The Knowledge Gurus (2)

New Statesman (1996), September 27, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Knowledge Gurus (2)


Manuel Castells

As polymaths go, the Catalan sociologist Manuel Castells ranks impressively. When he arrived at the University of Paris in 1966, he was the youngest professor there, aged 24. He remained there for more than a decade, working within the mainstream European Marxist tradition (although he disdains political labels, he was expelled from Franco's Spain and Daniel Cohn-Bendit planned May 1968 in his classroom). But in 1979 he moved to California and discovered a society on the brink of the IT revolution. Since then he has worked in dozens of countries and studied a huge number of scientific and social disciplines in order to chronicle the effects of that revolution. Many consider the trilogy that marks the completion of this study - The Information Age - to be so perceptive and thorough that it can be compared with the works of Marx or Weber.

Castells sees knowledge as an integral part of the new capitalism, which he terms "informationalism". Just as knowledge must be shared through communications and networks within a company in order to optimise the workforce's skills, so every component of society must take its part in an array of dynamic networks to survive and flourish in the information age. Indeed, he predicts, the relationship between individual and network will become more important than the ties of community. This thesis is explored in the first book of the trilogy, The Rise of the Network Society, in which he ambitiously seeks to unite economics, sociology and management theory - just as Drucker tried half a century before. The two latter volumes are preoccupied with organised crime and corruption and the alienation of large sectors of society. …

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