social movements, mirroring, and counteracting, the networking
logic of domination in the informational society...These networks...are
the actual producers, and distributors, of cultural codes...their most
successful campaigns, their most striking initiatives, often result from
‘turbulences' in the interactive network of multlayered communication...It
is this decentred, subtle character of networks of social change
that makes it so difficult to perceive, and identify, new identity projects
coming into being...It is in these back alleys of society, whether in alternative
electronic networks or in grassrooted networks of communal resistance,
that I have sensed the embryos of a new society... (CII:362. Original emphasis)
So, after a first appearance as villain, the network now appears as hero/ine.
What was set up by Castells as an opposition between the Net and the Self,
now appears as new and pro-active social movements creating subject identities,
and impacting subtly but forcefully, on the GNC which gave them birth and
to which they are opposed. What initially appeared as a binary opposition
now appears as a dialectical relation. And this dialectic is fought out
within a globalised society in which culture is increasingly in command.
I am happy to see these dialectical relationships. I am also wondering
whether the other binaries that Castells either explicitly announces or
implicitly suggests would not benefit by similar treatment. I am thinking
of such as the space of flows (empty and abstract) versus the space of
places (historical and experienced), of old labour interest movements (condemned
to resistance) versus new gender/sexual identity ones (engaged in transformation),
virile resistance communities versus declining civil societies, socially-significant
multimodal and multinodal electronic media versus individualised and marginalised
subcultures. I am not, for example, even happy with Castells' ‘small elite
versus mass of the people'. It would be easier if this were true. Perhaps
it once was. But then, again, perhaps this was just a ‘true lie', necessary
to get people to accept or adopt the simple identity and the simple opposition.
We are, in any case, today in a complex capitalist society, in which
capitalists have long abandoned the top hat, as have British workers the
cloth cap, French workers the bleu de travail. If we take a closer
look at the happily globalising elite and the unhappily globalised masses,
I think we will find just such complexity. There are, to start with, the
famous ‘intermediate categories in a contradictory class location' (Wright
1976), to which Castells and I both belong, who may benefit from globalisation
and yet identify downwards and outwards. Then there are the differentiated
masses that differentially enjoy at least aspects of globalisation - cultural
ones prominent amongst them. I don't really think there is a fundamental
problem here: to argue, continually, that everything is simultaneously
both this and that, and that every this contains its that, is exhausting
for both speaker and listener. Castells is here surely doing what we (of
the Marxist tradition) all do when we tire of arguing or demonstrating
the dialectic: we simplify into a comprehensible, practical - and hopefully
mobilising - opposition.
But now we have to reconsider the Conclusion to CIII, which is also
a restatement of the whole argument (CIII:335-60). As far as labour is
concerned, I find this Conclusion thought-provokingly ambiguous:
The truly fundamental social cleavages of the Information Age
are: first, the internal fragmentation of labour between informational
producers and replaceable generic labour. Secondly, the social exclusion
of a significant segment of society made up of discarded individuals whose
value as workers/consumers is used up, and whose relevance as people is
ignored. And, thirdly, the separation between the market logic of global
networks of capital flows and the human experience of workers’ lives. (CIII:346)
Here we have: 1) a binary opposition between two kinds of labour where
I would propose we rather look for a spectrum or even a matrix; 2) a binary
opposition between, presumably, any kind of labour and the excluded, where
I would again propose a spectrum/matrix; 3) a binary opposition between
capital and labour, in terms acceptable to a Marxist, and which surely
implies the necessity of a movement to emancipate labour (including those
excluded from it in a formal sense, but who are energetically engaged in
non-capitalist work and desperately seeking the privilege of capitalist
This discussion is followed by a reassertion of the transformatory nature
of feminism and environmentalism:
Should institutions of society, economy and culture truly accept feminism
and environmentalism, they would be essentially transformed. Using an old
word, it would be a revolution. (CIII:352)
Maybe. But in so far as capitalists and pro-capitalist ideologues are doing
their utmost, with the help of powerful economic, political and, above
all, cultural institutions, to produce a feminised and ecologically-sustainable
capitalism, I see here no essential guarantees. It is more a question,
surely, of combining the insights of feminism, environmentalism and socialism,
the human rights movements, the cultural rights and communication movements
(I could continue). But here Castells steps out. Or at least back. Having
`adamantly refused to indulge in futurology’ (CIII:353) he nonetheless
yields to temptation, producing a scenario of the Naisbitt/Lipnack-Stamps
kind (CIII:353-8). Then, under the Leninist title `What is to be Done’,
he both recognises the `considerable generosity’ of the Marxist tradition,
and abstains from joining or continuing it. He simultaneously rejects the
role of the neutral observer and takes refuge in the tradition of critical
Theory and research...should be considered as a means for understanding
and relevance. How these tools are used, and for what purpose, should be
the exclusive prerogative of the social actors themselves, in specific
social contexts, and on behalf of their values and interests. (CIII:359)
Castells’ justification for his stance is, well, what happened in the 87
years after Lenin answered his own question in 1902. I find this both inadequate
and disingenuous. It is inadequate because it suggests that academics are
not social actors (they are, actually, increasingly massified ones), or
not inevitably related to social actors. And because it does not confront
any post-Leninist tradition of academic socio-political engagement - such
as the feminist one! It is disingenuous because Castells is evidently part
of a global and globalised intellectual elite, and admits (well, OK, his
book mentions in passing) that he 1) has been a member of the European
Commission’s High Level Expert Group on the Information Society; 2) is
indebted to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the Brazilian philosopher/prince
who is quite literally presiding over the insertion of his country into
a GNC, with all the nefarious consequences that Castells has condemned
(to which we must now add the neoliberalisation of its university system);
and 3) was the Chair of an advisory committee to the Russian government
in 1992, itself responsible for introducing into Russia a capitalism close
to the Stalinist stereotype. Castells, thus, has been hobnobbing with the
elites responsible (or irresponsible) for many of the ills he criticises.
More: he has actually been advising some of the new masters of our universe.
I do not myself think this devalues his work. But it certainly qualifies
it. Or limits it. Castells has addressed himself to those who were interested
in, or wanted to pay for, his work. It is a matter of regret for me that
he did not continue the identification with social movements revealed in
his studies on urban ones. But I recognise, equally, the weakness of the
social movements - of a social movement - that could appeal to and
make use of such a brilliant and critically-minded intellectual. This movement
has yet to be born. Its birth, or maturation, will require engagement with
Castells’ work: engagement with and not polemical attack on. Any new general
movement of society will have to be able to dialogue across the lines created
in simpler times. There is no call for those claiming identity with the
alternative social movements to look down on him from any high moral ground.
High moral ground nowadays has to be used not for looking down but looking
The Hague, London, Lima, Quito, Seoul, Liverpool.
July 1997-March 1998.
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