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1.4 The network society

The concept of the network society is closely associated with interpretation of the social implications of globalisation and the role of electronic communications technologies in society. The definition of a network society given by the foremost theorist of the concept, Manuel Castells (2004 p. 3) is that it is 'a society whose social structure is made up of networks powered by micro-electronics-based information and communications technologies.' As Castells shows in his book, historically, there have always been social networks: the key factor that distinguishes the network society is that the use of ICTs helps to create and sustain far-flung networks in which new kinds of social relationships are created.

According to Castells, three processes led to the emergence of this new social structure in the late 20th century:

Castells' analysis of the significance of these three processes (which can be followed in detail in the Key Reading by Castells for this section) provides a broad historical context for the development paradigms we will discuss in the next section. The significance of economic restructuring is that it created the conditions for the emergence of the open market development paradigm, weakening the nation state and deepening processes of social inclusion and exclusion between and within countries. The cultural movements were significant because they created the conditions for emergence of an opposing 'human-capabilities centred' development paradigm that focuses on human rights. The values of individual autonomy and freedom espoused by this cultural change shaped the open network structure for communication. As Castells concludes, 'the culture of freedom was decisive in inducing network technologies which, in turn, were the essential infrastructure for business to operate its restructuring in terms of globalisation' (Castells 2004 p. 22).

Clarke's PhD thesis (2008) concerned information networks in rural areas of Bolivia, and drew substantially on the work of Castells. She used a social network approach to analyse the agricultural information flows in rural Bolivia (see 1.4.1).

1.4.1 Information flows in Bolivia: a social network approach

'Rural development processes involve complex networks of actors, with different areas of expertise and access to resources, often facing geographical and cultural constraints which limit the possibility of knowledge sharing and collaboration towards common goals. Promoting development requires strengthening linkages between actors in order to increase the flow of information and build social capital to encourage better coordination. Despite growing interest in the potential of ICTs for development, their role in facilitating communication for network strengthening has received much less attention than the technology debate around connectivity and the digital divide, or discussion of the benefits of improved access to information. Access to new technologies or information does not necessarily increase awareness of other actors who can provide the information or support necessary for development. The potential of ICT projects is therefore supporting rural groups to build linkages and embed themselves in wider network structures where they can access new resources and opportunities.

There are few empirical tools that explain how network structures influence development interventions. This thesis uses social network analysis (SNA) to visualise supply chain information flows and innovation processes in rural Bolivia. SNA was applied to three agricultural supply chains to represent information flows between different actors and demonstrate the benefits of a network approach over more traditional linear models. A second series of case studies applied this approach to innovation processes, introducing the concept of 2‐mode network maps to visualise the relationships between actors and innovations. This research has generated empirical evidence of the utility of social network mapping as a diagnostic tool. Discussion of these results in the context of related ICT interventions demonstrates that visualisation of network relationships provides a powerful tool that help actors understand the concept of social capital in order to take advantage of the communication potential of ICTs'. (p. 2)

Using social network analysis software, Clark showed how different network structures, and the consequent information flows, varied in rural Bolivia. Examples of her network maps (pp. 194-196) which identify network structures by differences of gender and ethnicity are presented below:

'5.2.3.1 Affiliation by gender and ethnicity

In order to further understand these structures it is possible to reduce the data further to examine how affiliation varies between men and women (Figure 5‐19 & Figure 5‐20) and within indigenous and campesino communities. Table 5‐13 shows the division of respondents according to gender and ethnicity...

Table 5-13: Number of respondents by gender and ethnicity

Indigenous Campesino Total
n % n % n %
Men 56 24% 104 44% 160 68%
Women 33 14% 41 18% 74 32%
Total 89 38% 145 62% 234 100%

In both Figure 5-19 and Figure 5-20 it is still possible to observe the strong division between indigenous and campesino groups. By examining how gender affects the network structure, it is possible to see which affiliations are specific to men and women. In Figure 5‐19 the central node in the indigenous women substructure is the APG (Assembly of the Guaraní People) with a secondary role played by Abatirenda and the women's working group. For the campesino women the two most central nodes are the OTB (Territorial base Organisation ...) and the Producer's Union. There are now only two similarities in affiliation between the two groups, the Mother's Centre and the Association for Groundnuts, suggesting that for both ethnic groups, women are more involved in groundnut product than maize and pig keeping, as no female has ties to the maize group while pig keeping is peripheral to the campesino women's group.

Figure 5‐20 shows the affiliations of the men with both structures following the same pattern in terms of the most central nodes, however in the indigenous group Abatirenda, the maize collection centre now appears to be more influential than the APG and there is also an important role for the male working group. There are now three groups which bridge the two substructures, all related to production although, as discussed above, they do not necessarily show any formal affiliation between the two groups. Interestingly, although the Mother's Centre no longer plays a bridging role between the two groups it is still mentioned by several men who consider themselves to be affiliated to this group. Moreover, its structural position has also changed as while female affiliates of the Mother's centre also named the OTB, none of the men name both groups. Similarly the CARE women's group is mentioned by more men than women suggesting that despite the relatively peripheral position of these groups they could be an important entry point for interventions in these communities.'



Source: Clark (2008) pp. 2, 194-195, 196.

Inclusion and exclusion in the network society

A key aspect of the network society concept is that specific societies (whether nation states or local communities) are deeply affected by inclusion in and exclusion from the global networks that structure production, consumption, communication and power. Castells' hypothesis is that exclusion is not just a phenomenon that will be gradually wiped out as technological change embraces everyone on the planet, as in the case that everyone has a mobile phone, for example. He argues that exclusion is a built-in, structural feature of the network society.

In part this is because networks are based on inclusion and exclusion. Networks function on the basis of incorporating people and resources that are valuable to their task and excluding other people, territories and activities that have little or no value for the performance of those tasks (Castells 2004 p. 23). Different networks have different rationales and geographies of exclusion and exclusion - for example, Silicon Valley engineers occupy very different social and territorial spaces from criminal networks.

The most fundamental divides in the network society according to Castells (2004 p. 29) are the division of labour and the poverty trap that we discussed earlier in the context of globalisation. He characterises these as the divide between 'those who are the source of innovation and value to the network society, those who merely carry out instructions, and those who are irrelevant whether as workers (not enough education, living in marginal areas with inadequate infrastructure for participation in global production) or as consumers (too poor to be part of the global market).'

Power and empowerment in the network society

In a social structure characterised by exclusion from and inclusion in different kinds of social and communication networks, power is a crucial determinant of social change. Power can be defined as the capacity to impose one's will over another's will. In the concept of the network society, the chief form of power is control or influence over communication.

This is because connectivity and access to networks are essential to the power of some social groups to impose their values and goals on society-at-large and of others to resist their domination.

1.4.2 Power and empowerment? Cable networks in Dhaka, Bangladesh

© Nigel Poole

Source: unit author

In the network society, one of the most important impacts of globalisation is the way it enables us to create economic, social and political relationships that are less and less bounded by where we are located at any given time - or in other words, by our spatial location. In traditional societies, different social relations, customs, and culture exist in separate spaces and individuals have to conform to most powerful expectations and rules - for example, in families, villages, towns, cities, and nation states. In the globalising society, these spaces lose their power to constrain individuals: people can communicate without personal contact via the global net of mass media, phone, fax and computers and are less and less linked by a common history and shared face-to-face relationships. At the same time, pre-existing traditions cannot avoid contact with, or being influenced by, distant values and forms of knowledge.

How we interpret this change in the social significance of location depends on how we interpret 'communication'.

This distinction between passive versus empowering communication is a central one for understanding how ICTs are used for development. Many critics of globalisation view it as an invasive force for cultural homogenisation promoting an inflow of information and knowledge that is becoming more uniform and standardised, due to powerful technological, commercial and cultural influences originating from centres of power and influence defining what constitutes information and knowledge and how it is shared.

A contrary view of the effects of globalising electronic communication is that although information and knowledge from major centres of power have an extraordinary level of predominance, communication is a two-way process: inflowing information is not just taken in uncritically; it is subject to local interpretation and innovative applications.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive: it is not a question of one or the other. One of the most important forces for change and development in the network society is the tension between the efforts of some networks to impose their values and goals and the efforts of others to resist their domination.

Empowerment, according to Castells, is strengthened by social media including networking (such as Facebook) and social movements connected via the internet. He sees social media as evidence of trends within globalisation that promote cultural diversity, innovativeness and certain kinds of freedoms.

In this unit we aim to go beyond the concept framed in MDG 8 which sees the central issue as access to ICTs in order to focus on the social aspects of effective ICT-use. Our challenge in using knowledge and communications for development is not to determine the optimum methods of deploying equipment and cables. Instead, the challenge is to understand the ways ICTs can both empower and disempower different groups in society. This will require us to situate programme design firmly in the context of how different social groups define knowledge and make use of communication. To do this, we will need to understand the kinds of power relationships that are involved in communication and how these influence the kind of information communicated.

What are the three most important forces that led to the emergence of the network society, according to Castells?

According to Castells, three processes led to the emergence of this new social structure in the late 20th century: the restructuring of industrial economies by globalisation; the freedom-oriented cultural movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the revolution in information and communication technologies.

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In this section we saw how communication technologies are given an important role as enablers for building the knowledge and skills seen as critical for progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and that in MDG 8 this perspective draws on a transfer of technology model that emphasises access to ICTs. At the same time, interpretation of the causes of the division between those who have access to ICTs and those who do not, known as the digital divide, has broadened to include the knowledge, skills and resources to use ICTs effectively. In general, a deep social divide between those who obtain knowledge and skills valued in the global world economy and those who are disadvantaged in this respect is a fundamental feature of globalisation and its contribution to the trend towards growing income inequality within and among countries. In the global network society, knowledge and communication are key resources for development. In the next section we look at how different theoretical paradigms define their role in development.