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of income, but rather the prestige of a particular

social location. In primitive societies, for example,

the social position of “medicine man” or tribal

elder meant high social prestige even if there

was relatively little extra reward associated with

possession of that title. In modern societies, status

attaches to particular occupations (occupational

status), fame (celebrity status), successful performance

within a social location (heroic status), and

power. While any of these statuses may be associated

with substantial rewards, it is not necessarily

the case. For example, the President of the United

States commands a very modest salary in comparison

with heads of most large corporations, but

has infinitely more status. Occupational prestige

is an important area of investigation in relation

to status inequality. In the influential research

of Donald Treiman and his colleagues, most

notably in Occupational Prestige in Comparative

Perspective, scales for ranking occupations according

to the social prestige accorded to them by

a cross-section of survey respondents was developed.

A robust finding is that, over time and

across societies, occupational prestige rankings

are remarkably consistent.

Much research on income and wealth inequalities

has focused on examining trends over time.

One conclusion that is now universally agreed

upon is that intracountry inequalities are growing,

albeit at different rates in different countries.

There are a number of different theories about

why inequalities in the postindustrial capitalist

world are growing. Among the leading explanations

are rising returns to education (with the

gap between college-educated and non-collegeeducated

citizens growing), changes associated

with economic globalization in the late twentieth

and early twenty-first centuries (including

rising levels of trade and more rapid movement

of capital across borders), declining union strength,

and the decline of medium-wage manufacturing

jobs. Although inequality has risen, rates

of poverty have not significantly increased in

most countries, as social provision through the

public sector continues to play an important

role in shoring up the well-being of low-income


A focus on income or wealth inequality is but

one side of the sociological examination of inequalities.

All known societies are characterized

by a division of labor in which individuals and

groups are vested with different responsibilities

and powers in the reproduction of their lives and

societies as a whole. This division of labor defines

a second-core allocation of inequality, the question

of who does what. Two types of human labor

are fundamental in defining who does what: work

(including paid employment) and household labor

(housework; see women and work). In the Marxist

tradition, this distinction is known as production

versus reproduction, and feminist sociologists

have brought the study of the latter into the heart

of the sociological study of inequality.

At the top of any division of labor are social

positions imbued with power. In such positions,

incumbents are in a position to make decisions

that others have to follow whether they want to or

not. The most important types of power reside in

organizational position (such as in government,

the military, or corporate hierarchies), or in command

over investment decisions (afforded by the

ownership of great wealth). But decision-making

power can also exist in much smaller units, such

as heterosexual families (where men typically

exert far greater influence over household

decisions than women).

Autonomy is a second critical concept in defining

who does what, especially in the world of

work. Occupational hierarchies produce wide

variation in the level of autonomy provided to

individuals. In high-trust occupations, incumbents

work without much supervision and are

free to define the pace of their work effort. By

contrast, in low-trust occupations, continual

monitoring of effort and lack of autonomy are

defining features of the daily grind. These issues

are core questions in the sociology of work and


Another critical source of autonomy comes from

the ownership of assets, which can be invested to

create opportunities for self-employment (or,

inequality inequality


in cases of extreme wealth, provide for a life of

leisure free from involuntary toil). However, only

at the top of the occupational structure is selfemployment

a vehicle for control over one’s working

life. High levels of self-employment in many

developing countries, and also in some developed

countries like the United States, are frequently

associated with long hours, low wages, and

high levels of income insecurity. In the developed

countries, self-employment is often dominated by

immigrants seeking a toehold in the economic


The division of housework has been a second

vital area of inquiry concerning who does what.

Feminist sociologists have established that the

narrow focus on the world of work, so characteristic

of sociologists in the first half of the twentieth

century, ignored a second important dimension

of who does what in the family. Wide disparities in

the division of labor on the “second shift” between

men and women, in terms of childcare, elder care,

cooking, routine housework, and other household

chores, constitute a powerful source of genderbased

inequality. Recent debates over whether

the distribution of household tasks between men

and women have become more egalitarian suggest

some evidence of convergence, but in most families

women still do far more routine and caring

work than men.

The link between inequalities in families and

inequalities in the workplace has been a widely

debated topic. While human capital theorists have

postulated that women choose to prioritize family

over work and women’s smaller incomes and occupational

choices reflect those preferences, feminist

sociologists have developed alternative

theories which emphasize that women’s subordinate

roles in heterosexual families are disadvantaging

women in the workplace. These arguments

go beyond sexist attitudes to attribute part

of gender inequalities to the disruptive aspects of

child-rearing (and care-giving for parents) for

women seeking to maintain career tracks.

Research on inequality frequently starts from

the analysis of the difference between individuals.

In the classical “status-attainment” model of

social mobility, associated with the work of

Peter Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan (The American

Occupational Structure, 1967), individual inequalities

in opportunity and reward reflect family

background, individual attainment (such as education),

and sociodemographic attributes (such as

race / ethnic group memberships), or even such

idiosyncratic factors as physical attractiveness. All

of these characteristics and attainments inhere in

concrete individuals. Some of these characteristics

are rooted in ascribed characteristics fixed at

birth. Other characteristics are achieved (such as

an individual’s level of educational attainment).

But later work has argued that this model does

not fully theorize the impact of social groups,

organizational settings, and welfare states in

structuring and altering individual-level attributes.

Group membership is in many societies a

critical source of advantage or disadvantage.

Being a member of a high-status group in a society

typically eases access to opportunities. Analyses of

the distribution of income frequently draw upon

the idea of social closure, or the means by which

groups protect access to certain scarce resources,

to account for why groups are able to gain and

maintain advantages over time. Max Weber

argued in chapter 1 of his Economy and Society

(1922 [trans. 1968]) that the monopolization of

opportunities and/or rewards by particular groups

is a vital source of inequality. Examining the history

of group-based inequality, Weberians have

shown that one of the ways in which groups

achieve power is by maintaining formal and informal

systems of social closure. Formal systems include

legal barriers to entry such as occupational

restrictions, while informal systems involve

less explicit but nonetheless powerful forms of


The organizational structure and types of social

provision are both a locus of inequality and a

potential source of their amelioration. Major institutions

such as schools, the health-care system,

and the legal system all tend to reinforce the

advantages of powerful individuals and groups.

For example, public health care or education

systems rarely can provide the same quality care

or learning as can be acquired by those with the

means to acquire private health services or to

send their child to private schools. However,

public institutions on balance significantly reduce

inequality through the welfare state. Welfare

states include principally state institutions that

provide income transfers on the basis of either a

social-insurance model or means-tested benefits

based on income or other personal or family attributes.

A consistent body of evidence demonstrates

that welfare states reduce poverty and inequality,

smooth out income fluctuations, and reduce oldage

poverty and equalize health-care outcomes,

with higher-spending countries (such as the Scandinavian

social democracies) getting more of

these outcomes than lower-spending countries

(like the Anglo-American liberal welfare states).

In many postindustrial capitalist countries,

inequality inequality


market-based inequalities are growing sharply but

these continue to be reduced by welfare state


Finally, it is important to underscore the global

character of inequalities. Individuals and households

are embedded not just in local and national

economies, but also in a world-system that significantly

influences the patterns of inequality.

The global economy is based on an unequal set

of trading relationships between countries

that makes some countries far richer than others.

However, the most careful recent research

(adjusted for demography) suggests that intercountry

inequalities are declining, as previously

poor but very large countries like China move

closer to the global mean. The patterns of global

capital investment are also changing in ways that

encourage firms to seek profitable sources of investment

outside the core developed countries.

Globalization may also set limits on the capacities

of welfare states to reduce intracountry inequalities,

although thus far the impact on welfare

effort in the developed capitalist countries has

not been manifested in the way anticipated by

some globalization theories. J EFF MANZA

infant mortality rates

– see mortality.


This refers to an overall increase in the price of

goods and services so that the purchasing power

of money declines. It is an episodic feature of

capitalism, but became a focus of sociological

debate in the 1970s when inflation in many

advanced capitalist economies exceeded 10 percent

per annum. This tended to redistribute purchasing

power between social groups in ways that

lacked obvious legitimacy, fueling competition

between them (though anti-inflationary state

policies could have similar repercussions).

Economists offer varied analyses of inflation.

These highlight the role of increases in raw materials

prices; the capacity of workers or trade unions

to gain wage increases above productivity growth;

the market power of employers to pass on costs

through increased prices; or the role of the state

in increasing the money supply to fund state

expenditure. Neo-classical economists, however,

often view the collectively organized, institutional

features of these processes (especially state policies

and union leverage) as illegitimate distortions

of market mechanisms. By contrast, economic

sociologists (and some political economists)

argue that analyses of normative orientations, institutional

frameworks, and forms of collective

organization must be integrated with analyses of

market mechanisms to provide adequate accounts

of inflationary processes.

Thus, M. Gilbert, in Inflation and Social Conflict

(1986), compared different advanced capitalist

societies in terms of normative expectations, institutional

arrangements, productive capacities,

and power relations, tracing their implications

for the generation, escalation, or mitigation of

inflation. Such analyses lead into wider debates

about the character, scope, and limits of alternative

variants of capitalism, reviewed by D. Coates

in Models of Capitalism (2000), where inflation

and anti-inflationary state policies are analyzed

within a more encompassing international and

comparative political economy. TONY ELGER


A form of power, influence arises in the context of

relationships, between individuals, within an individual,

and between individuals and the wider

world of nature.

Influence (when placed in a purely human context)

can be defined as a pressure that gets someone

to do something that they otherwise would

not have done. But the problem with a broad

definition like this is that it does not distinguish

between the threat of force and social pressures to

which people tacitly comply without necessarily

being under duress. It is extremely difficult to

distinguish sharply between different forms of

power since all pressures, short of force, require

agency on the part of the recipient. Technically,

when asked for “your money or your life” by the

proverbial highway robber, a choice is given and

the victim must choose. Force is qualitatively different

from power, since when force is implemented

the recipient becomes a “thing” and no

agency is involved.

Influence can be more precisely defined as pressures

that get someone to do something they

would not otherwise do, when this “someone”

acts in a conventionally voluntary manner. When

we say that a doctor influences a patient, we

mean – on this argument – that they employ persuasion

rather than the threat of force, so that

the person thus influenced believes that they are

acting with autonomy. It is complicated by the fact

that, whereas a doctor does not threaten force of a

kind that he or she would use, it would be wrong

to say that no force of any kind is involved. After

all, illness can threaten a person’s life, and a

doctor might warn that, unless a dangerous operation

is undertaken, then force of a “natural” kind

infant mortality rates influence


would ensue. Hence, what makes influence persuasive

is that sanctions would certainly follow,

even if they are not sanctions that a doctor has

deliberately and intentionally orchestrated.

Hence, influence need not be intentional. A

newspaper editor might not intend to influence

readers in the way they vote, but this might be the

result, nevertheless. Indeed, we are becoming increasingly

aware that malign influences on the

environment, for example, arise although the

people causing them did not intend them to be


Indeed, it could be argued that, given the fact

that we live in a society, it is impossible for an

individual to undertake any action that does not

influence another. Is it then possible to distinguish

between positive and negative influences?

The only coherent way of addressing this problem

is through an ethic of development – that which

influences a person positively is a pressure that

enables them to develop, as opposed to a negative

pressure that distorts and arrests development. An

ethic of development needs to be tied somehow

to a concept of autonomy and self-government, so

that, rather than imagine that individuals can

exist without influence, it should be acknowledged

that we are influenced and influencing

all the time. The question that arises is basically:

do these influences help or hinder us in governing

our own lives? JOHN HOF FMAN

informal economy

This refers to aspects of economic activity that lie

outside visible, official, and legally recognized

forms of production, distribution, and consumption.

While the existence of this kind of activity

has been known to social investigators since the

nineteenth century, the term informal economy

first entered the social scientific vocabulary in the

late 1960s.

Sometimes known as the black, shadow, or cash

economy, this sector of economic activity generally

operates outside forms of legal regulation

affecting company registration, taxation, and

workforce protection. It may involve illegal activity

and forced labor, though this is not a necessary

feature since forms of cashless exchange and

community self-help have also been included

under the umbrella term. The term informal economy

has therefore been applied to a very diverse

range of activities in terms of employment status,

sectoral location, and geographical incidence. It

embraces forms of self-employment as well as

wage labor and applies to survival activities such

as rag-picking and scavenging, as well as domestic

service work, small-scale manufacturing, and

illegal people-smuggling and criminal extortion.

The scale of the informal economy is hard to

determine precisely because it remains unregulated

and, to a degree, invisible. Variations in definition

also complicate analysis of its spatial

distribution. International Labour Organization

data from the late 1990s suggest that the highest

levels of informal employment occur in West and

East Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America, at

levels of from 30 to 70 percent of total employment.

However, informal activity has also been

identified with many unregulated or deregulated

economic sectors in western Europe and North

America, notably in larger cities. Much of this is

associated with sweatshops and low-grade service

work, employing both native-born and (often illegal)

immigrant labor.

Geographically, then, the informal economy

applies to the developed as well as developing

worlds, though in both cases it is associated with

significant inequalities of income and lack of

access to social regulation and protection. Its ubiquity

has prompted some analysts to see it less as

a marginal feature of the capitalist periphery, and

more as a key feature of capitalism – both historically

and contemporaneously. What has come to

be seen as informalization emerges wherever producers

seek to evade or bypass a regulatory framework

to reduce costs and optimize profits. Just as

much production in early modern Europe was

informally “ruralized” to escape urban guild regulation,

so a good deal of contemporary production

and service work has been informally “urbanized”

in small to medium-sized inner-city locales largely

hidden from the gaze of national regulators of

large-scale public enterprises. Access to the informal

sector is therefore often through networks

rather than publicly available information.

Contemporary informalization is also disproportionately

concentrated among women (see

women and work) and ethnic minorities. It is

thereby indicative of inequalities that markets

have helped to create rather than alleviate. Overall,

the persistence of the informal economy

renders problematic theories of capitalism that

focus solely on large rationalized production units

and the public world of organized interests.



Information may be considered on three different

levels: (1) uncertainty reduction, (2) patterned abstraction,

and (3) knowledge. The term connotes

the recognizing, creating, encoding, transmitting,

informal economy information


decoding, and interpreting of social patterns – in

a word, communication – and often involves technology

in some way. Information also may be considered

at a meta-level: how and for whom the

information is created, to what uses it may be

put, and with what consequences.

By creating, modifying, and framing information,

people can use it to alter the opinions and

actions of others, and thus future states. Archeological

and ancient textual evidence demonstrates

that an enduring concern of rulers and sages alike

has been the crafting of messages to achieve desired

effects. Aristotle and other ancient Greeks

systematically analyzed the social context of information

construction and delivery as well as its

anticipated effect, including how various groups

might be served or disadvantaged by its forms of

public presentation. Many ancient elites, perhaps

as much as modern ones, realized that information

exists not as an essence but within a context.

In contrast to rhetorical analyses, Paul Lazarsfeld’s

empirical studies of information transmission

among groups in The People’s Choice (1944)

must be considered foundational. He held that

there was a two-step flow in interpersonal influence

related to political opinions, with local opinion

leaders playing a pivotal role. Lazarsfeld and

long-time collaborator Robert K. Merton emphasized,

in Social Theory and Social Structure (1949), the

importance of Weberian concepts of social location,

social class, religion, opportunity structures)

over mass mobilization processes in political

decisionmaking. The dynamic tensions between

personal and public information, on the one

hand, and social and political structures on the

other, have been profitably investigated by Harold

Lasswell in World Politics and Personal Insecurity

(1935), Hugh Duncan in Communication and Social

Order (1962), and Walter Lippmann (Barry D. Riccio,

Walter Lippmann – Odyssey of a Liberal, 1994).

These scholars have shown how power and leadership

influence what comes to be considered knowledge

from among various possibilities, and the

importance of framing information.

From a quite different (and highly technical)

tack, Bell Labs mathematician Claude Shannon

characterized information as being measured in

bits and probabilities. He defined information

theory as the problem of “reproducing at one

point either exactly or approximately a message

selected at another point.” Information therefore

reduces uncertainty, and the more uncertainty

that is removed, the more information any signal

or piece of data contains. Shannon helped spawn

several domains of inquiry, including theories of

encryption and data transmission, and also

showed how a variety of technical factors (such

as bandwidth, reliability, channel numbers, and

signal-to-noise ratios) limited certain system


An essential part of Shannon’s analysis was the

concept of entropy in communication systems. He

demonstrated that, as the amount of uncertainty

that exists in a communication channel increases,

the amount of information that can be transmitted

also rises (and that the inverse also applies).

His work has proven invaluable in information

theory for helping determine optimal technical

designs for communication technology systems

under various practical scenarios. His ideas influenced

control theory, which emphasizes coding,

sender, receiver, noise, and feedback. Yet Shannon

is far more cited than understood in the social

sciences, and his definition of information is too

technical to be of substantial interest to the sociologist.

Yet his parsimonious notions, so elegantly

proven in mathematical terms, have some intriguing

implications for the social sciences, a point

returned to at this entry’s conclusion.

Turning to the social structural and process

levels, information is also linked to the notion of

change – in theory and practice. Information alters

lived reality. Information works to reduce uncertainty

and thereby increases control over environments,

both natural and social. On a macro-level,

Manuel Castells in The Informational City: Information

Technology, Economic Restructuring, and the

Urban–Regional Process (1989) links informationprocessing

to culture, seeing it as symbolic manipulation.

Information technologies are the systems,

devices, and techniques that produce and augment

relationships among culture, productive

forces, and scientific and other knowledge,

and they operate within a cultural or mental


Fritz Machlup in The Production and Distribution of

Knowledge in the United States (1962) emphasizes the

distinction between transmission (information)

and understanding (knowledge), yet this traditional

distinction has come under siege by some

in the Cultural Studies movement who see knowledge

as power – power invoked not by Plato’s

benign philosopher-king but by exploitative interests.

These interests are often exercised along the

lines of militarism, capitalism, gender, and social

class, and are exploited along the lines of decomposition

(Horowitz, The Decomposition of Sociology,

1994) and statism. Mark Poster holds that

“information has become a privileged term in our

culture . . . and society is divided between the

information information


information rich and the information poor” (The

Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context,

1990). In a related vein, Jean-Franc¸ois Lyotard

asserts, in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on

Knowledge (1979 [trans. 1984]), that information is

not simply scientific knowledge but also encompasses

narrative knowledge.

Although Peter Nilsson in “The Distortion of

Information,” in J. Berleur, A. Clement, R. Sizer,

and D. Whitehouse (eds.), The Information Society:

Evolving Landscapes (1990), links information to

change on the level of either real-life practice or

thought patterns, it is because information is

affecting processes within the human mind. For

Castells in The Informational City (1989), information

is intrinsically linked to culture because information-

processing is actually the symbolic

manipulation of existing knowledge.

Communication theorists deal with information

as a substance that, like other forms of discourse

and nonverbal communication, conveys a

meaning. For the 1969 Japanese Information

Study Group, information “was not merely what

is in print, but also any symbol, signal, or image

having meaning to the parties at both the sending

and receiving ends” (Y. Ito, “The ‘Johoka Shakai’

Approach to the Study of Communication in

Japan,” in G. C. Wilhoit and H. de Bock [eds.],

Mass Communication Review Yearbook, 1981). In addition,

information has a directional utility. Nilsson

in “The Distortion of Information” defines the

goal of electronic and communication systems as

providing quality information, or useful information

“in a given problem area for a given subject

and all effects on any subject and/or object.” As

with the socio-cultural definitions, information is

again held to be a social factor that expresses a

particular worldview and has discernible effects

on social actors.

If knowledge is to serve as an intermediary in

contemporary society, then the information that

it interprets must be transferable. James Boyle

argues in Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and

the Construction of the Information Society (1996) that

the easy conversion from one form into another is

a central marker of an information society. Ironically,

though, Boyle says that, as information

expands to include “anything,” it is commoditized

to restrict its dissemination and manipulation.

While digitalization in theory allows for infinite

copies that are identical to the original, copyright

laws and technical enhancements can restrict and

possibly prevent such copying, and what one has a

right, ability, and permission to do continue to be


The two opposing views concerning the ability

to copy and reuse information are drawn from a

similar inspiration: that society should be regulated

to advance the interests of society as a whole

and that intellectual property laws should return

the greatest good possible to society. Thus the

length of time that a copyright restriction may

be in force is checked, and some fair use is allowed

even of copyrighted material. As an inducement

for investing effort to create valuable intellectual

property, however, those who create the works are

rewarded for their efforts and control the copying

and use of their creations.

From a social-relativistic view, justice demands

that those who are least able to pay for materials

ought to be able to use those materials. Advocates

often argue that the poor would not have bought

the intellectual property anyway or that another

digital copy can be made cost-free. These arguments

are often used by students or by people in

less-developed countries to justify making copies

of software. Advocates of copyright-free approaches

also hold that worthwhile intellectual

property should be created for its own sake and

that society benefits by not having barriers to


This argument for copyright-free reproduction

is countered by those who feel that those who

create works should decide who gets to use

them. Without some incentive, effort (and investments),

which allow information to be brought

forth to the public, would not be made. In the

area of computer operating-system software, one

company (Xerox) created approaches that another

company (Microsoft) later reengineered and used,

leading to the birth of one of the world’s largest

commercial empires. But at the same time, open

systems that are based on freeware (Linux) have

been used on a no-cost basis and a proprietary

basis (Red Hat). This area will undoubtedly continue

to be contested.

No single definition of information society has

been universally accepted, but there is convergence

on several elements. The term itself seems

to have originated in Japan. A society generally is

characterized as an information society when information

becomes its most significant product.

According to a 1997 report by the IBM Community

Development Foundation, The Net Result: Social Inclusion

in the Information Society, an information

society has high levels of information usage by

people in their ordinary lives and in most organizations

and workplaces; uses common or compatible

technology for a range of personal, social,

educational, and business activities; and has a

information information


widespread ability to transmit, receive, and exchange

digital data rapidly between places irrespective

of distance.

For most of human history, societies have been

concerned with subsistence or, if they were fortunate,

with material pursuits. Technological limitations

made moving information from one place to

another difficult. Many societies were nonetheless

deeply concerned with patterned abstraction in

the form of religious practices and beliefs, as the

great pyramids of Teotihuaca´n and Egypt attest.

Institutions of major religions, such as the Catholic

Church, were centrally concerned with pattern

interpretation and the communication and

reinforcement of these interpretations, and they

devoted enormous human and material resources

to that end. However, manuscript copying, messengers,

heralds, and fire towers were cumbersome

systems for distributing information and

gaining feedback on that distribution.

Technological innovations have yielded tremendous

advances in the way that information is produced,

processed, and consumed, with important

economic, political, and social ramifications.

Notably, they have enabled information to be

moved more easily (that is, communicated), which

has allowed the creation of markets to supply the

information and the means for its transmission.

By strategically controlling the creation, transmission,

and application of information, enormous

commercial empires could develop in the fields

of telegraphy, telephony, newspapers, television,

and radio. Secondary markets quickly developed

to use information to adjust for risk; today these

take the form of the stock markets and the insurance

industry. Tertiary markets also opened to

gather and apply information in the institutions

of scientific research, higher education, financial

accounting, and consultancies. These yielded quaternary

markets – including the byproducts of

transactions (such as frequent-flyer programs)

and location information (such as mobile telephone

monitoring systems) – that can be useful

for applications including marketing and law


The most important questions concerning social

equity in the information society involve the

digital divide – the division between those with

and without access to digital data. Increasingly,

the utility of information and thus the quality of

its meaning are coming to be measured in its

price. At the same time, there is continuing policy

pressure to adjust marketplace dynamics in light

of concerns over differential access to information

and to what extent information equity across

demographic groupings should be a target of

governmental (by nation-state or international

bodies) action.

Lyotard, like Poster, sees a progression in the

function of knowledge and predicts the increasing

commodification of knowledge, losing its “usevalue”

to become an end in itself. He goes so far

as to claim that learning will circulate as money.

In a parallel vein, Lawrence Lessig in The Nature of

Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World

(2001) and other theorists write that technology

does not directly lead to the production of original

knowledge but creates more paths and links

between information – such as linked webpages or

Wikipedia functions online – which becomes the

source of new knowledge.

Indeed, it is possible that the personal, mediated

communication typical of the internet, especially

when it is further enhanced with mobile

applications, will be a qualitative change of a

magnitude that equals the change from the industrial

era to the information society. In this regard,

Irwin Lebow’s criticism in Information Highways and

Byways: From the Telegraph to the Twenty-First Century

(1995) that the phrase “information superhighway”

confuses “information” with “communication”

is worth noting: networked information

access actually includes communication and entertainment,

and from the user’s viewpoint these

applications are often the central attractions.

The following section highlights some major

theoretical perspectives on the social role of information.

Of course the various perspectives may be

classified in a number of different ways. One general

way is to look at information within the context

of its ambient society. Alistair S. Duff in

Information Society Studies (2000), for instance,

examines the information sector, the information

explosion, and the information technology diffusion,

which contribute to his methodology for

finding valid grounds for the phenomenon of

the information society. Another general way is

to focus on information in a societal setting,

that is, in the “Information Society.” Thus Frank

Webster in his article “What Information Society?”

in Information Society (1994) isolates five

analytical approaches to defining the information

society (their theorists are in parentheses): technological

innovation (Williams, Measuring the Information

Society: The Texas Studies, 1988; Michael

J. Piore and Charles F. Sabel, The Second Industrial

Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity, 1984), economic

means (Machlup, The Production and Distribution of

Knowledge in the United States, 1962; Porat, “Communication

Policy in an Information Society,” in

information information


G. O. Robinson (ed.), Communications for Tomorrow:

Policy Perspectives for the 1980s, 1978), occupational

breakdown (Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-

Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting,

1973), and spatial (Goddard, “Networks of Transactions,”

in K. Robins (ed.), Understanding Information:

Business, Technology and Geography, 1992) and cultural

definition (Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the

Silent Majorities, 1983; Poster, The Mode of Information).

In a blended approach, eight classification

categories are used below to sketch understandings

of how information shapes and is shaped by

social forces.

The economic approach, as its name denotes,

defines information and the society in which it

exists through a lens that emphasizes production,

market, and consumption aspects. Researchers

pursuing this approach highlight the rapid expansion

of the number of people who work in the

information sector of the economy. F. Machlup

introduced this approach with his study of national

data, where he defines knowledge as a state

of knowing that “is produced by activities such as

talking plus listening, writing plus reading, but

also by activities such as discovering, inventing,

intuiting.” Knowledge producers transmit or communicate

information, receive and process information,

invest knowledge, and create instruments

for the production of knowledge (such as typewriters,

photocopiers, and computers). As a result,

according to Machlup, the information industry is

composed chiefly of workers in the educational

sphere, other white-collar-industry workers who

participate in managerial tasks, and some bluecollar

workers (such as pressmen, lithographers,

and typesetters). Machlup’s 1962 seminal contributions

have yet to be superseded.

Expanding on Machlup’s argument for socioeconomic

transformation through information, theorists

have formulated the idea of the

“postindustrial society.” Its two most widely recognized

proponents – Alain Touraine, The Post-industrial

Society: Tomorrow’s Social History – Classes,

Conflicts and Culture in the Programmed Society (1969

[trans. 1971]), and Bell, The Coming of Post-industrial

Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (1973) – are

influenced by Marxist interpretations of class

movement and hold that, in the postindustrial

society, the production and processing of information

are core activities that are engaged in at

all levels of production, distribution, consumption,

and management. Touraine’s “programmed

society” is structured by its production methods

and economic organization. He claims that the

present social conflict is between economic and

political decision making, that this new society is

“technocratic” (as defined by the nature of its

ruling class), and that the working class is no

longer a unified political agent. Similarly, for

Bell, the labor shift away from goods-producing

industries and towards white-collar service and

information-producing industries moves society

towards sexual equality and communal consciousness.

Bell identifies a “knowledge class” that is

composed of a dual axis of technology and knowledge

as fundamental resources. While Bell takes a

more economic approach and Touraine writes

through a sociopolitical lens, both theorists see

the sociologist as having a privileged place as a

“seer” of sorts who can understand and direct the

postindustrial society. Marc Porat and Michael

Rubin in The Information Economy: Development and

Measurement (1977) also see the transition of the

labor force from manual to informational work as

the foundation of the informational society, as

does Robert B. Reich in The Work of Nations: Preparing

Ourselves for 21st-Century Capitalism (1991), who

writes about jobs that involve symbol manipulation

and the international trade issues that arise

from this global class.

For Bell, scientific knowledge and values will

be involved in the political process in the postindustrial

society, and intellectual work will be bureaucratized.

While he calls this new society

“postindustrial” rather than “knowledge-based”

or “informational,” clearly one source of power

in it is possession or ownership of knowledge.

Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society (1954

[trans. 1964]) also posits the coming society as

a technological society – not entirely based on

technology but rather using carefully planned

“techniques” to achieve its goals.

Following closely after these theorists, Porat

identifies two information sectors – the major

information goods and services producers (industries

that produce, process, or distribute information)

and the secondary public and private

bureaucracies (organizations that engage in research,

development, record keeping, and governmental

planning). Like Machlup and Bell, Porat

uses economic statistics to support his claims.

While most theorists agree in principle that

trends in social and economic organization can

be identified and assessed, they have different

opinions about the social effects of these trends.

For liberals such as Ralph Dahrendorf in The New

Liberty: Survival and Justice in a Changing World

(1975), economic growth and social change are

necessary prerequisites to social improvement

and require a free flow of information. For

information information


Marxists, such as Herb Schiller in Information and

the Crisis Economy (1984) and Information Inequality:

The Deepening Social Crisis in America (1991), however,

information is associated with advanced

capitalism in crisis. His three themes are that

market criteria and pressures are important in

information developments; that class inequalities

play a large role in the distribution of, access to,

and generation of information; and that society,

which is undergoing many changes in information

and communication systems, is marked by

corporate capitalism. For libertarian and conservative

advocates such as Peter Huber in Law and

Disorder in Cyberspace (1997), the information society

has unbounded potential for raising standards

of living, increasing comfort, and sparking creativity,

if only the hamstringing efforts of governmental

entities would get out of the way and stop

seeking to impose their collectivist values on

others. Those theorists who see the information

society as radically different from past societies

are inclined to be optimistic about its possibilities,

whereas those who see the information society as

a progression from past societies tend to predict a

downward spiral.

The political-regulation-school approach to

examining the information society is similar to

the economic approach but is linked to political

processes. Regulation-school theorists, such as

Michel Aglietta in A Theory of Capitalist Regulation:

The US Experience (1979) and Alain Lipietz in Mirages

and Miracles: The Crises of Global Fordism (1987),

examine the mode of accumulation in a given

society and the relationship of accumulation to

its mode of regulation. After a period characterized

by the mass production of goods by bluecollar

industrial workers, the mass conception of

goods, nation-state oligopolies, and the prominent

role of planning increasing globalization brought

about a state that was denoted by Lipietz in “Fordism

and Post-Fordism,” in W. Outhwaite and Tom

Bottomore, The Blackwell Dictionary of Twentieth-

Century Social Thought (1993), as post-Fordist. This

post-Fordist period has witnessed the disintegration

of vertical organization, a strategy of outsourcing,

an international division of labor, and

an assault on organized labor as a whole, and is

marked by flexibility in production, consumption,

and employment. When mass production declines,

the individual emerges as much more individualistic

and consumption-centered, and information

takes on an individualistic representation as

people find their own information and even

become information producers on their own.

There are, of course, other approaches to regulation.

One of them is the regulation-analytic

school, which focuses on influences on policymakers

and the values that come into play. In

this vein, Gerald Brock in Telecommunication Policy

for the Information Age: From Monopoly to Competition

(1998) examines what he calls a theory of decentralized

public decision making. According to

Brock, this model generates rational outcomes

consistent with public preferences.

By contrast, neo-Marxist Dan Schiller in Digital

Capitalism: Networking the Global Market System

(1999), as well as theorists across the political

spectrum, fears the convergence of control over

all information media in a few large multinational

corporations. The nature of public life,

the autonomy of consumers, and the quality of

education would be the big losers. Schiller holds

that cyberspace will be the handmaiden of this

unprecedented centralization of power, which

will advance consumerism on a transnational

scale, particularly among privileged groups in

various countries.

Other theorists see information as intrinsic to

political processes and even the nation-state as a

whole. Ju¨rgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation

of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a

Category of Bourgeois Society (1962 [trans. 1992])

builds a theory that information is the center of

the public sphere, which is the hub of information

qua social knowledge in a democratic society. The

public sphere is the source discourse, it functions

to construct knowledge, especially political knowledge,

out of the information input of its


Information – while perhaps always a fundamental

element of political processes, public

spheres, and the nation-state – is playing a larger

role in defining the political realm. Webster points

out the increasing frequency of information warfare

that uses intelligence and informational

technologies on the battlefield. This is not simply

a metaphor. Rather, information, as has always

been the case, is critical to military success.

The information-explosion approach to defining

the information society looks at the amount of

scholarly literature on this topic (Price, Little Science,

Big Science, 1965) and the ways that information

and knowledge play roles in everyday life.

Sometimes this approach joins qualitative understandings

to quantitative baselines. This was the

case with Derek deSolla Price, an early exponent

of this approach, who adopted the term “scientometrics”

to describe his efforts. As such, he was

information information


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