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The Brave New World of Manuel Castells

What on Earth (or in the Ether) is going on?

Peter Waterman

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, fn. 1).
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 hand.

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 14th century...

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 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 proactive movements.

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 conditions:

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 movements also.

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 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 capitalism.

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 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. (CII, 470-471) This is communication as what I would call a ‘relational form’ (the previously dominant social relational form being the organisation). Now for communication as culture.

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. Original emphasis)  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. (CII:130) 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 and demonstrations.

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 I:

[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 vision. (CI:478) 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 employment).

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 sociology: 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 out.

The Hague, London, Lima, Quito, Seoul, Liverpool.

July 1997-March 1998.

[Earlier and more limited versions of this article, based on Volumes I and II, have been published in Debate (Johannesburg), No. 4, 1998, and in Nueva Sociedad (Caracas), 157, 1998]


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