This blog is an open window to disseminate our research work in the network society. This blog is thus created as a medium to allow the IN3 community to share our work, our research questions, our achievements and our envisioning thoughts to the broad public and to our peers worldwide.
The Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) was founded in 1999 with the aim of bringing UOC research together to focus on new technologies and their impact on all areas of human activity and society. Thus, from the start, the IN3 has focused its research work on the knowledge society.
The Knowledge Society
There is no general consensus among the scientific community with respect to the term “knowledge society”. At the IN3, we use the term according to the definition given by Professor Manuel Castells in 2002 in the document ‘La dimension cultural de Internet’ (‘The cultural dimension of Internet’ http://www.uoc.edu/culturaxxi/esp/articles/castells0502/castells0502.html), as quoted below:
A society in which the conditions for knowledge generation and information processing have been substantially altered by a technological revolution centred on information processing, knowledge generation and information technologies. This does not mean that technology is the determining factor; technology is always developed in relation to social, institutional, economic and cultural contexts, among others. But what distinguishes the past 10 or 15 years is really a paradigm shift much like the one that occurred during the Industrial Revolution (…) It constitutes a new kind of paradigm affecting all processes of society, politics, war, and economy (…) within the whole of human activity.
This definition exhibits the synergy between two distinct areas or disciplinary blocks that are considered as worlds apart: on the one hand, ICT engineering disciplines that contributed to the technological revolution that started in the last few decades of the twentieth century and, on the other hand, the different sciences that focus on human activity, including social sciences, humanities, life sciences, art, and so on, and which are referred to as “human sciences” in this post. It is thus clear that the IN3 focus is intrinsically interdisciplinary and pretends to vanish the borders between many different knowledge fields and different views of reality.
It is also worth noting that, historically, “knowledge society” is not the only term that has been used to refer to this concept. Initially the term “information society” was used, and “network society” is sometimes preferred nowadays. These terms are often used interchangeably in scientific literature and we consider them as almost equivalent, even though nuances and differences between them may be found. However, since information and knowledge are common factors in any society at any time in history, we believe that the term “network society” best describes the purpose of the IN3’s research. “Network” is understood here to refer to ICT and Internet technologies that have brought about the paradigm shift described by Professor Castells, in a situation comparable to that which caused the Industrial Revolution in the Western society during the second half of the 18th century.
In the IN3, research is organised in research groups to analyse reality with different lenses. The areas currently covered by the eleven groups are the following:
Having defined the Institute’s topic of research –the network society– it is essential to provide a better explanation of our type of interdisciplinarity that we are struggling to bring out. To describe the type of interdisciplinarity that characterizes IN3 as specifically as possible, we begin with the following two considerations:
From the perspective of the human sciences, we must understand information and communication technology to be an essential and catalytic element of change in the network society.
From the perspective of the engineering sciences, we must understand the impact of research on new technologies in different areas of human activity and in the context of the network society.
A first approach to combine research from different disciplines is to engage in joint research projects. In this kind of projects, engineering can provide new technologies that can help build the Internet of the future, whereas human scientists would contribute to diagnose and analyse society such that new needs and demands can be identified.
The above figure represents how the human and engineering sciences can collaborate on interdisciplinary projects that have a social impact in the context of the network society. Engineers can provide technological solutions that respond to social needs, challenges and problems, while the analyses carried out by human scientists serve to identify new needs and demands and to carry out studies on ICT’s impact on society, both direct and indirect.
However, that would not be the end of trip, just the beginning. Once this disciplinary division has been broken down, the IN3 will stand out thanks to transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research with hybrid teams formed by researchers from both engineering and human sciences. This new approach requires the participation of stakeholders from society to define research challenges based on society’s needs and demands, as well as to assess the social impact of the research developed within the IN3 framework.
The participation of stakeholders is crucial in our envisioned future. Actually, research gains relevance when it is not focused on the priorities of the research community but on the needs and demands of society.
Making a difference
The main drivers of the research activities carried out within the IN3 must be the changing and increasing social needs related to the network society. In this respect, the sustainable development goals (SDG) of the United Nations 2030 agenda (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld) constitute the perfect reference framework for the research produced in our institute.
After this inaugural post, I invite the IN3 community to share your research results, questions, prospects or worries with the general public and our academic peers. Above all, I would like to challenge the authors of next posts of the blog to keep their focus on how our research can bring benefit to society, beyond merely academic interests.
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