A Globalised Network Society? A Critical Overview of the Glocalisation of Information Networking

Abstract

Wa-keni
Blessed E. Ngoe

This paper is an attempt at analysing the concept of the network society within the backdrop of globalisation and localisation. It addresses the basic tenets of the networks society as held by its proponents and then situates the same within a discourse of globalisation as opposed to localisation and vice versa. Seeking to find the middle ground among these concepts, the paper examines the extent to which contemporary society is a network society and how the concepts of globalisation and localisation take effect in that society. At the end, the paper intimates that the network society, if it must so be called, is more akin to a system of information, knowledge and even wealth localisation than globalisation. It also argues that because the world does not seem to be a network in itself but a bundle of networks, the idea of a network society may more effectively be understood from the standpoint of a society of networks.
Key words: network society, globalisation, localisation, information technologies

Introduction

Since the invention of the Internet in the mid-20th century, and the accompanying developments that this age has seen from that time, there has been a constant tendency for social commentators to acclaim this period as the globalised age or the era without boundaries. Marshal McLuhan claimed in the 1960s that the world was turning into a global village; a place where everyone was everyone’s neighbour in almost the right sense of the word (Gibson & Murray, 2012; Logan, 2011). Given recent tremendous shifts in technological development, the swiftness with which time evolves, the seeming evaporation of geographical spaces and the fusion of cultural and social practices almost on a universal scale, one can hardly argue against the claim that the world is truly a globalised village. At the height of this “merging” rhetoric is the new concept of a network society offering, even the most poignant prospects of a world united, in a way, through a mesh of social webs.

The truth of the above, notwithstanding, becomes a matter of acute academic, social and even political debate when placed at the backdrop of the world’s endemic social, cultural and political diversity, a phenomenon which has remained adamant through history and seems to be growing at almost the same pace as globalisation itself. Political, social, technological and economic difference are even more visible today than ever before with the disappearance of the shades that hindered our sight of these social gorges. One is therefore left with the questions: to what extent is contemporary society a network society? How do the concepts of globalisation and localisation take effect in the Network Society?

To answer these questions, we shall examine what the network society is said to be and how the concept fits or unfits into the reality of today’s social, political, economic and technological morphologies. We will examine the uniformity, proliferation and reach of flows within the morphological parameters of society and determine whether we can talk of this present era as a true network or networked world. In addition, we will try to situate the sweeping concepts of globalisation and localisation within the concept of the network society to further determine the relevance of a “merging” rhetoric for the present era.

The Network Society and Global Social Morphologies

Manuel Castells and Jan Van Dijk have made vocal contributions to the theoretical underpinnings of what they refer to as the network society – the present era – and its role in transforming the various morphological dimensions of contemporary society. From communication through politics to economics and culture, human society has witnessed an incredible transformation resulting from the birth and birthing of new forms of human interaction (Cardoso, 2005; Castells, 2000; Orga, 2010?).

While there are different proponents and positions on the concept of the network society, there is a theoretical consensus among thinkers within this field on what the network society has brought about in the world today. Proponents of the network society theory agree that the social, political, cultural and economic landscape of society has been altered, this alteration having a huge impact on erstwhile social structures as they are either being replaced by or being evolved into new forms. Per this consensus, society has entered a new technological paradigm; the erstwhile knowledge-based society has given way to a new information technology-based society where the Internet has incorporated all old forms of information sharing, including the computer, into a nexus, based on networks across geographical and cultural spaces. The world is no longer understood from the standpoint of a single, uniform whole, destined to navigate its way through history in a uniquely defined structure or pattern. Rather, the network society theory sees the world today as an amalgamation of subcenters of social interaction, I will call them subworlds, connected to one another through the sharing of information, power, wealth and cultural symbols. There is therefore a visible distortion in the physical orientation of social action as humans no longer act merely as citizen of the world, but more importantly as citizens of subworlds in a world defined by networks and communication power (Castells, 2007).

Moreover, the network society has greatly redefined the concepts of time and space. There are two emergent social forms of time and space which characterize the network society according to Castells (2000). These emergent forms coexist with erstwhile forms of time and space. The emergent forms are called timeless time and space of flows. Timeless time describes the relentless effort to do away with traditional forms of clock-based time through the use of new information/communication technologies.

The space of flows refers to the situation in which things happen simultaneously beyond the power of geographical limitation. There’s however a territorial dimension to the space of flows as technological infrastructures must operate from a specific location, connecting people and functions located in specific places. These ideas of timelessness and unbound space technically and to some extent, literally dissolve old notions about the same in a manner that does not take away their physical or geographical presence, but subtly does away with their symbolic significance. For example, within the precincts of networking, a good number of nations can work together outside their physical, political boundaries as, let us say, NATO, with nothing but their perceived common goal binding them together.

Not only do we live in a world whose physiological dimension has been totally transformed, we now live in a new economic dispensation (Dijk, 2006); one typically characterized, as Castells (2000) notes, by three network phenomena: information, globality and networking. Within the informational character of economics in the network society, knowledge generation and processing as well as information management have become major determinants of an actor’s place in the various economic networks within which they operate (Castells, 2005; Gerlof, 2006). knowledge and information are occasioned by the proliferation and complexity of new information and communication technologies. The ability to oversee this informational dynamic, either through ownership or operation, will give the actor either prominence or marginality in their networks. This also applies to the productivity and competitiveness of all forms of economic entities, which are now determined by their capacity to generate knowledge and process and manage information using new information technologies.

Furthermore, the network society economy is global (Castells, 2000). The concepts of time and space have ceased to be endemic barriers to the conduit of economic ventures as the core, strategic activities of different economic entities from different geographical locations can now function as a unit on a planetary scale. This transformation has led many a social analyst to ask whether the current economic dispensation is adequately to be considered a new one (Dijk, 2006). Because information and communication technologies, especially the Internet, have virtually whisked off the idea of place and time (Castells, 2005; Dijk, 2006), markets have become global ventures with work and employment also taking on global robes. At the same time, the need for human resources is being placed on a balance with the increased availability of automated labor and communication services.

Finally, the new economy is networked (Castells, 2000). The idea that the new economy is networked seems to also be based on the two previously addressed aspects of the economy in the network society: informational and global. Because of the increased sharing of symbolic cultural material in the network society, markets find themselves in the position of serving their diverse, yet culturally connected customers with products and services that satisfy their diverse needs. Thus, businesses network with each other to achieve the specific goal of working in synergy to satisfy the needs of a diverse community of consumers. One law of networks appears to be the tendency for any network to be ripped apart as soon as its goals are met and there are no other binding goals keeping the various nodes together. Hence, businesses will switch to other networks as soon as the original goals for which they networked are achieved. Another consequence of this networked economic landscape is that large firms have become more and more decentralized into not only product-oriented webs of interaction, but also service and even positional-oriented circles of interaction. This means that large firms in themselves, are a network of networks where different departments network with each other to achieve the mission of the firm. This phenomenon is what Castells calls the network enterprise which is not the network of enterprises but an enterprise of networks with its unit of operation being the business project, rather than the firm.

As stated above, the network society has not only affected our physical and economic understanding of today’s world; it has also touched on our perception of cultural relations. Whereas culture, before the advent of the network society, had been the single factor, at least, that emphasized social differentiation between peoples and communities, today we now talk of cultural networking and cultural merging (Castells, 2000). McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village has addressed the idea of cultural diffusion and merging to some extent using mass media theory. Nevertheless, the Internet is becoming a major player in the formulation of a global culture and of networked cultures. The idea of a global culture should be understood not from the perspective of uniformity or homogeneity, but of diversity, convergence and fluidity in a heterogenous platform for symbol-sharing and meaning-making. The Global Village theory does not hold absolute ground in the network society as a result of the diversity in media (traditional and new media) and target audience attitudes. The network society therefore necessitates a “symbolic environment” and a culture of “real virtuality” (Castells, 2000) where people translate their cultural selves to others across cultural boundaries, finding common grounds for symbol interpretation and meaning-making.

Even the political environment has been drastically transformed in the network society. New communication technologies have accentuated the symbolic personalization of politics, political marketing, political image making and unmaking as well as the politics of scandal. The state as a political entity happens to be that which suffers the most transformative effects of the network society. While the state does not disappear in the network society, it is becoming increasingly delegitimized as a result of global flows of wealth and information. This has led to most states engaging in decentralization and devolution missions in order to regain legitimacy. There are shared responsibilities with regions, local governments and non-governmental organizations. This cancels the idea of nation-state in the information age as states are now network states; made of complex webs of power-sharing, policy development and diffusion as well as wealth-making and distribution (Castells, 2009).

By implication, social structure and social morphology have been exceedingly transformed from networks to information networks. This means that the things that hold networks in the present dispensation in place is the generation of knowledge and the proper or effective management and sharing of information among the various actors or nodes operating the networks. This goes to clarify the point that networking is not a new concept (if we consider the alliance system or the concert of Europe as examples in the 1810s). Old forms of social morphology, however, are static; new forms, based on information networks are transformative. The ontological dimensions of old forms of networks do not embrace fluidity, heterogeneity as much as new networks, based on information sharing, do.

Nevertheless, whether in the old or new dispensation of networking, networks are based on a binary logic of inclusion/exclusion. Networks will fade out dysfunctional nodes and rearrange themselves according to their needs. While some nodes are more important than others, all nodes need each other in order for a network to function properly. The idea that stands out within the new era of networking is that since it is largely informational, a network node will increase its importance when it absorbs more information and processes it more effectively and will lose its place when it becomes less effective in information management and knowledge generation. This idea is even more accentuated by the fact that being neutral or value-free social forms, networks act as automatons which are however programmed by social actors. The logic of the network is however imposed automatically on all social actors. It would take experts to create a different network with different set goals to be able to challenge the rules of an existing network. This also mean that no network can be opposed from within it. Actors within a network must share compatible access codes in order to operate a network system effectively.

The Network Society in the Light of Globalization and Localization

Having examined the network society and how it is affecting the morphology of today’s society, I like to put this in perspective with regards to two parallel concepts: globalization and localization. My understanding of these two concepts is that they both are socio-economic and perhaps political processes. At least there is some assurance that globalisation is a process of economic and social merging or interaction between world systems (Irani & Noruzi, 2011; Jan, 2009; Shefield, Korotayev & Grinin, 2013). Globalization is seen to be the result of an evolutionary process of links between different world systems in history leading to economic, cultural and political collaboration, as well as the possible engulfing of certain world systems by others (Grinin & Korotayev, 2013; Mann, 2001). The possibility of one world system swallowing up another world system through economic dominance has led to what Thompson (2013) refers to as the lead economic sequence which describes a transitional sequence of economic dominance among world systems, for example China and the United States.

Scholars (for example, Gibson & Murray, 2012; Logan, 2011) have argued that the processes of globalisation led Marshal McLuhan to the conclusion that the world was a global village, taking into special account, the rapid modernization of mass media systems and the almost universal flow of information through information and communication technologies. Although Castells (2000) argues that the network society does not align with the concept of globalization, probably because the network society is based on principles of knowledge creation, information power/sharing and meaning-making (Castells, 2011) rather than on the concepts of economic power and domination, one cannot find a definite avenue for separating the two concepts apart. When we consider the fact that both concepts depend on the flow of information and the convergence of economies and cultures, it becomes even more imperative to marry the concepts together as having similar objectives.

Nevertheless, the concept of localization, which is a process of adapting, from an economic, technological and informational perspective, software and related components from the point of view of satisfying target markets (audiences) within their own settings or localities (Sikes, 2009), comes to decentre our attempts of grouping globalization and the network society as one. My understanding of the network society corroborates the idea that society is not homogenous and hence, human interactions do not occur uniformly over different geographical settings or within different professional and even political circles. Rather, these interactions occur only within groups or among persons with uniform agendas operating even from different localities. Again, ideas, agendas and projects can be localised within the precincts of given professional, political or geographical guilds. My understanding of the term, localisation, centres around the idea of bringing a concept, a product, motive, agenda or project to the immediate reach of those for whom the same is designed. It is the process of familiarising the target end users of an idea or project with the intricacies of the idea or project by appealing to their immediate means of meaning-making that must be assigned to that idea or project.

Hence, for the fact that networks only exist to foster the goals of the various nodes that make them up, we can confidently say that they favour the localisation over the globalisation of their ideas, products and services. This “virtual” localisation is meant to serve the needs of those within the network and to keep away all those who do not share in the identity of the network (see Babran, 2008). Localisation, in the sense of networks and as I see it, remains the chord that links network nodes together so that a shift away from the localisation of network agendas will result in a wreckage of the network link and thus split nodes apart. Even more pungent to this point is the fact that information technologies, on which both globalisation and the network society depend for their reality, are also subject to localisation (Sikes, 2009). Target users of information and communication technologies must familiarise themselves with the use of information technologies from the perspective of their own geo-spatial as well as cognitive localities. Hence, operating networks based on information and communication technologies must consider the fact that while the same are transforming social norms and attitudes, they are also meant to relate unique cultural as well as behavioural aspects of users from different parts of the world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper has shown that the network society, from the perspective of its proponents, has had an eroding effect on the physical, cultural, political and informational morphology of modern society. This transformation is occasioned by the proliferation, development and use of information and communication technologies. The world’s physiognomy is now structured in various networks so that it is no longer seen as a single, uniform unit driven by a single, watertight mechanism (based on an older version of networking) but as a world made of worlds tied together by heterogeneity, spontaneity and the power of information sharing. We have gone through the lines to demonstrate that because of their appeal to the use of information and communication technologies, the process of globalization and the concept of the network society can walk along on symmetrical lines as sister-concepts. However, given the intricate difference in their respective morphologies; one favouring localization and the other favouring a universal reach of its tentacles, our analysis have brought us to conclude that these concepts may look or sound alike but are inherently different. Furthermore, my examination of the network society within the lens of localisation brings me to conclude even further that the idea of the world being a network society may not be entirely sound. This sounds overly ambitious but considering the fact that not all parts of the world have fully embraced or have fully been powered with the use of information and communication technologies that necessitate or facilitate the network society, we may well say that society is only in the process of becoming a networked one. Moreover, we may want to reconsider the appellation, network society, as it would appear that society is actually one of networks and not a network in itself.

Works Cited

Babran, S. (2008) Media, globalization of culture, and identity crisis in developing countries. Intercultural Communication Studies XVII (2), pp. 47-59
Cardoso G. (2005). Societies in Transition to the Network Society in Castells, M. & Cardoso, G., eds. (2005). The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy. Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins Center for Transatlantic Relations
Castells, M. (2000). The contours of the network society. The journal of Futures Studies, Strategic Thinking and Policy 2(2), pp. 210-233
Castells, M. (2007). Communication, power and counter-power in the network society. International Journal of Communication, 1(4), pp. 238-266
Castells, M. (2009). Communication Power. New York: Oxford University Press
Castells, M. (2011) A network theory of power. International Journal of Communication 5(2), pp. 773–787
Dijk, J (2006). The Network Society (2nd Edition). London: Sage.
Gerloff, K. (2006). Access to knowledge in a network society: A cultural sciences perspective on the discussion on a development agenda for the world intellectual property organisation. Master’s thesissubmitted to the Department of Language & Communication Studies Cultural InformaticsUniversität Lüneburg
Gibson, T. & Murray J. (2012) Global village. In Danesi, M. ed. (2012). Encyclopedia of Media and Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 312–313
Grinin, L. & Korotayev, A. (2013). The origins of globalization in Sheffield, J. eld., Korotayev, A., & Grinin, L. eds (2013) What is Globalization? Litchfield Park: Emergent Publications
Irani, Ali & Noruzi, M (2011). Globalization and Challenges; What are the globalization’s contemporary issues? International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 1(6), pp. 45-58
Jan, M. (2009). Globalization of media: Key issues and dimensions. European Journal of Scientific Research, 29(1), pp.66-75
Logan, K. (2011) McLuhan misunderstood: Setting the record straight. in Ciastellardi, M. & Patti, E. eds. (2011). Understanding Media Today: McLuhan in the Era of Convergence Culture. Barcelona: Journal of McLuhan Studies
Mann, M. (2001). Globalisation and September 11. New Left Review, 2(12), pp. 28-40
Orga, I. (2010?) Globalisation: The Nigerian experience. Review of Public Administration & Management 1(2), pp. 154-179
Sheffield, J., Korotayev, A., & Grinin, L. (2013). Globalization as a link between the past and the future in Sheffield, J. eld., Korotayev, A., & Grinin, L. eds (2013) What is Globalization? Litchfield Park: Emergent Publications
Sikes, R. (2009). Localization: The global pyramid capstone. Multilingual 4(1), pp. 5-12
Thompson, W. (2013). The lead economy sequence in world politics (from sung china to the united states): selected counterfactuals in Sheffield, J. eld., Korotayev, A., & Grinin, L. eds (2013) What is Globalization? Litchfield Park: Emergent Publications

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s