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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Focus of Research

Where were you in the sixties? You were in France; were you still a student?

I became a very young Assistant Professor at the University of Paris at the age of twenty-four in 1966. I was appointed to the faculty at Nanterre, a new campus of the University of Paris, where there were professors like Alain Touraine, René Lefebre, and Hernando Cardozo. I was there as an Assistant Professor of Sociology in 1968, and in that department on that campus the 1968 Movement started. So I would not say I was a leader of the movement, but I was certainly a participant in the movement. The leader of the movement was my student, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now a very important political figure in Europe.

How did that movement affect you, do you think, in retrospect?

I think very fundamentally. Myself and my analysis and my theory. Mainly, in two ways. First, it showed me, concretely, that things could change, that the institutions that seemed immobile could be shaken, not just by protest, but by protest articulated with the interests and values of society at large.

And second, it showed me that the old bureaucratic environment of the industrial society was already, to a large extent, undermined. That the issue was not, in fact, the division that at that point dominated the world, capitalism versus socialism, but something much more important. The issue was the expression of people's values and personal projects against the bureaucratic institutions, both socialist and capitalist. These institutions were trying to suppress cultural activity and the redefinition of life according to one's values. So in that sense, the 1968 Movement in Paris was very closely connected to the 1960s movement in Berkeley and in the U.S., which were not, by and large, anti-capitalist movements, but were movements that translated the cultural revolt and an expression of yourself beyond the institutions of societies.

You write in your trilogy, talking about the broader impact on society, "The cultural movements of the 1960s, in their affirmation of individual autonomy against both capital and the state, placed a renewed stress on the politics of identity."

Absolutely. And, actually, they had tremendous consequences, even on the technology of our society. This wonderful technological revolution was shaped by the cultural values of freedom. For instance, the simple notion of a personal computer -- a personal computer, certainly in the Soviet Union, was subversive by definition; typewriters were forbidden. And in the capitalist society, a personal computer was not something that was even thought of by major companies. It was still the time when IBM was saying that by the year 2000 there would be between five and ten computers in the world, or the time in the 1970s when the leader of the Digital Corporation said, "Who would want to have a computer at home?"

This notion of appropriating [technology] for the values and interests of the individual, of groups, of communities -- the most extraordinary transformation in technology -- was really alien to that culture. Through the 1960s cultural movement, our categories of thinking changed, and, to some extent, our identity. Personal identity, but also all kinds of collective identities -- religious, national, gender, ethnic -- appear at the forefront of our societies. The entire rationalist world that both liberalism and Marxism had produced, in terms of diluting who people are through abstract categories such as "worker" and "consumer" or "the working class" -- these abstractions were, in fact, receding on the basis of a redefinition of cultural values and one's identity.

What you're talking about became the primary focus of your studies, namely the interface between technology and the social milieu -- the social structure in which it appears -- and the dynamic between those two.

Exactly. It's what I call the relationship between the net and the self. Many people would agree that our societies are being totally redefined by electronically based information technologies, and this is creating a new world -- not the technology itself but the uses of this technology on the basis of social and economic and political interests.

But what I think is specific to the kind of research I have tried to do is to show that societies, as usual, are not simply determined by one-dimensional development -- let's say, techno-economic development -- but by the interaction between techno-economic development and what people want to do with this techno-economic development, and in terms of who they are and what they believe and what they would like to happen in the world. This has been quite fundamentally built in terms of identity, of different kinds of identities, in the last ten years.

Our world seems to be shaped by the interaction between these two trends. When the two trends get together, then you have an extraordinary socially rooted technological development expressing identity. When they split and are opposed to each other, like, for instance, in the case of exclusion of many people in the world from the networks of power and information and wealth, then it's identity versus the networks. And in that sense, we witness the potentiality of social crisis of a great dimension, because the way we work and the way we feel don't go together.

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