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Reading Notes: Week 13, Castells

Brief Summary

In Rise of the Network Society, the first volume in a 3-volume series, Castells analyzes the structure of a networked society, often times arguing against popular assumptions about its economic and societal impacts.

In Chapter 4, Castells breaks down the impact of a networked society on the workforce. He begins by foregrounding the three primary statements or predictions of classical post-industrialism:

  1. The source of productivity and growth lies in the generation of knowledge, extended to all realms of economic activity through information processing.
  2. Economic activity would be shifted from goods production to services delivery. The demise of agricultural employment would be followed by the irreversible decline of manufacturing jobs, to the benefit of service jobs which would ultimately form the overwhelming proportion of employment. The more advanced an economy, the more its employment and its production would be focused on services.
  3. The new economy would increase the importance of occupations with a high information and knowledge content in their activity. Managerial, professional, and technical occupations would constitute the core of the new social structure. (pp. 218-219)

These statements, Castells argues, focuses on the wrong differentiation: “The appropriate distinction is not between an industrial and a post-industrial economy, but between two forms of knowledge-based industrial, agricultural, and services production”  which, her further argues, necessitates a shift in the “analytical emphasis from post-industrialism . . . to informationalism” (p. 219). To demonstrate this shift, Castells traces the historical transformations of manufacturing and services employment from agricultural to industrial to informational economies, differentiating between different service industries (the method of which is very complex and includes a lot of numbers, which I will not attempt to include here).

To keep the summary brief, I’m going to bullet point the primary conclusions he draws about work in a networked society:

  • Changes in the social/economic structure concern more the type of services and the type of jobs than the activities themselves. (p. 230)
  • Evolution of employment shows not only a shifting away from manufacturing jobs but also two different paths regarding manufacturing activity: 1) rapid phasing out of manufacturing jobs and a strong expansion of employment in producer and social services, and 2) closer linking of manufacturing and producer services,  cautious increases in social services employment, and maintenance of distributive services. (p. 231)
  • Informationalization seems to be more decisive than information processing. (p. 231)
  • The different expressions of economic models are dependent upon their positions in the global economy not just their degree of advancement in the informational scale. (p. 246)
  • There is not, and will not be in the foreseeable future, a unified global labor market (p. 251), but there is global interdependence of the labor force in the informational economy (p. 255)
  • Information technology is the indispensable medium for the linkages between different segments of the labor force across national boundaries. (p. 251)
  • The broader and deeper the diffusion of advanced information technology in factories and offices, the greater the need for an autonomous, educated worker able and willing to program and decide entire sequences of work. (p. 257)
  • What disappears through automation is the routine work–the repetitive tasks that can be precoded and programmed for their execution by machines. This labor is expendable but the workers are not, depending on their social organization and political capacity (p. 258)
  • There is a new division of labor that is constructed around three dimensions: 1) actual tasks, 2) relationship between a given organization and its environment, and 3) relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network.
  • The bifurcation of work patterns is not necessarily the result of technological progress–it is socially determined and managerially designed in the process of the capitalist restructuring. (pp. 266-267)
  • Institutional variation seems to account for levels of unemployment, while effects of technological levels to not follow a consistent pattern. (p. 270)
  • There is no systematic structural relationship between the diffusion of information technologies and the evolution of employment levels in the economy as a whole. (p. 280)
  • A new production system requires a new labor force; those individuals and groups unable to acquire informational skills could be excluded from work or downgraded as workers.
  • Even if technology does not create or destroy employment, it does profoundly transform the nature of work and the organization of production. Four elements in this transformation: 1) working time, 2) job stability, 3) location, and 4) the social contract between employer and employee. (p. 282)
  • Just-in-time labor seems to be substituting for just-in-time supplies as the key resource for the informational economy. (p. 289)
  • The traditional form of work, based on full-time employment, clear-cut occupational assignments, and a career pattern over the life-cycle is being slowly but surely eroded away. (p. 290)
  • The prevailing model for labor in the new, information-based economy is that of a core labor force and a disposable labor force that can be automated and/or hired/fired/offshored. (p. 295)
  • Transformations are the result of the restructuring of capital-labor relations. (p. 297)

In chapters 5-7, Castells builds on his economic analysis to explore more abstract concepts, which he identifies as real virutality, space of flows, and timeless time.

Real virtuality: In chapter 5, Castells explains the impact of informationalism on communication practices, arguing that while they have become more global (connected), they have also become more individualized. The primary feature of communication in the informational age, however, is real virtuality–“a system in which reality itself (that is, people’s material/symbolic existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience” (p. 404).

Space of Flows: In chapter 6, Castells expands his analysis to the complexity of the interaction between technology, society, and space. He determines that society is constructed around flows, which are more than just an element of the social organization: “they are the expression of processes dominating our economic, political, and symbolic life” (p. 442) and thus there is a new spatial form specific to the network society. The space of flows, he explains” is the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows” (p. 442).

Timeless Time: Finally, in chapter 7, Castells brings these concepts together to show the complexity of time in the network society. He labels the dominant temporality of our society as “timeless time,” which “occurs when the characteristics of a given context, namely the informational paradigm and the network society, induce systemic perturbation in the sequential order of the phenomena performed in that context” (p. 494).


Connection to Spinuzzi

Castell’s claim that “What tends to disappear through integral automation are the routine, repetitive tasks that can be precoded and programmed for their execution by machines” immediately made me think of Spinuzzi’s genre tracing and the microscopic level breakdowns that reveal organizational destabilizations. My first thought was that we lose the ability to identify the breakdowns at the microscopic level and the fixes the workers create when work because automated. However, as Castells explained the informational production process, I saw overlaps between the analytic approaches. Here is the process as he outlines it:

  1. Value added is mainly generated by innovation, both of process and products.
  2. Innovation is itself dependent upon two conditions: research potential and specification capability. That is, new knowledge has to be discovered, then applied to specific purposes in a given organizational/institutional context.
  3. Task execution is more efficient when it is able to adapt higher-level instructions to their specific application, and when it can generate feedback effects into the system. An optimum combination of worker/machine in the execution of tasks is set to automate all standard work procedures, , and to reserve human potential for adaptation and feedback efforts.
  4. Most production activity takes place in organizations.
  5. Information technology becomes the critical ingredient of the process of work as described because
  • it largely determines innovation capability;
  • it makes possible the correction of errors and generation of feedback effects at the level of execution
  • it provides the infrastructure for flexibility and adaptability through the management of the production prococess. (pp. 258-259).

Castell’s inclusion of feedback effects seems similar to Spinuzzi’s breakdowns and, in the informational economy, they would be monitored by a more skilled worker. However, if the goal is to operationalize mesoscopic actions so that the become microscopic behaviors, I wonder to what extent these systems can overlap. Is there a level at which work cannot be operationalized and, therefore, automated? Or will the feedback loop of informationalism increasingly allow for more complex thinking to be automated by technology?


Application of Real Virtuality

Castells discussion of real virtuality and the interactions between our physical and social worlds made me think first of gamers and role playing games (to which he makes connections in the chapter)–and then I started to think about how physical and virtual lives intersect beyond the obvious. Online dating, for instance, allows for the multiplicity of identities that interact both physically and virtually. Initiated by the physical desire for companionship, people take to the virtual environment and construct their identities to find a match. Ideally, online connections will become in-person connections. As is shown in the chart, online dating reflects social and economic structures of the physical world (note the statistic on the percentage of women who have sex on the first date that does not have a corresponding men who have sex on the first date percentage).



Random Products that Seem Related

In a Google search for additional resources, I started coming across products that, though not stated, seem to be outgrowths of Castells’ concepts:

Timeless Time, by MAG Softwrx Inc: This software to track time and expenses appeared the same year as the first edition of Rise of the network society.

Real Virtuality by Bohemia Interactive: A game engine originally called Poseidon.



Castells, M. (2010). Rise of the network society. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from Kindle.