Manuel Castells Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Identity and Change in the Network Society: Conversation with Manuel Castells, Professor of Sociology and City and Regional Planning, UC. Berkeley; 5/9/0l by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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In the context of this new world emerging, you are saying then that there are possibilities for the individual. Do you have a positive view of what the individual can still do?

I do, although, as you probably have noticed (and most people have criticized me for this in my work, at least in the trilogy), I am very shy about any prescription or any normative attitudes. I try to be as analytical as possible. It doesn't mean that I don't care about the world -- it's obvious that I do -- but I think my role is mainly to provide analytical tools for people, then to decide what they want to do.

But, individuals, yes. This has two aspects. If we would need one word to characterize, in social terms, in terms of values and organization, our world, it is the growing juxtaposition of individualism and communalism. The two things are happening. Most people in our advanced societies, but also in others, are building their projects as individuals, in the family, in the economy, in everything. Even in the economy, people train themselves with the idea of having individual portfolios, which you can negotiate with different people.

So we are in a world of individuals. And the Internet actually is very good for that, because rather than creating virtual communities that practically don't exist, what exists is networks of individuals which provides the basis for increasing, not decreasing, our sociability, but our sociability as individuals. On the other hand, people who don't feel strong as individuals build trenches of resistance, and they close the communities. For instance, religious fundamentalists. For instance, extreme nationalism. So we have individuals and communities, and in between, the civil society and the state -- they don't vanish, but they are dramatically weakened. And the civil society and the state were, in fact, the institutions that emerged as forms of social organizations in the industrial age.

One final question requiring a brief answer, because we're just about at the end of our time. You had said that "the twenty-first century will not be a Dark Age. It may well be characterized by informed bewilderment." How should students prepare for the future in a network society?

I think education is more important than ever. But education is not simply the traditional form of education. It is to develop what I call "self-programming capabilities." That is, the ability to adapt. To learn to learn, and to learn how to use the knowledge in the implementation of their projects and tasks throughout their lives. So, building, on the one hand, the knowledge capability not to have lots of information, but to know how to find information and how to recombine this information, which would, ultimately, mean to be very good and very strong in a broad educational training. Good mathematics, good verbal skills, good writing skills, a little bit of philosophy, a little bit of history and geography. Sounds traditional? And then, computers will count. Computers will do the work almost automatically by themselves when we know what to ask the computers.

On the other hand, on the personality side, in a world which is constantly changing, it is essential that education help provide what I call a combination of secure personalities and flexible personalities. Flexible personalities, because young people are going to go through extraordinary transformation in their lives. Finish the notion that you find your partner, your marry, you have children, but no, no, no, get ready for everything. And to reconstruct your life constantly. And so, flexibility; but not so flexible that you don't know who you are. So at the same time, in order to have a strong, relatively secure personality, you need values. But not many values, because many values cannot be strong. I mean, you'll go crazy with so many values. A few solid values such as "don't do to the others what you don't want the others to do you."


If you have a good family, stick to it, take care of children -- they are good people until you make them bad. I mean, a few of these fundamental values such as tolerance -- not too many, anchored deeply, defended -- and then flexibility. So, self-programming capabilities; education, education, education; a few solid values; and flexibility to open up to life.

Professor Castells, on that very intriguing and positive note about preparing for the future, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today and giving us an exposure to the intellectual journey of your life. Thank you very much.

Thank you Harry, it's a privilege.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

book cover: Network Societybook cover: Power of Identitybook cover: End of Millennium

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