Martin Ince's perspective of Manuel Castells Trilogy

(this has nothing to do with my theses main axis, but its of avail)

In December 2004, i did once an interview to Martin Ince, a British former journalist, coauthor of Conversations with Manuel Castells. By that time, Castells was on a World tour, so Mr. Ince was very gentle to give me some insight of the main arguments that are found on the Network Society Trilogy.

"I am, by the way, a journalist and therefore an observer and writer, not a social scientist, although I often get involved in communicating social science."

Mr. Ince, I need some insights to understand the Castell’s theorical framework about the space of flows and the re (invention) of identity. As far I have read on the book, Interview with Manuel Castells you are pretty familiar with his main arguments, and you really perceived how picky can be the identity theme. I had read some chapters of the trilogy and perhaps you can give some light to my quest.

Let’s start…

At this present time, our own perception of identity is being rebuilt with the spread of the network society. So briefly, how can I explain the differentiation I can do of my own “self” against the “other” in this space of flows where I can not perceive the whole?

I think Manuel would argue that people have always got their identity in a very unpredictable way anyway. In this street, we could find people who say “I am a mother,” “I am a Muslim,” or “I am a footballer” even without the space of flows. However, it is easier to maintain identities (to be Irish when you live in Australia) with modern communications. It is also easier to join a new group (say, antiglobalisation activists) with this technology. Maybe the whole point of an identity is that it is to some extent exclusive and unable to see the whole picture, although the invisibility of cyberspace makes it a lot more so.

In the net there is a virtual flow of capital, information, technology, organizational interaction, images, sounds and symbols. Are we (re)inventing the self grounded on “virtual” reality?

Well, people said that money was losing all meaning when it turned from metal to paper! I think Manuel would say that people are people. They are fantastically adaptable and find new ways to be themselves when the virtual world opens them up. But they are also physical beings – he does not think that people can seriously migrate online as some of the techno-utopians might imagine. I do not think he would regard virtual reality as a foundation for the self. He points to empirical research that shows that people who spend more time than average online also socialise more in the physical world.

If I see the net as a mediator, my identity is reshaped in the basis of a simulacrum of reality, how does this affect the conception of the “self” iRL. (in real life) and in addition how does it affect the way I attribute meaning?

Of course, television has already done this, transforming the way people find things out, get entertained, spend their time, etc. Both as a thing we receive information from and as a thing we interact with, the net does this but more so. He would probably say that for most people it does more of the second thing you ask (alters the way you attribute meaning) far more than it does the first by affecting the concept of the self. Of course some people do become online beings (as self-defined) far more than the average.

How is perceived and transformed my view of all this other countercultural movements I can not see but I got to know their fights and struggles through the net? Does this affect directly my construction of identity? How subjective could I be?

Very – the example Manuel cites is of the Zapatistas, who have built support around the world by online methods, and the same applies to the many green movements. Whether you support or oppose them, your own identity will be reshaped a bit by knowing about their position.

How does the network helps on the reassertion or redefinition of identity of those groups that are not represented?

Well, it disadvantages them and means that they are perceived faintly and indirectly. They are the Fourth World of which Manuel writes in the Information Age. They can live next door to someone with broadband but are not connected themselves and are hugely disadvantaged.

Why is Castells skeptical about virtual communities? Why he support more the view of an individualized socialization, even though, some of us are creating virtual communities with the diffusion of the net? Does this argument applies to the Usenet community and their grassroots values? Is Usenet just a network of individuals?

People – he says – do not live in cyberspace. They live in London or Puerto Rico. Many communities are altered by the web’s existence, not least the scientists who started it. But people can never get more than part of their values and identity from it. He emphatically supports values-based communities and made his name with a very fat book called The City and the Grassroots.

I think it is a little paradoxical. Aren’t we creating a world of interdependence? I don’t understand his juxtaposition of individualized socialization and communalism.

The world of interdependence is already there. It is changing and deepening as the net becomes more important (although of course much use of the net is tedious, day to day, commercial stuff). I think he agrees that the new communities it forms are real but adds that individuals will choose how deeply if at all to embed themselves in them.

I have read some critics about the one-dimentional network of Manuel Castells, what do you think about this argument?. Why to say it is a one-dimentional network? (for reference

The argument here is an interesting but not new one. I have indeed discussed it with Robin Mansell, one of the authors whom this person cites.

In effect, it says that he has oversimplified how complex and contested networks are, and indeed oversimplified the world in general.

He would say that it is embarrassing to be compared to Marx, Hobbes, Descartes, Weber, etc. But he insists that the things he says are all backed by real empirical work, by himself or other people. Does he draw big conclusions? Yes he does. Does he draw conclusions too weighty for the evidence they are based on? Some people say so but I do not. However, he does work and live in the scholarly world, with real methodology – for example he has recently been doing a project on the way IT is transforming healthcare in Catalonia. He is not a journalist or consultant and does engage with things at an intellectually high level.

Incidentally, an exception to this is the chapter “Castells’ World Tour” in his and my book. As you will realise if you read it, this is deliberately designed as a lighter section in which he could let himself speak more freely and maybe with less evidence base than usual.

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