Theories of the Information Society

Theories of the Information Society

Theories of the Information Society

Theories of the Information Society


Popular opinion suggests that information has become a distinguishing feature of the modern world. Where once economies were built on industry and conquest, we are now instead said to be part of a global information economy. In this new and thoroughly revised edition of his popular book, author Webster brings his work up-to-date both with new theoretical work and with social and technological changes - such as the rapid growth of the internet and accelerated globalization - and reassesses the work of key theorists in light of these changes. This book is essential reading for students of contemporary social theory and anybody interested in social and technological change in the post-war era.


It seems to me that most people ask themselves, at one time or another, what sort of society is it in which we live? How can we make sense of what is going on with our world? And where is it all taking us? This is a daunting and frequently bewildering task because it involves trying to identify the major contours of extraordinarily complex and changeable circumstances. Some people quickly give up on the task, frankly admitting confusion. Still others, encountering disputation, retreat into the comforting (and lazy) belief that we see only what we choose. Fortunately, most people stick with trying to understand what is happening in the world, and in so doing reach for such terms as capitalism, industrialism, totalitarianism and liberal democracy. Most of us will have heard these sorts of words, will have voiced them ourselves, when trying to account for events and upheavals, for important historical occurrences, or even for the general drift of social, economic and political change.

In all probability we will have argued with others about the appropriateness of these labels when applied to particular circumstances. We will even have debated just what the terms might mean. For instance, while it can be agreed that Russia has moved well away from Communism, there will be less agreement that the transition can be accurately described as a shift to a fully capitalist society. There is a constant need to qualify the generalising terminology: hence pre-industrial, emerging democracies, advanced capitalism, authoritarian populism.

And yet, despite these necessary refinements, few of us will feel able to refuse these concepts or indeed others like them. The obvious reason is that, big and crude and subject to amendment and misunderstanding though they be, these concepts and others like them do give us a means to identify and begin to understand essential elements of the world in which we live and from which we have emerged. It seems inescapable that, impelled to make sense of the most consequential features of different societies and circumstances, we are driven towards the adoption of grand concepts.

The starting point for this book is the emergence of an apparently new way of conceiving contemporary societies. Commentators have increasingly begun to talk about 'information' as a distinguishing feature of the modern world. We are

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