Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint by manuel castells

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Text published in Manuel Castells (editor)

The network society: a cross-cultural perspective,

Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004


A network society is a society whose social structure is made of networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies. By social structure I understand the organizational arrangements of humans in relationships of production, consumption, reproduction, experience, and power expressed in meaningful communication coded by culture. A network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point where the curve intersects itself. A network has no center, just nodes. Nodes may be of varying relevance for the network. Nodes increase their importance for the network by absorbing more relevant information, and processing it more efficiently. The relative importance of a node does not stem from its specific features but from its ability to contribute to the network´s goals. However, all nodes of a network are necessary for the network´s performance. When nodes become redundant or useless, networks tend to reconfigurate themselves, deleting some nodes, and adding new ones. Nodes only exist and function as components of networks. The network is the unit, not the node.

“Communication networks are the patterns of contact that are created by flows of messages among communicators through time and space” (Monge and Contractor, 2003: 39 ) So, networks process flows. Flows are streams of information between nodes circulating through the channels of connection between nodes. A network is defined by the program that assigns the network its goals and its rules of performance. This program is made of codes that include valuation of performance and criteria for success or failure. To alter the outcomes of the network a new program (a set of compatible codes) will have to be installed in the network – from outside the network. Networks cooperate or compete with each other. Cooperation is based on the ability to communicate between networks. This ability depends on the existence of codes of translation and inter-operability between the networks (protocols of communication), and on access to connection points (switches). Competition depends on the ability to outperform other networks by superior efficiency in performance or in cooperation capacity. Competition may also take a destructive form by disrupting the switchers of competing networks and/or interfering with their communication protocols. Networks work on a binary logic: inclusion/exclusion. Within the network, distance between nodes tends to zero, as networks follow the logic of small worlds´ properties: they are able to connect to the entire network and communicated networks from any node in the network, on the condition of sharing protocols of communication. Between nodes in the network and outside the network, distance is infinite, since there is no access unless the program of the network is changed. Thus, networks are self-reconfigurable, complex structures of communication that ensure at the same time the unity of the purpose and the flexibility of its execution, by the capacity to adapt to the operating environment.

Networks, however, are not specific to 21st century societies or, for that matter, to human organization. Networks constitute the fundamental pattern of life, of all kinds of life. As Fritjof Capra writes “the network is a pattern that is common to all life. Wherever we see life, we see networks” (2002: 9). In social life, social networks analysts have investigated, for a long time, the dynamic of social networks at the heart of social interaction and the production of meaning, leading to the formulation of a systematic theory of communication networks (Monge and Constructor, 2003). Furthermore, in terms of social structure, archeologists and historians of antiquity have forcefully reminded us that the historical record shows the pervasiveness and relevance of networks as the backbone of societies, thousands of years ago, in the most advanced ancient civilizations in several regions of the planet. Indeed, if we transfer the notion of globalization into the geography of the the ancient world, as determined by available transportation technologies, there was globalization of a sort in antiquity, as societies depended for their livelihood, resources, and power, on the connectivity of their main activities to networks transcending the limits of their locality (La Bianca, ed. 2004).

This observation of the actual historical record runs counter the predominant vision of the evolution of society, that has focused on a different type of organization: hierarchical bureaucracies based on the vertical integration of resources and subjects as the expression of the organized power of a social elite, legitimized by mythology and religion. This is to some extent a distorted vision, as historical and social analysis was, more often than not, built on ethnocentrism and apology rather than on the scholarly investigation of the complexity of a multicultural world. But this relative indifference of our historical representation to the importance of networks in the structure and dynamics of society may also be linked to the actual subordination of these networks to the logic of vertical organizations, whose power was inscripted in the institutions of society and distributed in one-directional flows of information and resources (Colas, 1992). My hypothesis for this historical superiority of vertical- hierarchical organizations over networks is that the networked form of social organization had material limits to prevail, limits that were fundamentally linked to available technology. Indeed, networks have their strength in their flexibility, adaptability, and self-reconfigurating capacity. Yet, beyond a certain threshold of size, complexity, and volume of exchange, they become less efficient than vertically organized, command and control structures, under the conditions of pre-electronic communication technology (Mokyr, 1990). Yes, wind-powered vessels could build sea-crossing, and even transoceanic networks of trade and conquest. And horse riding emissaries or fast running messengers could maintain communication from the center to the periphery of vast territorial empires. But the time lag of the feedback loop in the communication process was such that the logic of the system amounted to a one-way flow of transmission of information and instruction. Under such conditions, networks were an extension of power concentrated at the top of the vertical organizations that shaped the history of humankind: states, religious apparatuses, war lords, armies, bureaucracies, and their subordinates in charge of production, trade, and culture.

The ability of networks to introduce new actors and new contents in the process of social organization, with relative independence to the power centers, increased over time with technological change, and more precisely, with the evolution of communication technologies. This was particularly the case with the possibility of relying on a distributed energy network that characterized the advent of the industrial revolution: railways, ocean liners, and the telegraph constituted the first infrastructure for a quasi-global network with self-reconfigurating capacity. However, the industrial society (both in its capitalist and its statist versions) was predominantly structured around large scale, vertical production organizations and extremely hierarchical state apparatuses, in some instances evolving into totalitarian systems. This is to say that early, electrically based communication technologies, were not powerful enough to equip networks with autonomy in all its nodes, as this autonomy that would have required multidirectionality and a continuous flow of interactive information processing. But it also means that the availability of proper technology is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, for the transformation of the social structure. It was only under the conditions of a mature industrial society that autonomous projects of organizational networking could emerge. When they did, they could use the potential of micro-electronics based communication technologies.

Networks became the most efficient organizational forms as a result of three major features of networks that benefitted from the new technological environment: flexibility, scalability, and survivability. Flexibility: they can reconfigurate according to changing environments, keeping their goals while changing their components. They go around blocking points of communication channels to find new connections. Scalability: they can expand or shrink in size with little disruption. Survivability: because they have no center, and can operate in a wide range of configurations, they can resist attacks to their nodes and codes, because the codes of the network are contained in multiple nodes, that can reproduce the instructions and find new ways to perform. So, only the material ability to destroy the connecting points can eliminate the network.

At the core of this technological change that unleashed the power of networks, there was the transformation of information and communication technologies, based on the microelectronics revolution that took shape in the 1940s and 1950s. It constituted the foundation of a new technological paradigm, consolidated in the 1970s, mainly in the United States, and rapidly diffused around the world, ushering in what I have characterized, descriptively, as the Information Age.

William Mitchell, in an important, and well documented book (Mitchell, 2003) has retraced the evolving logic of information and communication technology throughout history as a process of expansion and augmentation of the human body and the human mind. A process that, in the early 21st century, is characterized by the explosion of portable machines that provide ubiquituos wireless communication and computing capacity. This enables social units (individuals or organizations) to interact anywhere, anytime, while relying on a support infrastructure that manages material resources in a distributed information power grid. With the advent of nanotechnology and the convergence between microelectronics and biological processes and materials, the boundaries between human life and machine life are blurred, so that networks extend their interaction from our inner self to the whole realm of human activity, transcending barriers of time and space. Neither Mitchell or myself indulge in science fiction scenarios as a substitute for analysis of the techno-social transformation process. But it is essential, precisely for the sake of analysis, to emphasize the role of technology in the process of social transformation, particularly when we consider the central technology of our time, communication technology, that relates to the heart of the specificity of the human species: conscious, meaningful communication (Capra, 1996, 2002).

It is because of available electronic information and communication technologies that the network society can deploy itself fully, transcending the historical limits of networks as forms of social organization and interaction. This approach is different from the conceptual framework that defines our societies as information or knowledge societies. To be blunt, I believe this is an empirical and theoretical error, as I will elaborate in the conclusion to this chapter. But let me advance the argument.

The reason, very simply, is that, as far as we can trust the historical record, all known societies are based on information and knowledge as the source of power, wealth, and meaning (Mokyr, 1990; Mazlish, 1993). Information has not much value per se without the knowledge to recombine it for a purpose. And knowledge is of course relative to each culture and society. So, the knowledge of metallurgy or the technology of sailing or the Roman Law were essential means of information and knowledge on which military power, administrative efficiency, control of resources, and ultimately wealth, and the rules for its distribution were based. So, if information and knowledge are the key factors of power and wealth in all societies, to conceptualize our society as such it is misleading, even if, for practical reasons of making communication easier, I yielded myself in my labels and titles to the fashion of the times, when characterizing our historical period as the Information Age. What we actually mean, and what I always meant, is that our society is characterized by the power embedded in information technology, at the heart of an entirely new technological paradigm, that I called informationalism. Yet, printing is also a most important information technology, and it has been around for quite a while, particularly in China. And we did not usually consider the post-printing societies as information societies . So, what is actually new, both technologically and socially, is a society built around microelectronics-based information technologies. To which I add biological technologies based on genetic engineering, as they also refer to the decoding and recoding of the information of the living matter. Furthermore, information technologies can be more properly labeled as communication technologies, since information that is not communicated ceases to be relevant. The early emphasis on information technology, semantically separated from communication, reflected in fact the logic of stand alone electronic devices and computers. This is an antic, at least since the deployment of the Arpanet, more than three decades ago. It is also a reflection of the division of the world of communication technology between computers, telecommunications, and the broadcast media. Again, a distinction that has a relative justification in the business and institutions that organize each domain, but is senseless in technological terms. Thus, what is specific to our world is the extension and augmentation of the body and mind of the human subjects in networks of interaction powered by microelectronics-based, software operated, communication technologies. These technologies are increasingly diffused throughout the entire realm of human activity by growing miniaturization. They are converging with new genetic engineering technologies, able to reprogram the communication networks of the living matter. It is on this basis that expands a new social structure as the foundation of our society, the network society.


Technology, understood as material culture, is a fundamental dimension of social structure and social change (Fischer, 1992: 1-32). Technology is usually defined as the use of scientific knowledge to set procedures for performance in a reproducible manner. It evolves in interaction with the other dimensions of society, but it has its own dynamics, linked to the conditions of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and application and diffusion in society at large. Technological systems evolve incrementally, but this evolution is punctuated by major discontinuities, as Stephen J. Gould convincingly argued for the history of life (Gould, 1980). These discontinuities are marked by technological revolutions that usher in a new technological paradigm. The notion of paradigm was proposed by Thomas Kuhn (1962) to explain the transformation of knowledge by scientific revolutions, and imported into the social and economic formations of technology by Christopher Freeman (1988) and Carlota Perez (1983). A paradigm is a conceptual pattern that sets the standards for performance. It integrates discoveries into a coherent system of relationships characterized by its synergy, that is by the added value of the system vis a vis its individual components. A technological paradigm organizes a series of technological discoveries around a nucleus, and a system of relationships that enhance the performance of each specific technology.

Informationalism is the technological paradigm that constitutes the material basis of early 21st century societies. Over the last quarter of the 20th century of the common era it replaced and subsumed industrialism as the dominant technological paradigm. Industrialism, associated with the Industrial Revolution, is a paradigm characterized by the systemic organization of technologies based on the capacity to generate and distribute energy by human-made machines without depending on the natural environment - albeit they use natural resources as an input for the generation of energy. Because energy is a primary resource for all activities, by transforming energy generation, and the ability to distribute energy to any location and to portable applications, humankind became able to increase its power over nature, taking charge of the conditions of its own existence (not necessarily a good thing, as the historical record of 20th century barbarian acts shows). Around this energy nucleus of the industrial revolution, clustered and converged technologies in various fields, from chemical engineering and metallurgy to transportation, telecommunications, and ultimately life sciences and their applications.

A similar structuration of scientific knowledge and technological innovation is taking place under the new paradigm of informationalism. To be sure, industrialism does not disappear. It is subsumed by industrialism. Informationalism presupposes industrialism, as energy, and its associated technologies, are still a fundamental component of all processes. Informationalism is a technological paradigm based on the augmentation of the human capacity of information processing and communication made possible by the revolutions in microelectronics, software, and genetic engineering. Computers and digital communications are the most direct expressions of this revolution. Indeed, microelectronics, software, computation, telecommunications, and digital communications at large, are all components of one same and integrated system. Thus, in strict terms, the paradigm should be called “electronic informational-communicationalism”. Reasons of clarity and economy advise however, to keep the concept of informationalism, as it is already widely employed, and resonates in close parallel to industrialism. Because information and communication are the most fundamental dimensions of human activity and organization, a revolutionary change in the material conditions of their performance affects the entire realm of human activity.

However, what is specific to this new system of information and communication technologies that sets them apart from the historical experience? I propose that what specifies this paradigm in relationship to previous historical developments of information and communication technologies (such as printing, the telegraph or the non-digital telephone) are, in essence, three major, distinctive features of the technologies that are at the heart of the system

  1. 1) Their self-expanding processing and communicating capacity in terms of volume, complexity, and speed.

  2. 2) Their recombining ability on the basis of digitization and recurrent communication

  3. 3) Their distributing flexibility through interactive, digitized networking.

Let me elaborate on these features. I will do it separetely for the two fundamental, and originally distinct fields, digital electronics, and genetic engineering, before considering their interaction. The digital electronics technologies allow for a historically unprecedented increase in the capacity to process information, not only in the volume of information, but in the complexity of the operations involved, and in the speed of processing, including the speed of communication. However, how much is “much more” compared with previous information processing technologies? How do we know that there is a revolution characterized by a giant leap forward in processing capacity?

A first element of answer to this fundamental question is empirical. The history of electronics information and communication technologes in the last three decades shows an exponential increase in processing power, coupled with an equally dramatic increase in the cost per operation, precisely the mark of a technological revolution, as documented by Paul David for the industrial revolution (1989). Whatever measures we take in terms of integration of circuitry in microelectronics, of speed and volume in telecommunications, in computing power measured from megabytes to terabytes, and in management of complex operations per lines of software code, show an unprecedented pace of technological change in the information and communication field.

But I advance the hypothesis that there is something else, not only quantitative but qualitative: the capacity of these technologies to self-expand their processing power because of their recurrent, communicative ability. This is because of the continuous feedback effect on technological innovation produced by the knowledge generated with the help of these technologies. In other words: these technologies hold emergent properties, that is the ability to derive new, unforeseen processes of innovation by their endless reconfiguration (Johnson, 2001). This is a risky hypothesis because processing power may find physical limits for further integration of microchips, and the complexity of networked computation may overwhelm the programming power of software developers under the conditions of proprietary software. However, every doomsday prediction in the limits of integration has been belied by manufacturing research. On-going research on biological materials, and other new materials, may yield new possibilities, including chemically processed DNA-chips. Open source software is overcoming the barriers of technological oligopoly and unleashing waves of new applications and development breakthroughs, in an increasing virtuous circle enacted by thousands of free programmers networked around the world. And, most significantly, the networking capacity of distributed processing power and software development escapes the limits of stand-alone machines, and creates a global, digitized system of human-machine interaction, always ready to go. Thus, a formal version of the hypothesis presented above is the following: in the first three decades of the Information and Communication Technology revolution we have observed a self-generated, expansive capacity of new technologies to process information; current limits of integration, programming, and networking capacity are likely to be superseded by new waves of innovation in the making; and when and if the limits of processing power of these technologies will be reached, a new technological paradigm will emerge – under forms and with technologies that we cannot imagine today, except in science fiction scenarios, or in the innovation dreams of the usual suspects.

Secondly, digital technologies are also characterized by their ability to recombine information on the basis of recurrent, interactive communication. This is what I call the Hypertext, in the tradition of Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee. One of the key contributions of the Internet is its potential ability to link up everything digital from everywhere and to recombine it. Indeed, the original design of the world wide web by Berners-Lee had two functions, as a browser and as an editor (Berners-Lee, 1999). The commercial and bureaucratic practice of the world wide web has largely reduced its use, for most people, to be a browser and information provider, connected to an email system. Yet, from shared art creation to the political agora of the anti-globalization movement , and to joint engineering of networked corporate labs, the Internet is quickly becoming a medium of interactive communication beyond the cute, but scarcely relevant practice of chat rooms (increasingly made obsolete by SMSs and other wireless, instant communication systems). The added value of the Internet over other communication media is its capacity to recombine in chosen time information products and information processes to generate a new output, that is immediately processed in the net, in an endless process of production of information, communication, and feedback in real time or chosen time (Castells, 2001). This is crucial because recombination is the source of innovation, and innovation is at the roots of economic productivity, cultural creativity, and political power making. Indeed, while the generation of new knowledge always required the application of theory to recombined information, the ability to experiment in real time with the results of the recombination, coming from a multiplicity of sources, considerably extends the realm of knowledge generation. It also allows increasing connections between different fields of knowledge and their applications – precisely the source of knowledge innovation in Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions.

The third feature of new information and communication technologies is their flexibility, that allows the distribution of processing power in various contexts and applications, such as business firms, military units, the media, public services (such as health or distant education), political activity, and personal interaction. Software developments, such as Java and Jini languages, powered the distributive networks. And wireless communications made possible the multiplication of points of communication almost at the level of each individual – except of course for the majority of the population of the planet on the other side of the digital divide, a major social issue to which I will come back in the analysis of the network society. So, it is not only a matter of density of the communication network, but of its flexibility, and of its ability to be integrated in all the sites and contexts of the human environment. As Mitchell writes “wireless connections and portable access devices create continuous fields of presence that may extend throughout buildings, outdoors, and into public space as well as private. This has profound implications for the locations and spatial distributions of all human activities that depend, in some way, upon access to information” (Mitchell, 2002: 144). It is this spatial transformation that I have tried to capture under the concept of the space of flows, that interacts with the traditional space of places, so that the new spatial structure associated with informationalism, is not placeless, but is made of networks connecting places by information and communication flows, as I will elaborate below.

Under the informational paradigm, the capacity of any communicating subject to act on the communication network enables people and organizations with the possibility to reconfigurate the network, according to their needs, desires, and projects. Yet (and this is fundamental) the renconfigurative capacity for each one depends on the pattern of power present in the configuration of the network.

I will elaborate more succintly on the second component of the Information and Communication Technology revolution: genetic engineering. I consider its potential consequences as more far reaching than those already induced by the digital revolution in the structure and dynamics of society. This is because it affects the programs of life, and therefore the fundaments of our existence. However, its effects have been less diffused throughout the entire social structure because of the nature of its implications has led to institutional resistance to their applications. And, also, because its true breakthroughs required further advancements of the digital revolution, whose technologies are of essence for the qualitative development of biological research (as it was shown by the decisive role of massive, parallel computing in the elaboration of the Human Genome map). While genetic engineering is often considered as an independent process from the Information Technology revolution, it is not. First, because, from an analytical perspective, these technologies are obviously information technologies, focused on the decoding and actual reprogramming of the DNA, the code of the living matter. And since biologists know that cells do not work in isolation, the real issue is to understand their networks of communication. Thus genetic engineering is both an information and communication technology, very much as digital electronics.

Secondly, there is a direct, methodological connection between the two revolutions. Computer models, and computing power, are the tools of trade in genetic engineering nowadays, so that microbiologists, bio-engineers, electrical engineers, chemical engineers, and computer scientists are all essential components of the daring teams attempting to unearth the secrets of life – and in some cases to play God. On the other hand, bio-chips, and DNA-based chemically operated computing processes are the foundations of a new form of digital processing and molecular electronics, opening the way to the diffusion of nanotechnology, and, eventually, to the spread of nanobots, in a whole range of applications, including the repairs and maintenance of the human body. Thirdly, there is a theoretical convergence between the two technological fields, around the analytical paradigm based on networking, complexity, self-organization, and emergent properties, as illustrated some time ago, by the work of visionary teams of researchers at the Santa Fe Institute, and as theorized by Fritjof Capra.

Genetic engineering technologies are also characterized by their self-expanding processing capacity; by their recombining ability through communication networks; and by the flexibility of their distributive power. To be more specific, the existence of the Human Genome Map, and, increasingly, of genetic maps of specific parts of our body, as well as of a number of species and subspecies, raises the possibility of cumulative knowledge in the field of genetic engineering, leading to the understanding of processes that were beyond the realm of observation. In other words: better targeted, new, meaningful experiments become possible as knowledge progresses and fills the empty spaces of the model.

Secondly, the recombining ability of genetic engineering technologies is critical, as it is in the uses of digital communication and information processing. This is because the first generation of genetic engineering applications largely failed because cells were manipulated as isolated entities, without a full understanding of their context, and of their place in the networks of life.

Research has shown that cells are defined in their function by their relationship to others. Their DNA structure is meaningless outside the context of their specific interaction. So, interacting networks of cells, communicating by their codes, rather than isolated sets of instructions, are the object of genetic recombination strategies. Emergent properties are associated with networks of genes, and are identified by simulation models, only later validated by clinical experiments.

Finally, the promise of genetic engineering is precisely its ability to reprogram different codes and their protocols of communication in different areas of different bodies (or systems) of different species. Transgenic research and self-regenerative processes in living organisms are the frontier of genetic engineering. Genetic drugs, that will some times be delivered by nanotechnology produced devices, are intended to induce in the body capabilities of self-programming by living organisms: this is the ultimate expression of distributed information processing power by communication networks. It is on the foundations of informationalism that gradually emerged the network society as a new form of social organization of human activity in the last lap of the 20th century. Without the capacity provided by this new technological paradigm, the network society would not be able to operate, as the industrial society could only fully expand without the use of electricity. But the network society was not the consequence of the technological revolution. Rather, it was the serendipituous coincidence, in a particular time and space, of economic, social, political, and cultural factors that led to emergence of new forms of social organization that, when they found the historical chance of harnessing the power of informationalism, prevailed and expanded. So, I now turn, succinctly, to the genesis of the network society.


Every new social structure has its own genesis, dependent on spatio-temporal contexts. Naturally, there is a relationship between the historical process of production of a given social structure, and its characteristics. However, it is analytically possible to analyze this social structure as a given, without considering in detail the processes that led to its upbringing. In fact, this is the option taken in this chapter, that is focused on the theory of the network society rather than on its history. Nonetheless, I will summarize some of the analysis of the genesis of the network society, presented in my earlier writings (Castells, 1996, 2000a, 2000b) with one specific purpose: to dispel the notion that either technology or social evolution led inevitably to the network society, as the later incarnation of modernity, in the form of postmodernity, or as information/knowledge society as the natural outcome of a long evolution of the human species. We have ample evidence that there is no predetermined sense of history, and that every time and every power, claims ethnocentrically and historicentrically its right to be the supreme stage of human evolution. What we observe throughout history is that different forms of society came and went by accident, internal self-destruction, serendipituous creation, or, more often, as the outcome of largely undetermined social struggles. True, there has been a long term trend towards technological development that has increased the mental power of humankind over its environment. But the jury is still out to judge the outcome of such process measured in terms of progress, unless we consider minor issues the highly rational process of mass murder that led to the holocaust, the management of large scale incarceration that created gulag out of the hopes of workers’ liberation, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to finish off an already vanquished nation, or the spread of AIDS in Africa while pharmaceutical corporate labs and their parent governments were discussing the payment of their intellectual property rights. And if we remain in the analytical ground, nothing predetermined the trajectory taken by the information and communication technology revolution. Personal computers were not in the mind of governments and corporations at the onset of the revolution: people did it. And the crucial technology of the network society, the Internet, would have never come to be a global network of free communication if ATT had accepted in 1970 the offer of the Defense Department to give it free to that corporation; or if Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn would have not diffused over the net the source code of the IP/TCP protocols on which the Internet is still based. Historical evolution is an open ended, conflictive process, enacted by subjects and actors that try to make society according to their interests and values, or more often, produce social forms of organization by resisting the domination of those who identify social life with their personal appetites enforced through violence.

So, how the network society came to be? At its source there was the accidental coincidence, in the 1970s, of three independent processes, whose interaction constituted a new technological paradigm, informationalism, and a new social structure, the network society, inseparably intertwined. These three processes were: the crisis and restructuring of industrialism and its two associated modes of production, capitalism and statism; the freedom-oriented, cultural social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s; the revolution in information and communication technologies, as described above. Given the analytical purpose of this chapter I will not enter in the detail of the analysis of these three complex historical processes, taking the liberty to refer the reader to earlier writings on the matter (Castells, 1980; Castells, 1996 and 2000; Castells, 1997 and 2003; Castells, 2001; Castells and Kiselyova, 2003). Yet, I will summarize the essence of the analysis as it relates to the understanding of the formation of the network society.

First, the industrial model of development hit the wall of its limits to increase productivity growth as the organizations, values, and policies of the industrial society could not manage the transition to knowledge-based productivity growth by using the potential unleashed by information and communication technologies. However, a crisis of the mode of development is translated specifically in the crisis of the model of accumulation that is dominant in each time and space. In the case of capitalism, this meant the calling into question of the Keynesian model that had characterized the period of high productivity increase and steady economic growth after World War II. That model was based on the ability to increase both profits and social redistribution through government guidance and funding, largely in a controlled, domestic policy environment. Productivity growth and market expansion was based on a social contract that ensured social stability, improving living conditions, and mass consumption of mass produced goods and services. Declining productivity resulted in declining surplus, thus in declining profits, and declining private investment. The model was sustained by increasing public spending, and private endebtment. Public borrowing and increased money supply led to rampant inflation. Under the conditions of fiscal stress and inflationary pressures, the sudden rise of oil prices in 1973-75 by OPEC and its associated multinational corporations, both increased inflation and provided the opportunity to declare a crisis, and the ensuing search for corrective policies. The worldwide crisis of the 1970s prompted a debate, in the United States as in the rest of the world on the future of capitalism. Corporations responded by shedding labor, putting pressure on wages, benefits, and job security, globalizing production and markets, stepping up R&D, investing in technology, and finding more flexible, efficient forms of management.

But the decisive shift to a different model of accumulation came from governments, albeit in good tune with corporations. It can be related to the twin victories of Thatcher in the UK in 1979 and Reagan in the USA in 1980. They were both political conservatives. They came to government with a mission: to recapitalize capitalism, thus ushering in the era of economic liberal policies that by successive waves took over the world, in different political-ideological versions, over the next two decades. Crushing organized labor politically, cutting taxes for the rich and the corporations, and engaging in widespread deregulation and liberalization of markets both nationally and internationally were crucial strategic initiatives that reversed the Keynesian policies that had dominated capitalism in the previous 25 years. Balancing the budget and reducing government intervention was part of the ideology but not of the practice. Indeed, Reagan presided over the largest increase in budget deficit in peace time, because of the combination of tax cuts with large military expenditures. He practiced what we called at that time “military Keynesianism”, although the term is provocative but incorrect, because Keynesianism was not just about inducing outlets, but about integrating people in the consumption process (Carnoy and Castells, 1984). What was important was that, directly through deregulation and privatization policies, and indirectly by the signals sent from government to companies, the rules of the game changed, first in the US, second in the UK, and then in the rest of the world. Market liberalization and the disengagement of government from social spending and income redistribution became a generalized practice, either by ideological choice or by the need to adapt to the rules of the world market, imposed by the most powerful players, followed by global flows of investment, and enforced when necessary the IMF. A new orthodoxy was established throughout the world. We call this process globalization. It is, to be sure, unfettered capitalist globalization, spearheaded by the liberalization of financial markets (the Big Bang of the City of London in October 1987), and enshrined in asymmetrical trade globalization represented by the new managing authority, the World Trade Organization. Under the new conditions, global capitalism recovered its dynamism, and increased profits, investment, and economic growth, at least in its core countries and in the networks that connected areas of prosperity around the world, in the midst of a sea of poverty and marginalization.

I want to emphasize that this was not a historical necessity, nor the only policy that could have restructured capitalism, and ensured its dynamic transition from industrial capitalism to informational capitalism. Indeed, in my book on the economic crisis in America (Castells, 1980), I stressed the coherence of the strategy proposed by Reagan, but I also analyzed the possibilities offered by other political programs in America, for instance the platform represented by Senator Edward Kennedy, a potential president until his Chappaquidik affair, based on a rekindling of government-led policy adapted to the new economic and social conditions. In fact, if one of the key elements of the underlying structural crisis in Western capitalism, was the necessity to adapt to a knowledge-based economy, it seemed logical that a strategy of deepening and reforming the welfare state, to provide the human capital necessary for this economy, in terms of education, health, and modernization of the public sector, would have been a better bet in the long term. Yet, the urgency of restoring profitability for business, and the outcome of the political process, led to the victory of Reaganomics, in Europe to Thatcherism, and in developing countries to the model elaborated by the Chicago boys, disciples of Milton Friedman, to be imposed by dictatorships and IMF’s budgetary discipline. In other words, the crisis of industrialism was also the crisis of the specific model of capitalism accumulation of the mature stage of industrialism, and it was this latter crisis that was addressed in priority according to the interests and values of the political actors that seized power in the main economies. Political muscle of the US in the global economy, and ideological hegemony, linked to the bankrupcy of statism and to the shortsighted pragmatism of social-democracy, did the rest.

This is to say that the institutional conditions for globalization and business flexibility, were concomitant with the weakening of labor’s power position and the retrenchment of the welfare state. However, they were not the necessary outcome of the crisis of industrialism and of Keynesian capitalism, but one of the options to restructure the system. It just happened to be the winning option. Its victory, on a global scale, created the conditions for the structural transformations that induced not only a new model of capitalism, but also contributed to the emergency of a new social structure.

The shape of this transformation was also influenced by the collapse of statism, as a result of the failure of the restructuring policies that tried to address its economic and technological crisis. Indeed, precisely in the 1970s, the Soviet economy reached the point of quasi-stagnation, reversing decades of fast economic growth, and its technological development lost pace in relationship with the west, particularly in the critical area of information and communication technologies. Our study on the matter, with Emma Kiselyova (2003), has documented the direct relationship between the features of Soviet statism, based on control of information and of the capture of technology in the military complex, and the economic and technological crisis of the Soviet Union. Both crises decisively undermined Soviet military power, and prompted the need for reform, opening the way to Gorbachev’s perestroika. The depth of the crisis was such that Gorbachev had to go out of the channels of the party to call civil society in support to his perestroika. The ensuing process spiraled out of control and led to the unexpected demise of the Soviet empire, in one of the most extraordinary course of events in history. Without the backbone provided by the Soviet Union, most statist countries in the third world gravitated towards Western influence and accepted the formal and informal leadership of the IMF and its liberal economic policies, opening the way for the fast spread of capitalist globalization. Chinese Communists undertook their own reform, in the hope to keep state power while joining global capitalism. The experiment is still under way, but whatever its outcome is, it has sharply departed from the logic of statism, and has substantially expanded the space of global capitalism. In the early 21s century, while global capitalism was far of being a stable system, it had become the only game in the planet, albeit increasingly challenged by activist minorities, and burdened with the marginalization of the majority of humankind.

There was a second social trend, quite independent from the crisis of industrialism, Keynesian capitalism, and Soviet statism: the alternatives projects and values emerging from the cultural social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. These movements (whose first symbolic manifestations can be traced back to the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964 and to the May Movement in Paris in 1968), were, fundamentally, freedom-oriented. They were the affirmation of a culture of personal freedom and social autonomy, both vis a vis capitalism and statism, challenging the conservative establishment, as well as the traditional left. They were profoundly political in their implications, but they were not oriented towards the state or preoccupied with the seizing of state power. They did have various formats and ideologies, in interaction with the societies were they took place: they connected with the civil rights movement in the United States; they called upon to the working class, and reignited the old tradition of the street barricades in France; they became “imagined proletarians” in Italy (mainly under the mantra of a Maoist ideology that would have prompted Mao to shoot them); they opposed dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and throughout Latin America; and they combined with the critique of the industrial work ethic and with the conservatism of society in Germany, the Netherlands or Japan. In all cases they opposed the war, at the time symbolized by the Vietnam war. But their influence was mainly felt in the assertion of the principle of autonomy of the individual, in direct challenge to the cultural foundations of societies, starting with the family, the church, the state, and the corporate world. They of course failed politically, because accessing government was never their goal. Most of their young militants became corporate managers, respected politicians, publishers, academics, new philosophers, consultants, and web designers. Yet, their ideas permeated the entire society in the developed, capitalist world, and reached to the cultural elites in most of the world. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the 1960s movements was their productive fading away in the forms of the more articulate movements that emerged from their demise in the 1970s. Such was the case of feminism. Of course, women struggles have a long history, way before the Commune of Paris, the American suffragists, the 1915 Glasgow general strike or the followings of Alexandra Kollontai.They go back to the origins of humankind, and they left their mark in the unofficial history of resistance to patriarchal oppression, as in the many women tortured and burned as witches. But the women’s movement that spread throughout most of the world since the 1970s, amounted to a mass insurrection of women against their submissive condition, actually succeeding in the true revolution: changing the minds of women about themselves and about their role in family and in society. The movement originated, by and large, as a reaction of militant women in the 1960s movements against the sexism they experienced from their male comrades, and led to the formation of autonomous feminist movements in the 1970s, and then to pervasive feminist interventions in all realms of society thereafter.

A similar story can be told about the environmental movement: the first Earth Day mobilization in the United States was in May 1970, as an outcome of the debates that had taken place in the social movements of the 1960s after the exhaustion of their explicit political agenda, and their degeneration in a variety of political sects. To save the earth, and my neighborhood by the way, seemed like a good idea, appealing to everybody and connecting with the vitalist, anti-consumption ethics that characterized the young idealists that were participants in the movement. It turned out to be far more subversive for the values and interests of industrialism than the obsolete ideologies of the left. It went on, in the US, in Canada, in Germany, in UK, in Northern and Western Europe, and, later on, in most of the world, to take on the self-destructive logic of global capitalist development. It eventually connected with the critique of poverty and exploitative economic growth in the world at large, laying the ground for what would become two decades later the anti-globalization movement.

For the analytical purpose of this chapter, what must be retained is that these social movements were cultural, that is oriented towards a transformation of the values of society. And the key values that were put forwards, and ultimately created a new culture around the world, were three: the value of freedom and individual autonomy vis a vis the institutions of society and the power of corporations; the value of cultural diversity and the affirmation of the rights of minorities, ultimately expressed in terms of human rights; and the value of ecological solidarity, that is the reunification of the interest of the human species as a common good, in opposition to the industrial values of material growth and consumption at all costs.

From the combination of these cultural threads came the challenge to patriarchalism, the challenge to productivism, the challenge to cultural uniformity, and ultimately the challenge to state power and to militarism, as expressed in the peace movement.

Thus, while the movements of the 1960s, and the diverse cultural-political expressions they induced in the 1970s, took place in the ideological and political vacuum related to the crisis of industrialism and of Keynesian capitalism, they were not the response to the crisis, nor were they the harbingers of the new policies and strategies that eventually restarted the engines of capitalism in its new incarnation. However, the values, ideas, and projects that they invented or rediscovered, were an essential material for the reconstitution of society, as I will argue below.

There was a third component of the process of multidimensional transformation, engaged in the 1970s. This was the revolution in information and communication technologies that led to the constitution of informationalism as a new technological paradigm, as presented earlier in this chapter. I will add three remarks concerning the relationship between this technological revolution and the processes of capitalism restructuring and cultural social movements that, together, constitute the crucible from where originated the network society.

The first refers to the independence of the origins of this technological revolution vis a vis the other two processes. The invention of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the digital switch, the Internet, or the DNA recombinant were not responses to business demands or to the needs of capitalism. Military funding and sponsorship was essential, as technological superiority was seen, appropriately, as the mean to win the Cold War without actual fighting between the superpowers. But even this dependence on the military was generic to the whole process of technological innovation, not specific to some of the critical technologies that were developed. Miniturization and advanced telecommunications were essential for a missile-based warfare, and they were deliberately targeted by companies under defense contracts. But computer networking, and therefore the Internet, was a byproduct of computer scientists’ experimentation for their own scientific curiosity, as the Internet did not have military applications until everybody started to use it in the 1990s. The personal computer was a serendipituous invention of the computer counter-culture, and the best software development was based on open source, thus produced outside the corporate world, in the universities, and in free-lance ventures.

The whys and hows of this technological revolution have been chronicled numerous times, and their presentation is beyond the scope of this chapter. But it was an autonomous process of research, innovation, and application, that developed not as a response to the crisis of industrial capitalism but as the work of a community of practice that emerged in the unlikely crossroads of military-sponsored big science, and university-based counter-cultural networks (Castells, 2001).

The second remark is that, while the three processes were independent in their origin, they interacted extensively in their development. Thus, the culture of personal freedom that originated from the university-based social movements inhabited the minds of the innovators that designed the actual shape of the technology revolution. One had to think of a personal computer, in direct contradiction to the programmed trajectory of the corporate industry. One had to challenge the tradition of proprietary invention, by asserting the right to diffuse at no cost the protocols at the source of the Internet or the software programs that constituted the bulk of applications of the new computing world. One had to rely on the university tradition of sharing discovery and communicating with peers, in the hope of seeing the invention improved by the collective work of the network, in sharp contrast with the world of corporations and government bureaucracies that had made secrecy and intellectual property rights the source of their power and wealth. One had to be permeated with the ideals and values of the cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s, oriented towards free expression, personal autonomy, and challenge to the establishment, in order to imagine the set of inventions that constituted the information technology revolution. Microsoft was, of course, the odd duck in the pond, and this is still reflected in the animosity that still arises among the cutting edge innovators of the information age. So, while most of the process of technological innovation, and informationalism, originated independently from the corporate world (save the invention of the transistor, that was in fact rapidly diffused in the public domain by Bell Labs), the shape and content of the technology was culturally influenced by the social movements of the time. Not that the inventors were social activists (they were not, they were too busy inventing), but they breathed the same air of individual freedom and personal autonomy that was sustaining the movement, and was sustained by the movement (Levy, 1984, 2001)

On the other hand, when business engaged in its own restructuring process, it took advantage of the extraordinary range of technologies that were available from the new revolution, thus stepping up the process of technological change, and hugely expanding the range of its applications. Thus, the decision to go global in a big way, while being allowed by government policies of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization, would not have been possible without computer networking, telecommunications, and information technology-based transportation systems. The network enterprise became the most productive and efficient form of doing business, replacing the fordist organization of industrialism (see below). If it is true that internal decentralization of companies and networks of firms started earlier, based on faxes, telephones, and electronic exchange systems, the full networking of companies, the digitalization of manufacturing, the networked computerization of services and office work, could only take place, from the 1980s onwards, on the basis of the new information and communication technologies.

In sum, the culture of freedom was decisive to induce network technologies that, in turn, were the essential infrastructure for business to operate its restructuring in terms of globalization, decentralization, and networking. Only them the knowledge-based economy could function at is full potential because data, minds, bodies, and material production could be related globally and locally, in real time, in a continuous interactive network.

From the restructuring of business emerged the global, networked economy. From its success, and the simultaneous demise of statism, a new model of informational capitalism was constituted. From the opposition to its social, cultural, and political consequences emerged new forms of social movement. From the globalization and networking of both business and social movements, resulted the crisis of the nation-state of the industrial era. In sum, from the interaction between three originally independent processes (the crisis of industrialism, the rise of freedom-oriented social movements, and the revolution in information and communication technologies) emerged a new form of social organization, the network society.


A Global Society

Digital networks are global, as they know no boundaries in their capacity to reconfigurate themselves. So, a social structure whose infrastructure is based on digital networks is by definition global. Thus, the network society is a global society. However, this does not mean that people everywhere are included in these networks. In fact, for the time being, most are not. But everybody is affected by the processes that take place in the global networks of this dominant social structure. This is because, the core activities that shape and control human life in every corner of the planet, are organized in these global networks: financial markets; transnational production, management, and distribution of goods and services; highly skilled labor; science and technology; communication media, culture, art, sports; international institutions managing the global economy and inter-governmental relations; religion; the criminal economy; and the transnational NGOs that assert the rights and values of a new, global civil society (Held et alter, 1999; Castells, 1998/2000b; Volkmer, 1999; Stiglitz, 2002; Juris, 2004).

However, the network society diffuses selectively throughout the planet, working on the pre-existing sites, organizations, and institutions which still make most of the material environment of people´s lives. The social structure is global, but most of human experience is local, both in territorial and cultural terms (Borja and Castells, 1997). Specific societies, as defined by the current boundaries of nation-states, or by the cultural boundaries of their historical identities, are deeply fragmented by the double logic of inclusion and exclusion in the global networks that structure production, consumption, communication, and power. I propose the hypothesis that this fragmentation is not simply the expression of the time lag required by the gradual incorporation of previous social forms into the new dominant logic. It is in fact a structural feature of the network society. This is because the reconfigurative capacity inscripted in the process of networking allows the programs governing every network to search for valuable additions everywhere and to incorporate them, while bypassing and excluding those territories, activities, and people that have no or little value for the performance of the tasks assigned to the network. Indeed, as Geoff Mulgan observed “networks are created not just to communicate, but also to gain position, to outcommunicate” (1991: 21). The network society works on the basis of a binary logic of inclusion/exclusion, whose boundaries change over time, both with the changes in the networks´programs and with the conditions of performance of these programs.

It also depends on the ability of social actors, in various contexts, to act on these programs, modifying them in the sense of their interests. The global network society is a dynamic structure, it is highly malleable to social forces, to culture, to politics, to economic strategies. But what remains in all instances is its dominance over activities and people who are external to the networks. In this sense, the global overwhelms the local. Unless the local becomes a node in alternative global networks, as it is the case in the incorrectly called anti-globalization movement, that is a global movement for global justice in the view of its actors.

Thus, the imperfect globalization of the network society is in fact a highly significant feature of its social structure. The coexistence of the network society, as a global structure, with industrial, rural, communal or survival societies, characterizes the reality of all countries, albeit with different shares of population and territory on both sides of the divide, depending on the relevance of each segment for the dominant logic of each network. This is to say that various networks will have different geometries and geographies of inclusion and exclusion: the map of the global criminal economy is not the same than the map resulting from the international location patterns of the high technology industry. Although they both have points of connection: as drug lords depend on computers and the Internet, and quite a few Silicon Valley engineers invent with the help of cocaine.

Thus, in theoretical terms, the network society must be analyzed, first, as a global architecture of self-reconfigurating networks constantly programmed and reprogrammed by the powers that be in each dimension; second, as the result of the interaction between the various geometries and geographies of the networks that include the core activities, that is the activities shaping life and work in society; and third, as the result of a second order interaction between these dominant networks, and the geometry and geography of disconnection of social forms left outside the global networking logic.

Two theoretical remarks are necessary to complete this analysis. On the one hand, structures do not live by themselves, they always express, in a contradictory and conflictive pattern, the interests, values, and projects of the actors who produce the structure while being conditioned by it. On the other hand, the inclusion/exclusion in the network society cannot be assimilated to the so-called digital divide, as the use of the Internet, and the connection to telecommunication networks does not guaranty the actual incorporation into the dominant networks or counter-domination networks that shape the society. Yet, the exclusion from the operative infrastructure of the network society is a good indicator of deeper structural subordination and irrelevance.

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