The network society*

Manuel Castells


University of California (Berkeley)

Our exploration of emergent social structures across domains of humanactivity and experience leads to an over-arching conclusion: as anhistorical trend, dominant functions and processes in the Information Ageare increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the newsocial morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logicsubstantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes ofproduction, experience, power and culture. While the networking form ofsocial organization has existed in other times and spaces, the newinformation technology paradigm provides the material basis for itspervasive expansion throughout the entire social structure. Furthermore, Iwould argue that this networking logic induces a social determination of ahigher level than that of the specific social interests expressed through thenetworks: the power of flows takes precedence over the flows of power.Presence or absence in the network and the dynamics of each network visà-vis others are critical sources of domination and change in our society: asociety that, therefore, we may properly call the network society,characterized by the pre-eminence of social morphology over social action.A network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point at which acurve intersects itself. What a node is, concretely speaking, depends onthe kind of concrete networks of which we speak. They are stock exchangemarkets, and their ancillary advanced service centers, in the network ofglobal financial flows. They are national councils of ministers andEuropean Commissioners in the political network that governs theEuropean Union. They are coca fields and poppy fields, clandestinelaboratories, secret landing strips, street gangs, and money-launderingfinancial institutions in the network of drug traffic that penetrateseconomies, societies and throughout the world. They are televisionsystems, entertainment studios, computer graphics milieux, news teams,and mobile devices generating, transmitting and receiving signals in theglobal network of the new media at the roots of cultural expression andpublic opinion in the Information Age. The topology defined by networksdetermines that the distance (or intensity and frequency of interaction)between two points (or social positions) is shorter (or more frequent, ormore intense) if both points are nodes in a network than if they do notbelong to the same network. On the other hand, within a given network,flows have no distance, or the same distance, between nodes. Thus,distance (physical, social, economic, political, cultural) for a given point or position varies between zero (for any node in the same network) andinfinite (for any point external to the network). The inclusion/exclusion innetworks, and the architecture of relationships between networks,enacted by light-speed-operating information technologies, configuredominant processes and functions in our societies.Networks are open structures, able to expand without limits, integratingnew nodes as long as they are able to communicate within the network,namely as long as they share the same communication codes (for example,values of performance goals). A network-based social structure is a highlydynamic, open system, susceptible to innovating without threatening itsbalance. Networks are appropriate instruments for a capitalist economybased on innovation, globalization, and decentralized concentration; forwork, workers and firms based on flexibility and adaptability; for a cultureof endless deconstruction and reconstruction; for a polity geared towardthe instant processing of new values and public moods; and for a socialorganization aiming at the supersession of space and the annihilation oftime. Yet the network morphology is also a source of dramaticreorganization of power relationships. Switches connecting the networks(for example, financial flows taking control of media empires thatinfluence political processes) are the privileged instruments of power.Thus, the switchers are the power-holders. Since networks are multiple,the inter-operating codes and switches between networks become thefundamental sources in shaping, guiding and misguiding societies. Theconvergence of social evolution and information technologies has createda new material basis for the performance of activities throughout thesocial structure. This material basis, built in networks, earmarks dominantsocial processes, thus shaping social structure itself.