Bringing Power and Dominance Back into The Network Society

According to this article in El País (in Spanish), this is is what Manuel Castells does in his latest book Communication Power but it does not mean that he has given up on the emancipatory potential of the Internet:

Read the whole thing.

Although I would argue that power was not as absent of The Information Age as the article makes it sound. Castells made it very clear that the Network Society produces winners and losers (the usual suspects, labor for instance). And the conflict dimension was more thoroughly addressed in the other volumes of the Information Age.

Needless to say, that book is in my to-read ever-growing pile. Castells is in line for my sociologist of the semester category.

The Politicization of the Fourth World

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money, D links to this article in from the New York Times on the Bagram prison (Afghanistan’s version of Guantanamo Bay, where suspected “enemy combatants” are detained without due process). Bagram has a prisoner population approximately three times larger than Guantanamo, and there is pretty clear evidence of torture there as well. Apparently, the Bush administration has built a brand new prison to be under the authority of the Afghani government providing it agrees to apply the same legal framework of treating the prisoners as enemy combatants. This has caused resistance on the part of Afghani officials.

There is nothing really new or surprising here, so, why am I bringing this up? I read this article in conjunction with a couple of articles from Le Monde on the current state of unrest at an illegal immigrants detention center. As with Guantanamo and Bagram, detainees at the Vincennes center are held in a legal limbo, indefinitely. It is difficult for them to have access to lawyers and have their cases sorted out. Families are held in such centers in deplorable conditions. Disobedience, unrest and violent repression followed by hunger strikes have brought to attention the desperation of the detainees.

These two phenomena – the more or less arbitrary detention of enemy combatants (a fuzzy category) and illegal immigrants – raise the issue of social exclusion in the global context. Both categories of people mentioned in the article can be seen as part of sociologist Manuel Castells’s Fourth World. I have discussed social exclusion and the Fourth World here (and this applies perfectly to the cases discussed here), but let me reiterate Castells’s definition:

A new world – the Fourth World – has emerged, made up of the multiple black holes of social exclusion throughout the planet. The Fourth World comprises large areas of the globe, such as much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and impoverished rural areas of Latin America and Asia. But it is also present in literally every country, and every city, in this new geography of social exclusion. It is formed of American inner-city ghettos, Spanish enclaves of mass youth unemployment, French banlieues warehousing North Africans, Japanese Yoseba quarters, and Asian mega-cities’ shanty towns. And it is populated by millions of homeless, incarcerated, prostituted, criminalized, brutalized, stigmatized, sick and illiterate persons. They are the majority in some areas, the minority in others, and a tiny minority in a few privileged contexts. But, everywhere, they are growing in number, and increasing in visibility, as the selective triage of informational capitalism, and the political breakdown of the welfare state, intensify social exclusion. In the current historical context, the rise of the Fourth World is inseparable from the rise of informational global capitalism.”

The cases of Guantanamo, Bagram and the French detention centers add a political dimension to the economic categories delineated by Castells (of course, there is overlap here). The process of stigmatization, brutalization and exclusion is not here exclusively due to the workings of global informational capitalism, but to policies that deliberately place categories of people outside the boundaries and legal limits of society. As mentioned in the conceptual sheet on social exclusion, they become part of the “dangerous classes” to be contained and controlled outside of the boundaries of the rule of law and civil society.