The theory of society

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Manuel Castells and the network society

Manuel Castells was a Spanish sociologist, born in 1942, and professor at the universities of Paris. His initial thinking had a Marxist basis, but he gradually became a more pragmatic (versatile) sociologist in his theses. In addition, he studied the role of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs, henceforth) in society. In his thesis, the author does not address the knowledge or information society, but builds an analogy around the network society. For him, a network by itself is an old form of communication, but the new element that supports his thesis is that this network is now articulated with new factors such as technological networks, based on information technology and telecommunications. Faced with this panorama, the author focused on thinking about how these issues are produced, distributed and consumed by people.

For Castells (1999), ICTs interfere in the structure of society, that is, in the core of society that would be mediated by ICTs, a network society, articulated to a new model of capitalism, called informational capitalism. This system goes beyond the industrial society that permeated the last two centuries and enters a new era of relationships and correlations in the current society, called the Network Society. From this new structuring of capitalism, for Castells (1999), this system disseminates, accumulates and obtains profitability from this global production.

But, after all, what is a network? It is a set of interconnected nodes. For the author, “what a node is depends on the type of concrete networks […]. They are stock exchange markets and their centers of advanced auxiliary services in the network of global financial flows. They are national councils of ministers and European commissioners from the political network that governs the European Union. There are coca and poppy fields, clandestine laboratories, secret airstrips, street gangs and financial institutions for money laundering in the drug trafficking network that invades economies, societies and states around the world. They are television systems, entertainment studios, computer graphics facilities, news coverage teams and mobile equipment generating, transmitting and receiving signals in the global network of new media at the heart of cultural expression and public opinion in the information age”. (CASTELLS, 1999, p. 498).

So the end of the twentieth century marks one of those rare gaps in history. According to Castells (1999), an interval that substitutes our 'material culture' for the new paradigm that is organized around information technology. In this sense, the author adopts the concept of technology understood as the use of scientific knowledge to specify ways of doing things in a reproducible way. They are technologies to act on information, not just information to act on technology, as occurred in previous revolutions (CASTELLS, 1999).

For the author, the core of the transformation in which people are living today refers to information, processing and communication technologies. This new organization of society shapes a new paradigm of informational capitalism. The sociologist claims that the discourses on the revolution reflect the concept of “penetrability”, that is, the penetration of a certain idea or paradigm in all domains of human activity.

This new global order is not characterized by the centrality of knowledge and information, but by the application of this knowledge and means of processing, communicating information, in a cumulative feedback loop between innovation and its use. In other words, all processes of individual and collective lives are shaped by the new technological environment. In the words of the author, “the new information technologies are not simply tools to be applied, but processes to be developed” (CASTELLS, 1999, p. 108).

For the theorist, the technology revolution has expanded across the planet connecting a world through information technology. In this logic, society is connected and intertwined in the most diverse ways in the new cycle of capitalism.

Another characteristic is related to the logic of networks. The network morphology seems to be well adapted to the increasing complexity of interaction and to the unpredictable models of development derived from the creative power of this interaction (CASTELLS, 1999). The network can now be implemented in all types of organizations and structures, which was not the case in previous periods. In this new form of organization, power is redistributed: each node in the network becomes a center of power, albeit diffuse.

For Castells (1999), “power is no longer concentrated in institutions (the State), in organizations (capitalist companies) or in symbolic control mechanisms (media companies, churches). On the contrary, it spreads in global networks of wealth, power, information and images, which circulate and are transmuted in a system of variable geometry and dematerialized geography. However, the power does not disappear. Power still governs society; it still shapes and dominates us [...] The new form of power resides in the information codes and images of representation around which societies organize their institutions and people build their lives and decide their behavior. That power lies in the minds of people.” (CASTELLS, 1999, p. 505-506).

This connectivity of society makes the dynamics of human relationships flexible, permeating the connections of the unstructured. According to the author, the unstructured is the driving force of innovation in human activity. When networks merge, growth is exponential and of a magnitude that will intertwine webs of meaning, forging new links and codifications in the network society. ICTs have a capacity for fluidity and reconfiguration, a decisive aspect in a society permeated by volatile changes. In this way, networks are created not only to gain positions, but to strengthen the means of permanence in the “game” of a globalized and networked society.

According to Castells (1999), this new economy that emerged in the XNUMXth century can be called informational, global and networked. The author explains: “It is informational because the productivity and competitiveness of units of agents in this economy (be they companies, nations or regions) basically depend on their ability to efficiently generate, process and apply knowledge-based information. […] AND overall because the main productive activities, consumption and circulation, as well as their components (capital, work, raw materials, administration, information and technology and markets) are organized on a global scale, directly or through a network of connections between economic agents. […]. It is networked because, in the new historical conditions, productivity is generated, and competition takes place in a global network of interaction between business networks. And this new economy emerged because the information technology revolution provided the indispensable material basis for its creation”. (CASTELLS, 1999, p. 119).

However, information has a power of exchange and command in the virtual or physical market, which, in this respect, changes the basis of the economic paradigm that coordinated society before the 1970s. In this regard, information has a much greater market value than economic power. This paradigm shift will sustain new paradoxes of the network society.

The technological paradigm has changed the dynamics of the industrial economy, forging a global economy and creating a new wave of competition among economic agents themselves. Castells (1999) states that the process of regionalization of the global economy largely dissolved in favor of a structure of trade patterns with several layers, several networks, which cannot be apprehended through the categories of countries as trade units. and competition. Markets for goods and services are becoming increasingly globalized.

This dynamic of relationships that reorganized the network society, and especially in the new stage of capitalism, eliminated the existing borders between the economies of nation states. In this perspective, the economy, whose basis is commodity production, which are volatile, flexible, changeable and coordinated by transnational corporations that dictate the rules of the game to perpetuate themselves in the network society.

For the author, the informational economy is global. A global economy is something different; it is an economy capable of functioning as a unit in real time, on a planetary scale. The globalized economy contains financial markets, international trade, transnational production and, to some extent, science, technology and skilled labor. This dynamic intertwines new elements in the culture of markets, opening paths to be followed by different economic agents. There are no exits in this network society model, a society that is accelerated and forces its agents to interact, otherwise they are eliminated by global competition. Capital markets are globally interdependent, intertwined in their genesis.

Another factor of the network society, as asserted by Castells (199), refers to labor relations, or the world of work, which are changing the pace of global society, making relations between employer and employee more flexible. In informational capitalism, the world becomes volatile and changeable, taking a tone of softness, but with the same precarious characteristics of the past model. These deregulations of labor laws are the new order of the computerized society. According to the author, ICTs impose a global order for states and nations to reorganize labor rules and practices to adapt to the interests of globalized capital. In this sense, the new model of global production and administration is equivalent to the simultaneous integration of the work process and the disintegration of the workforce.

As a historical trend, the functions and processes dominant in the information age are increasingly organized around networks. The author observes that the dominant trends, functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organized in this way. This landscape constitutes the new social morphology and the diffusion of the logic of networks in productive and experience processes, power and culture (CATELLS, 1999).

Networks are forms of structures (nuclei) open with unlimited forms, interacting with new “nodes” to communicate within the network. The network society connects peers in a relationship that does not require a solid identity. The network that dominates the new relationships on the planet permeates between various identities to represent their desires for the new model of society.

In this context, the network is a tool for the capitalist economy focused on innovation, adaptation, globalization and decentralized concentration. A founding characteristic of the new paradigm of society in the XNUMXst century, it involves society as a whole, such as work, workers and companies focused on adaptability and flexibility for a set of values ​​in which there is a continuous process of deconstruction and reconstruction, for a policy predestined to the processing of new public values ​​and to a social organization that aims at the supplantation of space and the invalidation of time.

* André Luiz de Souza is a doctoral candidate in sociology at UFGRS.


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