Self Determined Participatory Action of Marginalized Groups: The streets of São Paulo

The Network Society

The purpose of the following text is to introduce the theory of the network-society which provides the theoretical framework for the master thesis. It is work in progress and by far not complete yet. This initial version is based on the corresponding paragraphs writen for the research proposal of this thesis. 

It is currently divided into two parts; part one briefly explains the theory of the network-society while part two concentrates on the importance of information to provoke social change within the network-society.

The Rise of the
Network Society

The post-industrial
world of the 21th century resides in an information and
communication age. Parts of its societies made the transition from
industrial production towards the production of information as major,
most important good (Castells, 1996a). This holds mainly true for
those societies in the northern hemisphere whereas the majority in
the South is still lagging behind. Some of them are already going
through a period of rapid industrialization but will eventually
dissolve into an information society as well. Others will be directly
pitchforked into the information age, skipping industrialization
almost completely.

Among others, Jan
van Dijk
(1999, 2006)and Manuel
(1996b) widened the perception of the informational age
by the concept of the of the network-society at the end of the last
millennium. The transition of an industrialized society towards a
network-society was facilitated by the rapid development of
information and communication technology (ICT), wired and wireless,
such as the internet and cellular phones (Wikibooks, 2009). Hence the
network-society represents the dominant form of social order
(Campbell et al, 2007), build upon extensive technical networks that
change the perception of time and space completely with far reaching
consequences for every actor of society, in almost all parts of life.
Information is the main good, its spread and use is multi modal:
anyone can reach anyone, horizontally, from a local to a global scale
and vice versa (Castells, 2007). Its availability and possession
determines who is in charge of control and who can exercise power.
This holds true for institutional actors in politics, economy and the
like but also for the various actors of the civic society.

Economies become
more powerful and efficient because companies and institutions are
connected with each other via global networks which allows them to
exchange information in almost no time, thus time and space are
becoming obsolete. The exchange and reproduction of information is
done in realtime. What is known as contemporary capitalism, the
global economy, benefited from that development. ICT is not the cause
of the global exchange of goods but its availability intensified its
development (Dijk, 2006) and perfected its organisation. Production
is not longer solely organized on a local level but division of
labour is extended to a global scale. As a result, major cities are
turned into a hub for information exchange in order to organize and
control the global economy. Global companies and institutions operate
offices in every major city throughout the world, connected via the
global information network. Among many other factors, the function of
an information hub qualifies some of those cities as global
(Sassen, 2001 and Taylor, 2001), they are essential
components of the global economy while ICT became the fundamental
infrastructure of that economy (Castells, 1996a).

On the other hand,
the civic society, organisations and individuals, extensively exploit
the possibilities of ICT and their own connectivity to the global
information network. They are organizing themselves, produce and use
information, thereby gaining social power (Wikibooks, 2009) and
build autonomy (Campbell et al, 2007). Dijk concludes that the
structure of networks reaches and connects all levels of society,
their public and private spheres:

On the
organizational and mass communication come together

(Dijk, 2006).

Having the whole
world at home simultaneously invites for surveillance and violation
of privacy to further strengthen centralized power and control by
those who fostered the development of ICT, such as decision makers
in mass media, corporations and governments (Dijk, 2006).

Communication and Social Change

The various forms
of information and communication technology available to the
civic-society of the information-age (as part of the network-society)
let it shape their own means of mass communication in order to
exercise social power, challenge institutions and provoke social

Not only in
contemporary times have information and communication been the
appropriate tool to shape the mind of the people because “
way people think determines the fate of norms and
values on which
societies are constructed

(Castells, 2007).

Mass media as we
know it, such as TV and newspapers, shape the mind of the people not
necessarily by the messages they transport but by the content they
suppress because what is not prominent in the public media does not
exist (to a large extend) in the mind of the people (Castells, 2007).

TV and newspapers
operate in a one-to-many mode which means that one institution
supplies information to many, here to the people. There exist no
(easy) possibility for feedback or participation by the people, thus
mass communication as we know it means mainly one way communication.
Society constantly constructs and reconstructs itself around the
information available which makes mass communication a powerful tool
to transmit political messages which in turn leads to a top-bottom
construction of society. Any information transmitted through
contemporary mass media is therefore of political nature because it
has the power to form society according to the purpose of the
transmitted content (Castells, 2007).

In the
network-society, the one-way information flow imposed by mass media
is suspended due to the fact that anyone is connected with anyone
through the global communication network: multi-modal communication
replaces one-way communication. The network society has the tools at
hand to enter a do-it-yourself mode: it can be decided what
information is produced, how and for whom that information is
published and from where and what information is consumed, in a
many-to-many fashion. Medium and information of the network-society
exist only in digital form, in contrast to the words written on paper
and the signals transmitted by TV and radio stations which are common
tools of analogue mass media.

The available tools
of the network society, in terms of technical infrastructure such as
internet and phone networks, phones, computer and software, represent
the medium for production, exchange and consumption but they don’t
determine the meaning and effects of the transported content, they
are rather adopted to existing needs which are always very context
dependent (Castells, 2007; Dijk, 2006; Ekine et al, 2009).

Even though digital
information and communication technology has a relatively long
history, its adoption can mainly be observed during the last two
decades by institutional actors in order to further strengthen their
status and intensify their effort to realize their agendas. In the
same time, those institutions lost more and more legitimacy in the
eyes of the citizens, on a global scale (Castells, 2007). This lead
to the adoption of the very same tools by the civic society in order
to challenge political, economical and other institutions that tried
to tighten the previously mentioned power structures that imposed a
construction of society in a top-down manner. Political legitimacy is
lost due to distrust of the citizens in the governing capabilities of
institutions which resulted in an ever growing disparity: among the
rich and the poor, urban and rural, men and women, globally and
locally (
Source missing).

Those disparities
mean that the networks-society does not only connect but also
disconnect (Dijk, 2006), due to the various differences and barriers
in the adoption of technology, such as unavailability and costs of
technology, lack of knowledge or patriarchal power structures that
exclude parts of a society.

However, current
trends indicate that, on a global scale, the internet as the most
prominent backbone of wired network infrastructure, is outranked by
the availability of wireless mobile communication networks which
thereby refers to a growing connection of the previously disconnected
(ITU, 2009d).

The following References can also be found in the corresponding zotero.org


Campbell, S.W. et al., 2007. Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective. 2007. Available at: http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/189/99.

Castells, M., 2007. Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. 2007. Available at: http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/46/35.

Castells, M., 1996a. Europäische Städte, die Informationsgesellschaft und die globale Ökonomie. TP. Available at: http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/6/6020/1.html [Accessed February 24, 2010].

Castells, M., 1996b. The information age : economy, society and culture : volume 1: the rise of a network society., Oxford: Blackwell Publ.  

Dijk, J., 2006. The network society : social aspects of new media 2. ed., London ;;Thousand Oaks Calif.: SAGE.  

Ekine, S. et al., 2009. Sms Uprising Mobile Phone Activism in Africa., Gardners Books.  

ITU, 2009. Measuring the information society : the ICT development index., Geneva: International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Available at: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/material/IDI2009_w5.pdf.  

P2P Foundation, 2010. Commons. P2P Foundation. Available at: http://p2pfoundation.net/Commons [Accessed February 10, 2010].

P2P Foundation, 2009. Peer Production. P2P Foundation. Available at: http://p2pfoundation.net/Peer_Production [Accessed February 10, 2010].

Sassen, S., 2001. The global city : New York, London, Tokyo 2. ed., Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.  

Stadler, F., 1998. The Network Paradigm: Social Formations in the Age of Information. The Information Society. Available at: http://www.indiana.edu/~tisj/readers/full-text/14-4%20Stalder.html [Accessed February 25, 2010].

Taylor, P., 2001. Specification of the World City Network. Geographical Analysis, 33(2), 181-194.

Wikibooks, 2009. Communication Theory/Network Society. Wikibooks, collection of open-content textbooks. Available at: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Communication_Theory/Network_Society [Accessed February 24, 2010].

Category: network society, theoretical framework, thesis


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