Castells, M. (1996). _The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Volume I_. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Written with the aim of understanding better the economic, political, and social implications of globalization, the first (and necessarily most abstract) volume of Castells’ trilogy proposes we are in a network society. Here capital and information have collapsed into one another and become the same thing, spurring a transformation from modern capitalism into informational capitalism. In contradistinction to modern capitalism, informational capitalism’s production is knowledge-based productivity, wherein the mounting interdependence of economies and companies reflects the need for international and inter-corporate collaboration in order to stay competitive in the same global market.

The rise of the informational economy “is characterized by the development of a new organizational logic which is related to the current progress of technological change, but not dependent on it” (152). Indeed, corporations did not embrace information technology to advance their standing in the market but to copewith the meteoric changes and increase overall productivity. Labor’s role in this transition to the informational society underscores the shift from the industrial economy, as well as the fact that there is no one model of the informational society. Castells hypothesizes: “as the process of globalization progresses, organizational forms evolve from multi-national entities to [increasingly decentralized] international networks” (192).

He also proposes the “culture of real virtuality,” wherein “the message is the message” (368), owing to the diversity of content springing forth from the integration of the user into the assembly of the system. The culture of real virtuality is a communication system in which “reality itself…is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting…. [The] appearances are not just on the screen…but they become the experience” (373).

This concept introduces Castells “space of flows” and “timeless time.” His argument: “space reorganizes time in the network society” (378) so the new spatial logic is in fact one of flows instead of places. Indeed, Castells believes the three foundational realms of the new social structure are space, time, and technology. The informational city is a “process characterized by the structural domination of spaces of flows” (398). Since spaces of flows comprise “personal micro-networks that project their interests in functional macro-networks through the global set of interactions” (416), we find “ahistorical universal spaces worldwide” (417), shaped to meet the global elite’s preferences. “Timeless time” refers to the network society’s successful shattering of linear time. Informational capitalism requires instantaneous capital flow and Urry’s “just-in-time” labor. In addition, timeless time refers to the network society’s “breaking down of rhythmicity, either biological or social” (446).

Echoing Bourdieu (1989), Castells concludes with the assertion that the closeness and relative power of a node relates to its position in the network. However, this is not a story about classes — there is not a global capitalist class but “an integrated, global capital network” (474). The network society underscores a qualitative change in the human experience: “culture refers to culture” (477). Nature is artificially preserved and reconstructed as a cultural form. The topic of culture continues in the second volume.


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One response to “Castells, M. (1996). _The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Volume I_. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

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