A Review of the Network Society: A New Context for Planning

Article excerpt

A Review of The Network Society: A New Context For Planning edited by Louis Albrechts and Seymour J. Mandelbaum reviewed by Lasse Gerrits published by Routledge ISBN 9780415701518 (2005)


It is very hard to overestimate the impact of Manuel Castells's seminal The Information Age on the social sciences. Since this trilogy was published during the 1990s, with a revised edition in 2000, many scholars have adopted the network paradigm to base their work on, and have sought to tease out the implications of networks for their own particular research. This resulted in a plethora of books and articles that use the ideas of networks to understand a certain empirical phenomenon. While some may lament that this has contaminated the network concept, it actually shows that one of the great strengths of Castells's work is that it invites further exploration and experimentation with different ways to understand social and physical reality.

From the onset, it was clear that The Information Age would have major consequences for the way we understand the intersection between the physical environment and the social environment. This edited volume is another attempt to use the network paradigm in order to investigate a vast range of topics in planning. It brings together a number of papers that were written for the Third Joint Conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and Association of European Schools of Planning (2003). The bookis part ofthe Networked Cities Series. The editors cite Castells's work as their main motive for putting this book together. However, stories about the network society and the implications for planning abound, so one should critically examine what this book has on offer.

Goal and Structure of the Book

The main goal of this book is to investigate whether the network society provides a new context for planning. The initial conference in 2003 resulted in a large number of papers, and the editors made a selection of those papers to feature in this book. After selection, the contributions were revised in order to fit the book. The editors admit that there were no initial guidelines for the papers. Regardless of the editing, there are still major differences between the various papers in terms of topics, focus and style. Some authors offer novel research, other authors offer essays and the empirical focus varies with each paper.

In order to structure this wide variety, the editors have distributed the papers over three parts, each concluded by a commentary by a well-known researcher. The parts are named "The Network Society: A New Paradigm?" (commentary by Judith E. Innes), "Organization of Space and Time" (commentaries by Gabriel Dupuy and Leonie Sandercock) and "Policy Networks and Governance" (commentaries by Susan S. Fainstein and Patsy Healy). Some parts of the book have multiple subsections. There is an introductory chapter by the editors that describes the goal ofthe book and presents a research agenda. There is no concluding chapter.


The first overall impression is two-fold. The editors brought together an impressive collection of well-known researchers in planning and related studies, and many of the contributions discuss many of the current issues in planning. There is a large variety of perspectives. The term 'network' provides an opportunity to understand the dynamics of physical networks (e.g., the contribution by Bertolini), the dynamics of information networks (e.g., the contribution by Drewe), the dynamics of social networks (e.g., the contribution by de Souza Briggs) and the dynamics of governance networks (e.g., the contribution by Van Ark and Edelenbos). Obviously, there is no neat separation between all types of networks. Many ofthe authors address the multiplicity ofthe network concept and point at how the built environment, social dynamics and governance respond to each other. While some contributions are very conceptual, most of them (also) present case studies from many parts ofthe world. …