December 17, 2010

Castells - Toward a Sociology of the Network Society

Castells analyses the social changes that have occurred which have led to the emergence of a 'new society.'
  1. New technological paradigm  New ITs allow for new forms of social organisation and interaction.  Such organisation and interaction occurs via electronic information networks.
  2. Globalisation  [With hindsight we recognise early evidence of globalisation in past eras, but without electronically-based communication networks, it could never reach today's total coverage.  I'm hard pressed to think of one corner of the world that has not yet been overrun by mankind or that has not been touched by Western "civilisation."  Here I think of the rubbish accumulated around the base camp of Mount Everest.]
  3. Internet  [I don't think any comment is necessary, suffice to say that, contrary to the first pundits, the Internet does not unify people in democratic harmony.  Whoever goes on line, immediately seeks out like-minded individuals/organisations.  He will not view sites that put out an ideology which he is hostile to.  Few people will attempt to find out why their opponents think the way they do; instead they will turn to sites that echo their own worldview.
  4. Death of the sovereign nation-state   Alliances struck between countries affect internal power structures.  Think, for example, of countries belonging to the EU.  [National boundaries are being redrawn and/or becoming more transparent, and few countries can act in isolation without due consideration to their 'partners'.]
  5. "Crisis of patriarchy"  Family forms have changed; the 'heterosexual-couple-with-2-kids model no longer holds sway.  Other family models have emerged which have become feasible alternatives.
  6. Scientific progress   Among other things, there is a new awareness of man's relationship with the environment, which has brought about changes in production, consumption, etc.
This article also neatly summarises Castell's work on networks, spatial structure, and space of flows, and makes a useful accompaniment to his book, Rise of the Network Society.

How will the above prove useful to my thesis?  Well, for a start I think we can see incipient forms of many of the above dimensions in turn of the century Britain.  Regarding the Internet, obviously this did not exist in 1900 but if we adopt Standage's views on the telegraph (coupled with a highly efficient postal system), then we can say that society at that time had access to a system of express information exchange.

What is the role of the telephone network in creating this "new society?"  E.g. was it instrumental in bringing about any social change (as per the above dimensions)?
Did it promote or hinder?

Manual Castells.  "Toward a Sociology of the Network Society."  Contemporary Sociology Vol 29, No 5 (Sept. 2000), 693-699.

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