I can very easily be accused of over using a few key quotes in my presentations – the main one being this from Manuel Castells:

” Until we rebuild, both from the bottom up and from the top down, our institutes of governance and democracy, we will not be able to stand up to the fundamental challenges that we are facing”

This means that when I was recently asked – “who else talks about the network society?” at a session I was doing recently I thought fair cop – I really need to widen out the context a little and quote some other people. In my defence it really is a lovely quote.

The term ‘Network Society’ was coined by Dutch sociologist Jan van Dijk and was adopted by Castells in his trilogy “The Information Age”. The other principal thinker in this space is Barry Wellman who has been writing about networks and communities ever since writing “The Network City” in 1973.

This gives the concept two different pedigree’s – one from urban geography (Wellman) and one from sociology (Castells). In both cases however the primary motivation for the label is the pre-eminance of the effect of the network within a given situation.
Concentrating on the Castells work, this arises out of the wider thinking around the concept of ‘The information age’. Now – its extremely tricky to make assumptions around this kinds of epochal statements but Castells is a big bold thinker who believes that it the rise of networks rather than then the information that we share about them which is the most significant effect of our post-industrial world. This is of course subject to debate and this is a criticism which is leveled at Castells (Webster 1995) however my personal view is that the recent ascendency of the social network online and the effects of networks on political and civic activities makes this a defensible belief.

There are also a group of writers such as Tapscott and Shirkey who explore the network effect without necessarily situating their work within the definition of the network society – i.e. their narrative is network led but they don’t build on the work of Castells – partly I imagine because they are not sociologists and academics do like to stick within their own field (I’m a little free range myself but this perhaps reflects the fact that I am a practitioner / academic hybrid!!!).

Within my literature review I will be describing the Webster critique in a little more detail and also describing some of the other thinkers who work with the idea of the information society – however for day to day use and final conclusion I am sticking with the Network Society as being the best current description of the what we see happening in the world. I may however try and find another quote.