Guide to the vibrant and

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part of the first generation of information scientists,

and is most remembered for having documented

the exponential rise of scientific

publications and knowledge across the globe and

across several centuries.

On an even grander scale, Manuel Castells uses

a world-systems perspective to explore the recent

historical transition from development by capitalism

to development by information. He posits a

strong link between knowledge and economic

growth, showing that the heretofore intermediate

stage of technological development is unnecessary.

Instead, he holds that knowledge can perform

the technological function of producing

informatization – knowledge alone may be the

basis of production in the informational society.

How is this new development to take place?

According to Castells, information is both the

raw material and the outcome of technological

change. Information-processing activities in the

industrial mode of development were fostered by

two major factors – the central organizational

capacities of the large corporation and the shift

in the sources of productivity from capital and

labor to factors such as science and technology.

Information-consumption activities were fostered

by two additional factors – the need for information-

gathering and -distributing flows to connect

between buyer and seller in the mass-market environment

and the state’s role in assuming collective

management of goods and services. The state,

in turn, establishes information systems that set

the codes and rules that govern citizens’ lives.

Reich echoes Bell by observing what he calls

the rise in “symbolic-analytic services” as a job

category. These services trade not in concrete

things but in the manipulation of symbols and

visual representations. Workers are problem

solvers: “they simplify reality into abstract images

that can be rearranged, juggled, experimented

with, communicated to other specialists, and

then, eventually, transformed back into reality.”

Whereas “professionals” of the earlier regime

attained mastery of a particular knowledge

domain, symbolic-analysts work by using, not

learning, knowledge. They draw on established

bodies of knowledge to rearrange and analyze

information that already exists. In this way, the

symbolic-analyst is changing the nature of information

from static and isolated to dynamic and

integrated. Additionally, the rise of the symbolicanalyst

leads to a breakdown in traditional hierarchies

of information provision. Workers rise

in the job market not because of hard work or

technical expertise but because of inventiveness

and creativity: “the only true competitive advantage

lies in skill in solving, identifying, and brokering

new problems.” For these theorists, the

widespread availability of information, and not

technology itself, has far-reaching social implications.

Perhaps one of the most striking is the way

that ideas can flow easily across borders, even

while people cannot, which will impact the international

economic order and spill over into the

quality of lives for millions in both the developed

and developing nations.

One common framework for interpreting the

information society is technological innovation,

especially in telecommunications. “Information

technology (IT) diffusion” can be measured by

the scope of the IT revolution and the proliferation

of computer technology (Duff, Information

Society Studies). Frederick Williams remarks that

the information society “is a society where the

economy reflects growth owing to technological

advances.” Piore and Sabel use the term “flexible

specialization” to refer to independent, small

businesses that analyze and respond to markets

far more efficiently than large corporations can.

Simon Nora and Alain Minc in The Computerization

of Society: A Report to the President of France (1980)

were the first to propose the term “informatization”

to represent the union of computers, telecommunication

systems, and social organizations

that leads to a greater informational society. Their

report presented knowledge as the “engine of

growth” and warned of the dangers of noninformational

paths of development. Herbert S. Dordick

and Georgette Wang in The Information

Society: A Retrospective View (1993) enlarge this interpretation

to define “informatization” along

three dimensions – infrastructural, economic,

and social. Informatization therefore is measured

by the number of telephone lines, newspapers,

computers, and television sets in a society, as

well as the number of workers who are engaged

in information technology and the size of the

information sector’s contribution to a nation’s

gross domestic product.

As with the economic definition of the information

society, the technological-drivers approach

treats the information society as an objective,

quantifiably measurable entity that has both positive

and negative implications.

Cultural theorist Mark Poster provides a semiotic

account of studying the information society:

“an adequate account of electronic communications

requires a theory that is able to decode the

information information


linguistic dimension of the new forms of social

interaction.” His term “mode of information”

(which parodies Karl Marx’s notion of the mode

of production) suggests that history can be characterized

by stages marked by differing structures of

symbolic exchange and that society currently provides

a fetishistic dimension to “information.” He

criticizes the approach of Bell for making the

“postindustrial” idea a model for modern society

and for treating information merely as an economic

entity. Bell’s perspective thereby ignores

the ways in which electronic technology disseminates

information through communication. Instead,

Poster seeks to interrogate cultural forms

of information technology in their modern and

postmodern contexts and to examine the role of

communication systems in postindustrial society.

Within this stream of thought, Jean Baudrillard

views information as being produced equally by

all people and as having no singular meaning or

interpretation. Information can thus be seen as

meaningless. However, he sees that people impose

their meanings on the information, and the structure,

which is created, is largely arbitrary. As yet

another meta-framing, Ron Day shows in The

Modern Invention of Information (2001) that there

have been many information ages, and that the

concept itself tends to divorce power from its historical

context, thus banishing a troubled history

of winners and losers in information’s construction

and application.

When cheap, digital information is combined

with networked computers, new social forms and

interaction patterns can emerge. Some predict

negative consequences for social interaction from

these changes. Sherry Turkle in Life on the Screen:

Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995) sees a wilderness

of mirrors in which identity is produced

through online interactions, and is basically synthetic.

As a result, senses of community and integration

are lost as people flee unpleasant “realworld”

social situations for a “life on the screen,”

that is, for online pretending.

James E. Katz and Ronald E. Rice in Social Consequences

of Internet Use: Access, Involvement, and Interaction

(2002) offer a brighter picture in their study

of the social consequences of internet use. Their

conclusions are based on surveys of both internet

users and those who do not use the internet. These

surveys include the earliest comparative publicopinion

surveys about the internet as well as

cross-national comparisons between the United

States and the United Kingdom. They conclude

that the internet does not reduce social capital

but rather contributes to it and also enables novel

forms of social interaction and self-expression.

One such novel form of information and self-expression

they discuss is the web log (or blog) phenomenon.

Blogs are a novel blending of diary and

self-expression that erase the lines of public and

private spheres. While blogs have been decried as

a “wasteland of self-important nobodies” (Anon.,

Wall Street Journal Online, 2004), Katz and Rice hold

that they provide a valuable opportunity for

people to express themselves and create new relationships.

While Katz and Rice agree that misuse

can occur with any information system, including

the internet, they conclude that the internet

fosters opportunities for satisfying individual

interests while providing collective benefits to


Incisive social critic and sociologist C. Wright

Mills anticipated many of the arguments presented

above. He held that “knowledge is no

longer widely felt as an ideal; it is seen as an

instrument. In a society of power and wealth,

knowledge is valued as an instrument of power

and wealth.” He went on to identify numerous

ways in which this proposition was supported,

most famously in The Power Elite (1956).

The ancient view that knowledge is power was

also picked up by Michel Foucault in Discipline and

Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975 [trans. 1977]),

who advanced provocative ideas about information

in a social context and about why information

(and resulting knowledge) is such a coveted commodity.

According to him, knowledge is synonymous

with power. He presents the Panopticon, a

prison in which guards can see into every cell

but prisoners see neither guards nor other prisoners.

The guards therefore have the advantage of

knowledge of the prisoners’ activities. As the prisoners

internalize the idea that they are constantly

under surveillance, they begin to self-regulate,

and thus the guards have attained power over

their inmates. However, if a prisoner learns that

he is not being watched, he may try to escape; the

prisoner attains power over the guard as a result

of this knowledge. For Foucault, the relationship

between power and knowledge is inseparable,

so that knowledge always grows out of power

relations and vice versa. In the context of the

information society, a reading of Foucault may

sensitize us to the inherent power relations that

underlie flows of information and the effects that

information and social knowledge can have on

social order and form.

While Foucault takes a highly theoretical approach

to power and society, Bell draws a more

concrete relation between knowledge-holders and

information information


the ruling class. For Bell, the codification of knowledge,

especially in the technical and scientific

professions, plays an increasingly important role

in maintaining society. As a result, a highly

trained and intellectualized elite will lead further

social progress.

On the other hand, Boyle maintains that the

information society may actually lead to horizontal

social progress and that the idea of information

has become so fluid and pervasive that it

completely dissolves disciplinary boundaries. For

example, gene-mapping as a topic has escaped

from biological discourse to pervade discussions

of social scientists, engineers, and artists. At the

same time, information has become a value-added

dimension of commercial products that needs to

be protected. As technological materials (such as

DVD disks) become cheaper to use and own, their

informational or intellectual content makes up a

greater part of the end product’s value.

This shift is echoed by Lyotard, who believes

that knowledge is increasingly becoming an informational

commodity. Because knowledge as a

commodity is vital to maintaining productive

power, nation-states may “fight for the control of

information, just as they battled in the past for

control over territory, and afterwards for control

of access to and exploitation of raw materials

and cheap labor.” The state no longer has a monopoly

on the distribution of knowledge and information:

as the need for transparent and clear

information begins to underpin society, economic

interests butt heads with the state, and the

state grows powerless to control information

and knowledge dissemination and must reexamine

its traditional role in guiding technological


For the optimists of the information society,

notably Yoneji Masuda in The Information Society as

Post-Industrial Society (1981), information access encourages

people to participate in democracy and

to improve the environment by working from

home and spending more time in creative, intellectual

work. For him and other optimists, informatization

can redress and prevent social

problems like the unequal distribution of wealth

and slow economic development. Melvin Kranzberg

in “The Information Age: Evolution or Revolution?,”

in B. R. Guild (ed.), Information Technologies

and Social Transformation (1985), likewise believes

that the increased production of knowledge in the

information society will allow people to understand

their options and the consequences of their

actions better, thus preventing catastrophic wars.

Even earlier, the theorist Kenneth E. Boulding

in The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great

Transition (1964) proposed the term “postcivilization”

to describe the freedom that he expected the

information society to bring out of the Marxist

socioeconomic class revolutions of the past.

According to Boulding, as the information society

builds up the sphere of the self-conscious social

against the individual, general mental evolution

will guide further social progression.

Wireless mobile communication promises to be

the next information revolution as it changes

people’s work and study habits and their activities

in public space (Katz, “A Nation of Ghosts? Choreography

of Mobile Communication in Public

Spaces,” in K. Nyiri [ed.], Mobile Democracy: Essays

on Society, Self and Politics, 2003). When mobile communication

is combined with the internet, new

problems arise, but so do novel social and economic

opportunities that are comparable to those

precipitated by the computer and that can enrich

the lives of vast numbers of people, from all backgrounds

and all regions of the world.

For many centuries, various experts thought

that increased information would lead to better

lives, and that enhanced communication would

lead to harmonious social interaction, perhaps

even an end to strife and war. In terms of material

lives, improved technology based on better information

has eased many material burdens, so that

an ordinary worker in industrial society typically

has a life of comfort (air conditioning, antibiotics,

TV) that was beyond the reach of the richest

mogul. In terms of the second contention, it

may be that the opposite is true. While faster

flow of information can lead to enhanced material

lives, it also speeds misinformation. It is possible

that a corollary obtains, namely that new information

technologies, such as the mobile phone,

can give rise to anxiety: one must be in touch

and ready to react. Or that making more information

available, such as is the case with internet

websites and blogs, can keep alive, and even

stimulate, the growth of dissident political movements

and attacks on even the largest media


Moreover, information flows can lead to demands

for transparency and accountability at

every level from institutional to micro-social. So

instead of being a fountainhead of freedom, increased

information can lead to demands for increased

constraints and monitoring. From a

sociological perspective, there are many ironies

in information flow.

It is worth noting too that much attention has

been paid to sociological analyses of information

information information


that emphasize potential monopolistic and exploitative

practices among the owners of media

content. Yet the Marxist-inspired view that the

centralized control of the means of production,

in this case of information, determines material

conditions is being turned on its head due to

technological advances. This line of argument

was pioneered by Ithiel de Sola Pool, who declared

in Technologies of Freedom (1983) that technologies

of freedom aim at pluralism of expression rather

than a dissemination of prefabricated ideas. Pool’s

prescient ideas have become realized, perhaps

more profoundly than even he might have imagined.

The novel and ever-increasing array of

alternative communication systems continues to

surprise and amaze social scientists. These range

from internet steganography and web-cams to

mobile phone videos, alterative reality games

and geopositional monitoring. These proliferating

and ingenious applications have severely eroded

dominant paradigms of elites and the power of

traditional monopolistic “one-to-many” technologies

(such as newspaper publishing, broadcast TV,

and studio films).

Because of personal communication technology,

information has lost its relevance as part of

a Marxist superstructure of production that sits

atop society. It has instead become a form of

struggle within society. Despite efforts to the contrary

at the level of policymaking, information is

becoming ever more fungible as a commodity

even while its meaning and interpretation becomes

more contested. More voices are raised in

every quarter, and there is an open contest over

knowledge claims. Even while more data is collected

at the level of the individual social actor,

dictators around the world are confronted by information

they would wish to banish.

The ultimate irony, though, may be that, while

the narrow definition of information discussed

above – that information is uncertainty reduction

– is germane at local levels, the larger-ranging

impact may be the opposite: knowledge leads

to growth in uncertainty and psychological tension.

Shannon’s axioms, as it turns out, are extremely

apposite to social science and public

policy: increased information also leads to increased

uncertainty. It does this in the soft terms

of human lives lived, every bit as much as in the

hard terms of communication network efficiencies

achieved. JAMES E. KATZ

information society

– see information.

information superhighway

– see information.

information technology

– see information.

inner-directed character

– see David Riesman.


– see genetics.

institutional theory

– see institution(s).

institutionalization of conflict

– see social conflict.

institutionalized racism

– see race and ethnicity.


mile Durkheim defined sociology as the scientific

study of institutions. In everyday language we

refer to institutions in terms of a heterogeneous

array of concrete social forms such as the family,

the church, or the monarchy. Departments of sociology

traditionally had mainstream courses that

were called “social theory and social institutions”

indicating that sociology was the study of the

principal institutions that make up what we call

society. There is, however, a second and more

subtle meaning in which institutions are conceived

as regular patterns of behavior that are

regulated by norms and sanctions into which individuals

are socialized. Institutions are thus an

ensemble of social roles.

In mainstream sociology, it was conventional to

recognize five clusters of major institutions in

society. These are: (1) economic institutions for

the production, distribution, and consumption of

goods and services; (2) political institutions that

regulate and control access to power; (3) institutions

of social stratification that regulate access to

prestige and social status; (4) kinship, marriage,

and family that control reproduction; and finally

(5) cultural institutions that are concerned with

religious, symbolic, and cultural practices.

The analysis of these clusters was a central feature

of social systems theory, and it can be said

that the functionalist sociology of Talcott Parsons

was a major contribution to this branch of sociology.

In The Social System (1951: 39), Parsons

information society institution(s)


defined an institution as “a complex of institutionalized

role integrates (or status-relationships)

which is of strategic structural significance for the

social system in question.” Parsons argued that

institutions are fundamental to the overall integration

of social systems.

The contemporary analysis of institutions has,

however, been decisively influenced by the sociological

writings of Peter L. Berger, whose general

sociology was in turn influenced by the philosophical

anthropology of the German sociologist

Arnold Gehlen. Berger did much to introduce the

work of Gehlen to English-speaking social science,

for example in his introduction to Gehlen’s Man

in the Age of Technology (1957 [trans. 1980]). In general

terms, Gehlen argued, following Friedrich

Nietzsche (1844–1900), that human beings are

“not yet finished animals.” By this expression,

Gehlen meant that human beings are biologically

ill equipped to cope with the world into which

they are born and they have no finite instinctual

basis that is specific to a given natural environment,

and depend upon a long period of socialization

in order to acquire the knowledge and skills

to exist in the world. Gehlen claimed that, in

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