Communication Manuel Castells
by
Philip Howard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0143

Introduction

One of the most prolific and respected scholars today, Manuel Castells (b. 1942–) has given us a new language for understanding the role of communication systems in shaping society. His three-volume set with Blackwell is one of most cited works of contemporary social theory, and his 2012 volume Networks of Outrage and Hope applies his theories to the events of the Arab Spring and global Occupy movement. His notion of the network society has significantly influenced the way researchers in the social and communication sciences approach the study of power. Castells’s book Communication Power is his most mature assertion that the network society is both a valuable analytical frame and a useful way of describing much of our contemporary political, economic, and cultural lives—especially in the developed world. His 2012 book, Networks of Outrage and Hope, is an investigation of the role of communication power in the Arab Spring and global Occupy movements. Information Age (1996–1998), a three-volume set, has had a significant impact across the social sciences and humanities. It is an impressive scholarly feat because of the diverse forms of evidence he marshals in support of his theory. For many, the first volume contains the most aspects of the theory of the network society.

Intellectual Biography

In the opening of Communication Power, Castells offers a compelling story of his journey from student radical to social scientist. Manuel Castells was born in Hellìn, Spain, in 1942. He was raised in Barcelona and lived there until his student activism drew the wrath of the dictator Francisco Franco. Castells moved to France and earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Paris, and was trained by the theoretical sociologist Alain Touraine. His personal interest in resisting cultural power continued, and his participation in the 1968 public protests cost him his instructor’s job at the Paris X University Nanterre. Subsequently, he taught at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and in 1979 he moved to the University of California at Berkeley. There he was appointed a joint professorship in the Department of Sociology and the Department of City and Regional Planning. In 2001 he formally joined the Open University of Catalonia as a research professor and in 2003 he accepted a position as Wallis Annenberg Chair of Communication and Technology at the University of Southern California. In recent years he has split his time between researching and mentoring in Los Angeles and Barcelona. Indeed, he mentors a large network of people who study the media, technology, and power. Stalder 2006 has an extended review of Castells’s intellectual development. Initially, Castells was most interested in urban sociology, and he helped develop a Marxist approach to the study of social transformation in large cities. Yet by the 1980s many of the cities he studied were also developing digital infrastructures that enabled new forms of economic exchange and political power. If cities represented the seat of power in economic development, digital networks were significantly extending the ability of urban centers to marshal distant resources and project that power further afield. For the most part, these digital networks only served governments, media barons, and financial institutions, and they were good servants. During the 1990s, the digital infrastructure that had served to connect powerful institutions in global cities began to serve individuals who had access to consumer electronics. It was during this important transformation that Castells began to study the politics of information infrastructure and media. In 2012 he was awarded the Holberg Prize, one of the highest honors for work in the social sciences.

  • Stalder, Felix. 2006. Manuel Castells. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    This is the best review of Castells’s intellectual development, and is a book that does a good job pulling out the evolution of network society ideas prior to the book Communication Power.

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