Online Workshop “The Network Society Today: (Revisiting) the Information Age Trilogy”

27 October, 2020
Poster of the workshop The Network Society Today that will take place on 2-30 November 2020

By Organizing Committee


We designed the digital mutation of the planned face-to-face Workshop The Network Society Today: (Revisiting) the Information Age Trilogy. In doing so, we have tried to avoid converting a face-to-face conference in one place to a camera-to-camera in ten different time zones across the globe with uneven internet access.

The result is what we are about to start: a workshop that will be run through November (from the 2nd to the 30th) in an asynchronous way on a free open-source participatory platform Decidim adapted by Platoniq.

Each asynchronous session will develop during a week, one after the other. There will be a total of 4 sessions: 3 sessions and a final wrap-up discussion.


  • Session 1: Networks in the Age of Platforms – Nov. 2-8, 2020 
  • Session 2: The Network and the Grassroots – Nov 9-15, 2020
  • Session 3: The Geopolitics of the Network Society – Nov. 16-22, 2020
  • Session 4: The Network Society Today (wrap-up) – Nov. 23-30, 2020


If you want to participate in the discussions, please go to:


Workshop Program

Session 1: Networks in the Age of Platforms 

Discussant: Vasilis Kostakis, Tallinn University of Technology (TTÜ)

Drawing on his pioneering work on the Informational City (1989) and the emergence of Silicon Valley and analysis across the globe, Volume I of the trilogy Manuel Castells positions the foundations of the Information age by exploring the role of the technological, economic and labor structural dimensions of the rise of the network society. In this session we will reflect and explore theoretically and empirically about the relevance of these foundations today and confront them with current development of the network.


The Network and the Society: Structure and Agency in Manuel Castells’ Theory Andrea Miconi 

The aim of the paper is to explore the theoretical tension between structure and agency as laid out by Castells, from The Rise of the Network Society to Networks of Outrage and Hope. With agency and structure recognized as the two main axes around which social theory rotates, Castells’ work appears to be affected by discontinuity: the first part of his theory deals with structure and with the “pre-eminence of social morphology”, while the second is rather based on agency and grassroots movements.

Keywords: Network; agency; structure; social movements.


Is the ‘Platform Society’ the End of the ‘Network Society’? Reflections on Platforms, and Network Structure and Dynamics Francesca Comunello and Simone Mulargia

We focus on networks, network models, and the network society, reviewing what was proposed in Castells (1996), and also relying on other scholars addressing the topic (among others, Barabási, 2002; Easley & Kleinberg, 2010; Galloway & Thacker, 2007; Lewis, 2009; Monge & Contractor, 2003; Newman, Barabási & Watts, 2006; Rainie & Wellman, 2012; Watts, 2004). We argue that the social and platform ecosystem we are witnessing today can be understood from the perspective of scale-free networks and is, indeed, consistent with the premises provided in 1996. When observing networks, we address both structure and agency, and both the macro (network morphology) and micro (networked individualism and sociability) levels.

Keywords: Network society; network structure; network dynamics; platform society; scale-free networks.


5G is coming: Designing the “next generation” in the city – Gabriele Schliwa and Paolo Cardullo

This paper addresses the need to better understand and position 5G in urban governance by mapping its characteristics, deployment, and promises. We argue that ‘next-generation’ thinking in the development of the Internet has been crucial to the speculative designing of ‘smart city’ futures and mobilisation of resources for its realisation. In the current imaginaries, the ‘next generation’ evolves around a technological culture that normalises logics of speed, real-time governing and system integration in public domains and environments.

In addition, we note how 5G pushes towards the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), the exchange of data among interconnected devices, machines, and sensors that are algorithmic-led and often organised around autonomous mesh networks, rather than towards a network operating for and servicing people (IoP). We conclude that new socio-economic relations and environmental interdependencies as well as the cultural dimensions underpinning the ‘next generation’ wireless networks need to be carefully considered and politicised as data carriers as the Internet infrastructure becomes crucial in the ‘smart city’ discourse, deployment, and practices. 

Keywords: Smart city; public internet; commons; commoning; wi-fi networks.


Interfacing the Space of Flows and the Space of Place: Ten Years of Airbnb in Florence – Tiziano Bonini, Cristina Capineri and Antonello Romano

Drawing from Castells’ inspiring concepts of space of flows and space of place, we argue here that Airbnb’s digital infrastructure plays the role of an interface, a medium, between the space of places and the space of flows. The progressive networking of private apartments once rented to local residents into nodes of the global tourism network creates an increasingly conflicting spatial division between globally connected fragments of the city and other geographically contiguous but not connected spaces, contributing to increasing pre-existing social inequalities. In this context, the governance of spaces of flows, which is now a prerequisite of the network, matches what Castells observed: “Networks dissolve centres, they disorganize hierarchy, and make materially impossible the exercise of hierarchical power without processing instructions in the network, according to the network’s morphological rules” (Castells, 2009).

Keywords: Geography; digital platforms; inequalities; Florence, Airbnb.


The Network Research Enterprise: Synergies and Conflicts between Open Science and Open Innovation Òscar David Sánchez and Eduard Aibar

We will explore the changes and trends in research and innovation from the perspective of the information society. First, we will contextualize research PPPs (public-private partnerships), open innovation and open science within the framework of the networked economy. Second, we will draw on the empirical analysis of a set of research projects funded by Innovative Medicine Initiatives (IMI) to better characterize scientific knowledge and data sharing on research PPPs conducting open innovation. Through an analysis of the research outputs of these projects and in-depth interviews with researchers involved in them we will identify (i) which knowledge assets are generated and exchanged within and outside these partnerships and under which conditions and (ii) which open science practices are most frequently adopted and how they do contribute to the overall goals of the research PPPs. Finally, we will use this empirical evidence to discuss the concept of openness in research and the open science movement in the broader context of the global networked economy.

Keywords: Networked economy; open science; open innovation; open data; life sciences.


Session 2: The Network and the Grassroots 

Discussant: Ida Susser

If in volume I Castells explores the new hegemonic socio-economic forms of domination, in volume II he goes to interrogate about the socio-cultural aspects of the network society, and in particular, to the new emerging social movements and their role in transforming society. A recurrent topic in Castells works from the City and the Grassroots (1983) to Networks of Outrage and Hope (2015) through Communication Power (2009), the contemporary relation between the network society is discussed in this session.


The California Rhizome; Bay Area Urbanism and the Information Age in Urban Theory Marcus Owens


In search for ‘truths’: South Korean Society and the Politics of Live Video Streaming – Ji Hyeon Kim and Jun Yu

In this paper, we investigate how live broadcasting of political events and social movements can contribute to, or even generate, political conflicts, by comparing two South Korean cases: live broadcasting of a) 2008 rally against the government’s reversal of ban on US beef imports, and b) 2017 demonstrations demanding the impeachment of the then-President Park Geun-hye. Drawing on the works of critical theorists such as Castells, Lash, Negri, and Virno, we first seek to understand the influence of this particular information technology on Korean society and political landscape. Then we go further on to show that various powers are intertwined with the live streaming technologies, and how this leads to a more sophisticated and nuanced situation wherein different groups of individuals seek to create and claim a variety of truths.

Keywords: Network society, live streaming, post-truth, political communication, Castells.


Democratic disruption or continuity? Analysis of the Decidim platform in Catalan municipalities – Rosa Borge, Joan Balcells and Albert Padró-Solanet

Participatory digital platforms like Decidim were originally designed by citizen activists and are an example of the increasing political relevance of citizens in the Network Society. This paper analyzes the adoption and deployment of the Decidim platform in the 34 Catalan municipalities that currently are using it. Through the analysis of the digital content of the platform, in-depth interviews with municipal officials and online questionnaires, the research focuses on three issues: i) differences in the use of the platform between municipalities, ii) the reasons and context that bring to adopt the platform as a space for the digitalization of participatory processes, and, finally, iii) the factors and obstacles that explain the different developments of the platform. The research shows the disruptions introduced by new digital platforms in local public administrations due to their potential for autonomous citizen participation and deliberation. In this way, we contribute to the debate about the models of digital government and their relation to the theory of Network Society and how new technologies can help to achieve public policies based on citizens’ deliberated preferences.

Keywords: Online participation; online deliberation; digital platforms; Decidim; network society; Catalonia.


To network or not to network? Solidarity economy networks’ communicative action in times of COVID-19 in Portugal and Catalonia Sara Moreira and Cristina Parente


Mobile communication and urban/rural flows in a South African marginalised community – Lorenzo Dalvit

The present paper draws on Castells’ concept of space of flows to explore the role of mobile communication in mediating the movement of ideas, people and resources with respect to Dwesa, a rural area on the Wild Coast of the former homeland of Transkei, in the relatively poor and largely rural Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.  Increased communication contributes to safety, inclusion and accrual of social capital. Social arrangements such as support for funerals and other cultural events taking place in Dwesa are often sustained by urban dwellers via social media. Particularly among young people, the city is often referred to as the “real world” in terms of lifestyle, health information, opportunities for personal growth etc which are primarily accessed online. Beyond discursive constructions of the city as an idealised place, mobile communication contributes to the bi-directional flow of people and resources between Dwesa and urban areas such as East London or Cape Town.

Keywords: Mobile communication; space of flows; migration; rural community; South Africa.


Session 3: The Geopolitics of the Network Society

Discussant: Fernando Calderón

The Information Age Trilogy ends with the (geo-)politics of the network society and informational capitalism, the included and excluded from this society and winners and loser countries areas. Just at the moment that liberal democracies are in crisis (Castells 2018), what we can learn from the political analysis of the Trilogy? What holds between the global and the body at meso-level?


Systemic Collapse. The Continuing Relevance of Castells’s Analysis of the End of the Soviet Union Felix Stalder

The analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Vol, III: 5-68) is one of the most overlooked chapters of the Information Age trilogy. To some degree, this is understandable since within the trilogy, it mainly serves as a case study of a society that failed to transform itself in the face of the general crisis of industrialism. The inability to create its own version of informationalism left the Soviet Union unable to compete with its systemic rivals, falling further and further behind, to the point that when belated reforms were undertaken, they could no longer contain the centrifugal forces that had grown during the years of stagnation.

Thus, in my contribution, I propose to do four things: (1) To revisit Castells’ analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union and focus on the theoretical argument contained therein. (2) To review this argument in order to determine which of its elements can be applied to the current political crises in the West. (3) To apply this argument to two areas of crisis. One is the political institutions of liberal democracy, based on the notion of the separation of powers and of political representation. The other being the institutional arrangements governing our metabolic relationship to the biological and geological world. I will interpret these areas of crisis as cases in which the mode of production is increasingly unable to organize productively the contemporary mode of development. (4) I will end on a speculative note, looking at the current “expression of conflicts between society and the state [and the market]” (Vol.III: 9) that could lead to the collapse of these arrangements (for the better or worse).

Keywords: Mode of production, Soviet Union, contemporary crisis, democracy, ecology.


All Too Human Castell(s) Tibor Dessewffy

Based on my empirical work, in which I utilised social media data in Hungary from the previous five years, I would like to demonstrate how political movements, identity formation and subcultural activities have changed as a result of the access to and widespread use of social media. On the macro level, these developments have to be viewed in the context of the dynamics of the Triple Transition in Hungary in the last 25 years: Informational, political and economic. Regrettably, the Hungarian case can be seen as case study of how things can go wrong, how a full-fledged authoritarian regime can emerge within the European Union. This is a development that was as unpredictable in 1995 as the global availability of smartphones and social media. Technology and networks, as Castells had predicted, can be used for good or bad. However, when traditional media are so overwhelmingly controlled and owned by the ruling party, the last resort of democratic revival could be found in those “networks of hope”. From a methodological point of view, based on the research results I would also argue that digital footprints provide a new and extremely promising path for social understanding, one that was obviously not available at the time when Castells wrote the Trilogy.

Keywords: Castells Trilogy; digital data; social media; identity; politics.


Organized Crime, Networks, and States John P Sullivan

This paper examines the logic structure of criminal networks and their influence on states and sovereignty, starting with Castells’ exploration of globalization, networking, and the informational economy, including the “space of flows and places” in The Rise of the Network Society (Vol. I). It then explores social movements, identity, global terrorism, environmental threats, and the crisis of nations-states as discussed in The Power of Identity (Vol. II). The paper will then focus its analysis on “The Perverse Connection: The Global Criminal Economy” (Chapter 3) in the final volume End of Millennium (Vol. III). 

The rise of global criminal networks and their role in transforming states is examined with emphasis on Russia, where the contemporary template for politics, business, and crime to intertwine was tested. The inter-penetration of criminal cartels, gangs, and mafias with co-opted politicians, states, and legitimate enterprises relies on corruption as the new currency of power and profit. Money laundering and the drug trade (in Latin America, Mexico, and beyond) form what Castells called a ‘matrix of global crime’ characterized by volatility, and criminal culture. Criminal-political inter-penetration and collusion yield extreme violence, insecurity, and instability transcending national frontiers. This ‘criminal political economy’ and chaos fuel the current crisis of liberal governance that Castells recently described in Rupture: The Crisis of Liberal Democracy (2018).

Keywords: Criminal insurgency; global crime; networks.


Interpersonal Communication in the Information Age: Opportunities and Disruptions Loredana Ivan

Starting from the interpersonal communication theories that have recently incorporated the use of information and communication technologies (Walther, 1996; 2007) and the perpetual interconnectedness to understand human behavior in interaction with others (Walther et al, 2015), in the current paper I approach challenges brought by the network society in the way we reflect, listen, explain, negotiate, and reinforce our interactions with family, friends and acquaintances, and also in the way we form romantic relationship. I argue that Castells’ concepts are largely used to explain macro-phenomena, as for example social movements (Castells, 2015), political and socio-economic transformation around the world (Castells, 2017), and to a lesser extend in discussing meso-phenomena, as social isolation, exhaustion, commodification of human interactions and interpersonal conflicts arise as part of individual’s adaptation to the Information Age. We share the point of view of Webster (2007), who argues that Castells focused more on how information and communication technologies shapes human relations and not on the way individuals adapt these technologies to respond their social needs. Sharing Castells’ optimism on the way network society creates efficiency and innovation in human interactions we draw the attention to less optimistic aspects that come along with the constant pressure of constructing relationships through the virtual reality.

Keywords: Network society & interpersonal communication; information age & social interactions; interpersonal communication mediated by technologies.


Session 4: Rethinking the Network Society Today (wrap-up)

In this wrap-up session we will link the previous sessions with a keynote presentation by Manuel Castells revising how the Trilogy framework responds to the current times and how the pandemics and its consequences can be understood from the perspective of the Network Society theory. 

The sessions will also include contributions by philospher Marina Garcés.


This workshop is organized by the IN3 – Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Open University of Catalonia. The workshop constitutes a central part of the IN3’s 20th anniversary. 

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