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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Professor Castells, thank you for being here today.

Thank you, Harry.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Spain. I was born in a small town, La Mancha, like Don Quixote. I grew up in several places, but mainly in Barcelona. I stayed in Spain until the age of twenty, when I had to move to Paris.

Tell us about your parents. How, in retrospect, do you think they shaped your character?

My parents were very good parents. It was a conservative family -- very strongly conservative family. But I would say that the main thing that shaped my character besides my parents was the fact that I grew up in fascist Spain. It's difficult for people of the younger generation to realize what that means, even for the Spanish younger generation. You had actually to resist the whole environment, and to be yourself, you had to fight and to politicize yourself from the age of fifteen or sixteen.

So in a way, you instinctively came not to believe in the authorities?

By definition, authority for me was betrayal and lie.

Were you active in politics at all?

Very much. I joined the student anti-Franco movement, and I entered the university at the age of sixteen. I was so active that by the age of twenty, I was a political exile in Paris.

So the authorities knew about you and wanted you either in jail or out of the country?

No, out of the country, no. In jail, and tortured.

I see.

That's what happened, unfortunately, to all my friends. In 1962 at the University of Barcelona, the police raided the campus, and students were tortured, sent to jail, and spent quite a few years in jail.

And this was happening in the heart of Europe?

But remember, at that time, the Pyrenees were real, very real. Spain was only, in fact, supported and acknowledged by the U.S. government. Most of the European countries were boycotting most relations with Spain, [though] not diplomatic relations.

So when did you leave the country? What education did you get in the country and what out of the country?

I was studying both law and economics at the University of Barcelona. I studied four years, but I couldn't finish. Spanish degrees were five-year degrees at the university. So I finished in Paris. I finished first law and economics, and then I went into a Doctorate of Sociology at the Sorbonne.

What drew you into sociology and to the topics that you wound up working on?

I would say my interest in social change. If I had been in a normal country, law would have attracted me very much, and economics also; but I was driven to the necessity for social change, first in Spain and then later in France. Sociology was a discipline that was more intellectually open, less dominated by a narrow view of the world, that things are as they are and you cannot move them. So the notion of integrating my intellectual activity, my professional activity, and the possibility of contributing to some form of social change and betterment of society was appealing to me, as I would say, to most sociologists.

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