UBC Communications Brands and Consumerism: Red Bull Essay
CMNS1221: MASS CULTURE ASSIGNMENTInstructions:
In class, we talked about the Frankfurt School, problems with Mass Culture, and
connections between Capitalism, Consumerism, and Culture. I want you to think about
these ideas as you complete this assignment. There are two main objectives in this
assignment: the first is to think about how capitalism and mass culture structures and
influences our lives; the second is to connect your experience to theory. Your goal is to
provide a detailed, theoretically rich, and self-reflective answer. Draw from personal
experience, use theory and fact-based evidence to support your claims. In addition to
course material, you can consider websites, social media feeds, YouTube clips and
personal experience to complete this assignment.
There are two options to choose from, you must pick ONE of the options to write
on. Before you start writing, make sure you understand the questions and what is being
asked of you. Your submission should be 800-1000 words long (excluding bibliography).
Standard submission guidelines apply: cover page, double-spaced, size 12 font, use a
proper citation style and submitted on Blackboard as a word document or PDF. You can
use images etc. as evidence in your answer. You do not have to type out the questions,
just indicate which option you are answering. The readings and course material from
Week 9 are sufficient for completing this assignment, however you are free to use
additional material from this course. You are being evaluated on your use and
application of course material, so be specific with the theories and ideas you are using.
Take some time to edit your assignment before you submit it, the easier it is to read, the
easier it is to give you credit for your ideas!
Option 1: Brands and Consumerism
We are surrounded, even bombarded by capital and consumerism. Our social media
feeds are filled with advertising and influencers trying to sell us products, TV shows promote
products to us, and we walk around checking each other out, trying to find out what’s trending
and what’s ‘cool’. The culture industry and individual brands are everywhere. Choose one of the
brands listed below and examine how this brand works within the culture industry. You need to
think through the characteristics of the brand, and how they create advertising, merchandizing,
and products that make you want to spend money; you should also consider how it makes you
feel when you buy these products. Consider for example: Who is the target audience of this
brand? What image is this brand trying to depict? and Why are their products offered at a
certain price point? You might also want to consider theories of hegemony, standardization and
pseudo-individualization, and class-consciousness. You do not have to answer all of the
questions listed above; these are suggestions to get you started. Remember, you are being
asked to use your experience AND course material to make sense of the relationship between
capitalism, consumerism and culture.
You must choose ONE of the following to discuss:
1. Reebok (https://www.reebok.ca/)
2. Red Bull (https:// https://www.redbull.com/)
3. Twitch (https:// www.twitch.tv/)
Option 2: Cultural Spaces
Cultural products, rituals and commodities don’t just come from shopping malls. We
experience culture in many different spaces and through different events. Sports stadiums,
street festivals, museums, national holidays, and rites of passage like weddings, are all spaces
where we experience and consume culture. Choose ONE of the events/spaces below and
examine how it is both a cultural and capitalist product. What can we learn about culture,
experience and capitalism when we look closely at these spaces or events? To answer this
question you need to consider how these spaces or events look, what they are for and what
people actually do there. You might also want to think about who is included or excluded. You
also need to consider how these places are affected by consumerism and capitalism. These are
spaces of community and culture but also business and industry. Remember you are being
asked to use course material, so you might also want to think about theories like atomization,
folk culture versus mass culture, and industrialization.
You must choose ONE of the following to discuss:
1. Valentine’s Day (You can choose whichever cultural version you want, it does not have to be
2. National Parks (A specific area that is nationally protected and celebrated. For example:
Yellowstone, U.S.A; Jasper National Park, Canada; Kruger National Park, South Africa;
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal etc.)
NMS0010.1177/1461444814541523new media & societyJenner
Is this TVIV? On Netflix,
TVIII and binge-watching
new media & society
2016, Vol. 18(2) 257–273
© The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
Independent Scholar, Germany
This article explores the relationship between television and video on demand (VOD),
focusing specifically on Netflix and its recent move to produce and distribute original
serialised drama. Drawing on a number of conceptualisations of contemporary media,
this article positions Netflix within a contemporary media landscape, paying particular
attention to how it relates to branding strategies of multi-platform serialised content
and subscription cable channels in the United States. It considers Netflix-produced
season 4 of Arrested Development (Fox, 2003–2013, Netflix, 2013) as a case study to
explore how Netflix positions itself in relation to contemporary ‘quality’ and ‘cult’ TV
and associated viewing practices and draws on theories of post-postmodern capitalism
to understand its function within a broader socio-political context. As such, it places
Netflix within discourses of VOD, TVIII, branding, contemporary viewing practices and
consumer practices in post-postmodern capitalism.
Arrested Development, binge-watching, cult TV, digital television, new media, postpostmodernism, TVIII, video on demand
In 2007, online DVD rental service Netflix announced the introduction of a video-ondemand (VOD) service. By 2014, Netflix not only offers a large online library of film
and TV in North and South America, the Caribbean, Denmark, the United Kingdom,
Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands, but even offers original content
in the form of serialised drama and comedy, featuring a number of stars ranging from
Kevin Spacey to Will Arnett, directors like David Fincher or writers like Jenji Kohan.
Mareike Jenner, Independent Scholar, Ringstr 36, Berlin 12205, Germany.
new media & society 18(2)
Netflix has moved into territory that sets it apart from familiar structures of production,
broadcasting or branding of television.
Netflix does signal a change within the digital television landscape. How permanent
and significant this change actually is, only time will tell (though with companies and
VOD platforms like Amazon and Hulu now offering original content, Netflix’ impact
seems both permanent and significant). As such, the title question of this article, is this
TVIV?, is clearly hyperbole. As Derek Kompare (2005) argues,
… it is impossible to gauge exactly what ‘television’ will be in another decade or so […]. However,
it is clear that the centralized, mass-disseminated, ‘one-way’ century is largely ceding to a regime
premised instead upon individual consumer choice, and marked by highly diversified content,
atomized reception, and customizable interfaces. […] These changes around television are also
part of a larger conceptual shift across all media, as the aesthetic, technological, industrial and
cultural boundaries between previously discrete forms (text, film, broadcasting, video, and sound
recordings) are increasingly blurred, challenging established practices and paradigms. (p. 198)
This article is concerned with issues of how to conceptualise Netflix in light of its
relatively new role as producer and distributor of original content rather than ‘just’ VOD
and DVD rental service. It is argued here that Netflix (as representative of VOD as producer of original content) signals a significant shift in a new media landscape and problematises known terminologies. The first part of this article will explore how Netflix
relates to periodisations of television history and the concept of television itself. It will
then move on to discuss what Netflix is and how it is positioned in its current media
environment. In a third step, this article will consider how Netflix deliberately positions
itself as similar, but also decidedly different from other media, by looking specifically at
the case study of Arrested Development (Fox, 2003–2013, Netflix, 2013), season 4, the
concept of independent scheduling and binge-watching. In a last step, Netflix and associated viewing practices are tied to Jeffrey T. Nealon’s conceptualisation of post-postmodern capitalism as one way to understand Netflix as media form and business model
designed to accommodate the way consumption and identity construction are tied
together in contemporary capitalism.
What is TVIV?
To answer the question of whether or not Netflix signals a change significant enough to
allow for the use of the term of TVIV would surely be premature, in particular as the
division of television history into such eras is never unproblematic. Roberta Pearson
(2011) summarises the ‘periods’ of US television as follows:
In the United States, TVI, dating from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, is the era of channel
scarcity, the mass audience, and three-network hegemony. TVII, dating from roughly the early
1980s to the late 1990s, is the era of channel/network expansion, quality television, and network
branding strategies. TVIII, dating from the late 1990s to the present, is the era of proliferating
digital distribution platforms, further audience fragmentation, and, as Reeves et al. (2002)
suggest, a shift from second-order to first-order commodity relations. (Location 1262–1266)
While TVIII is marked by certain technological advances and connected branding and
programming strategies, what is signalled by Netflix and other VOD platforms exclusively available online is a move away from the television set. One significant marker of
TVIII is its move towards multi-platform forms of distribution and storytelling, but it has
always kept some (however tenuous) link with the technology, branding and programming strategies, and social connotations television traditionally carries. Constructions of
‘television’ associated with TVI and TVII have frequently been subverted in the TVIII
era by technological developments (ranging from DVD box sets to TiVo or illegal downloads), audience behaviour (in accordance with the possibilities of new technology) and
industry (particularly, Home Box Office [HBO]’s efforts to redefine serialised drama as
‘high culture’), but has still sought to align itself with the familiar medium. Yet, Netflix
seems to signal a move away from the medium, its branding strategies, associated viewing patterns, technologies, industry structures or programming.
As Pearson also points out, while the division of television history into certain periods
is certainly helpful, they can only be understood as broad guideposts in a complex discursive formation of what we understand as television. Matt Hills (2007) argues in an
article on DVD culture that the medium of television is discursively constructed and
unfixed itself, making narratives of transformation where the introduction of new technologies supposedly transform the medium somewhat problematic:
Narratives of transformation are themselves called upon to discursively characterise, and so fix,
the earlier attributes of the object said to be undergoing change. In other words, […] to argue
that TV has been radically altered, first by video and then qualitatively again by DVD, it is
necessary for the ‘television’ of the pre-recording-technology era to be discursively fixed in
place as an artefact. […] The identification of these guiding metaphors is helpful in establishing
that TV has, of course, never quite been a stable object of study, and therefore cannot undergo
wholesale destabilisation by DVD culture. Rather, it is a case of competing discourses, with
discussions of ‘TVIII’ (or other rival periodizations) themselves working to foreclose and
delimit ‘TVI’ and ‘TVII’ as stable discursive objects. And if one of the points of contrast
between these discursive constructions and ‘TVIII’ is taken to be television’s newfound
permeability and reconstitution as a medium (into a transmedial ‘network’ of texts which move
across ‘converged’ digital media), then it is worth noting that ‘TVI and II’ were also alwaysalready permeable and transmedial. (pp. 43–44)
Netflix does not change existing modes of broad- or narrowcasting. It does not even
draw into question the role of DVDs and DVD culture, as Netflix does not offer any
‘extras’, such as commentaries, photo galleries, gag or blooper reels, cast and crew interviews, making-offs and so on, nor does it offer an alternative to the (possibly fetishised)
object of a DVD and DVD box sets. However, it does draw into question previous
notions of multi-platform as television, due to its independence from more traditional
modes of a branding infrastructure that links online streaming to existing television
channels (as will be discussed in more detail later on).
Michael Curtin (2009) argues that the Hollywood writers’ strike in 2007 and 2008,
which was dominated by questions of writer’s shares of the profits gained through distribution via DVD and Internet and through the sale of material based on their diegetic
new media & society 18(2)
universes, such as video or online game tie-ins, signalled a significant shift in the contemporary media landscape:
The 2007–2008 TV season therefore proved to be something of a tipping point for the industry,
a moment of crisis when executives and creative talent were again forced to revisit the issues
of synergy and intermedia strategy. In part, they needed to recalibrate daily practices, audiencemeasurement techniques and revenue-sharing formulas, but at a deeper structural level they
needed to rethink the spatial logic of electronic media. […] Yet during the 2007 season, primetime audiences for each of the four leading networks averaged roughly 5 per cent of television
households, only a fraction of what they had attracted during the classical era. Interestingly,
daily television viewing remained high – in fact, higher than in the 1960s, at 4 hours 35 minutes
– but it was coming from more centres and flowing through more circuits than ever before: via
DVD, cable, satellite and broadband; via Telemundo, Spike, Netflix and Youtube. (pp. 12–13)
In light of this proliferation of media outlets through which audiences consume television content, Curtin argues for an understanding of television, particularly post-2007
television, as matrix media. The advantage of this term is that it acknowledges the everincreasing complexity of the medium. Furthermore, it moves beyond a periodisation of
television that proves to be quite limiting when discussing shifts in such a complex media
landscape. Netflix actually is a perfect example of the disruption of distinctions between
film, television, DVD and online video platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube: ‘the matrix
era is characterized by interactive exchanges, multiple sites of productivity and diverse
modes of interpretation and use’ (Curtin, 2009: 13). As argued above, the periodisation
of television is always difficult and changes in the media landscape are part of complex
discourses, and significant ‘milestones’ or transformative moments are almost impossible to pinpoint and always nationally, or even regionally, specific (as difficult as the
‘local’ is to define in light of virtual private network [VPN] and proxy servers). Yet,
Curtin’s argument that a significant shift happened around 2007, further away from more
‘traditional’ concepts of industry, audience behaviour and the medium of TV, is not without its merits as it signals that there is a difference between the TVIII of the early 2000s
when premium cable channels became more dominant and 2007, incidentally also the
year Netflix moved its content online, National Broadcasting Company (NBC) extended
its multi-platform presence and in the United Kingdom, British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) iPlayer was launched. However, trying to pinpoint a specific moment when a
change or shift in the discursive formation of television happened seems to work against
the advantage the term matrix media has in relation to a periodisation like TVI, II, III and
IV. Yet, possibly, TVIV can be understood as an era of matrix media where viewing patterns, branding strategies, industrial structures, the way different media forms interact
with each other or the various ways content is made available shift completely away
from the television set. The term matrix media to describe what TVIV could be also
emphasises the fluidity of the term.
What is Netflix?
Netflix started out in 1997 as an online-based DVD rental service. The majority of its
business is still to stream content that was previously shown in cinemas or on television.
As such, Netflix has always been more associated with the medium of DVDs and the
Internet (as the name already suggests) rather than broadcasting and original programming. It may not be too surprising that, along with television broadcasters offering multiplatform services, it was the struggling business of video rental services that now
dominates the business of VOD services, thus re-inventing itself for a new era in film and
television distribution. As Cunningham and Silver (2012) point out
[In 2007] Netflix placed 10,000 titles from its 90,000 film library on-line in ‘Watch Instantly’
mode as a free value-added service to its large base of existing Netflix customers who had to
use their ID and password to watch those films. In 2010, it transformed its core business model
from a monthly subscription for DVDs-delivered to the home, migrating its customers to a
U.S.$7.99 monthly subscription service for unlimited movie and TV downloads via Watch
Instantly, plus an extra $2 monthly fee for unlimited DVDs delivered to the home. Netflix is
clearly focused on preparing its customers for the digital transition and eventual demise of the
bricks and mortar video store when VOD replaces DVD optical discs as the second window
after cinema release. (Location 1581–1587)
Netflix’ strategy to grab customer’s attention involved a move away from its original
business model as exhibitor of film content. Orienting itself more towards Hulu, ‘a joint
venture between NBC-Universal, Fox Network and Disney through its ABC TV network
subsidiary’ (Cunningham and Silver, 2012: location 1593), which streams mostly television content, Netflix has now moved into the business of being producer of serialised
drama. Most other streaming services are linked to a television branding infrastructure
and offer a chance to catch up with missed programmes, but Netflix now offers the first
– and for long periods of time only – chance to watch its original dramas. The streaming
service thus moves away from its previous business model where it only provided film
and TV dramas that had already been shown elsewhere and are often already available
on DVD, to being the first in the chain of media exhibition. By turning the familiar chain
of first, second and third market distribution on its head, Netflix offers a distinctively
different form of media distribution. Of course, this change does not come out of
nowhere: online dramas are now a common occurrence on YouTube and many TV series
offer webisodes to extend the diegetic universe, for example, critically acclaimed cable
TV drama Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, 2004–2009). Yet, the individual instalments distributed online tend to be between 2 and 5 minutes long, thus constituting a format significantly different from most TV drama. While Netflix may not copy the format, it
certainly takes a cue from a system of distribution where the online form is the first link
in a chain.
Often hyped as a ‘new HBO’, and comparing itself to HBO (Hastings and Wells,
2013), Netflix actually offers a different kind of TV revolution than previously associated with the premium cable channel: Netflix is simply not TV (p. 7). Where HBO revolutionised television aesthetics and narrative structures, the slogan ‘it’s not TV. It’s HBO’
implied a promise of content that was somehow different from the familiar ‘mainstream’
fare commonly associated with the medium rather than a rejection of the technological
infrastructure. Netflix offers content in the form of serialised dramas, but it is hardly this
aspect that serves to set it apart from cable channels such as HBO, American Movie
Classics (AMC), Showtime, Fox eXtended (FX) or even network channels like Columbia
Broadcasting System (CBS), American Broadcasting Company (ABC) or NBC. The
VOD service offers none of the more ‘traditional’ television genres, such as news, game
new media & society 18(2)
shows, sporting events or other programmes associated with TV’s live aesthetics.
Furthermore, it is largely disconnected from the technological or branding infrastructure
associated with television – network or cable. Catherine Johnson (2012) describes a
brand as an
… interface/frame [that] manages the interactions between consumers, products and producers.
[…] In relation to the television channel, the brand is communicated to the viewer through
programme production and acquisition, scheduling, on-screen advertising and ancillary
products related to the channel and/or its programming. (pp. 17–18)
While the BBC iPlayer, for example, also offers the streaming of content, and channels in most western countries offer similar services, they tend to be linked with the
brand identity of a specific channel which serves as frame or interface: in order to watch
a programme on iPlayer, cbs.com or RTL Now, viewers have to familiarise themselves
either with this particular channel’s schedule or be familiar enough with the brand to
know that they may find content they are interested in on their website. Alternatively,
audiences may go directly to websites such as thedailyshow.com or colbertnation.com in
search of a specific programme. Thus, these streaming services are inherently linked
with the medium of TV and its cultural connotations, even though the technological
infrastructure is different and the streaming of content implies a disconnect from TV
On the other hand, Netflix certainly draws on television’s branding strategies. Johnson
(2012) points out how branding in US television became important as the market was
de-regulated in the 1970s and 1980s and new cable channels emerged:
Even with the developments in satellite technology, these cable channels could not hope to
compete with the reach of the free-to-air national networks. As a consequence, they focussed
on offering differentiated programme services to specialized niche audiences. This was
important, as cable was funded by a combination of advertising and subscription, and so cable
operators and networks had to persuade audiences that it was worth paying the extra subscription
for their services and advertisers that they could offer valuable audience segments to justify the
lower ratings that they gained than network television. (p. 16)
Netflix does not have to justify itself to advertisers in a ‘traditional’ sense, the information on the company on the New York Times Business website states that ‘The
Company obtains content from various studios and other content providers through
fixed-fee licences, revenue sharing agreements and direct purchases’ (The New York
Times, 2013). Thus, while Netflix is accountable to shareholders and its partners in revenue sharing, it tends to be the company that advertises itself to subscribers rather than
The Company markets its service through various channels, including online advertising,
broad-based media, such as television and radio, as well as various partnerships. In connection
with marketing the service, the Company offers free-trial memberships to new and certain
rejoining members. (The New York Times, 2013)
However, by offering creative and budgetary freedom to television auteurs like Mitch
Hurwitz and Jenji Kohan, hiring actors like Robin Wright or Jason Biggs or directors like
Joel Schumacher or Jodi Foster, Netflix seems to follow HBO’s example of creating a
brand identity where ‘quality’ content helps construct the brand:
… over the second half of the 1990s HBO developed a brand identity as the home of quality
television in the USA that drew on a wide range of its programming, but was centred on the
shift towards producing adult, edgy, authored and high-budget original drama series. While the
brand identity was initially constructed through the promotional efforts of HBO itself, and then
increasingly depended on these signature shows to stand in for the network, it also increasingly
depended upon critical acclaim within the media more broadly to support its claim to be the
home for creative talent. (Johnson, 2012: 32)
As more and more cable channels have adapted this strategy, HBO’s brand faces
increasingly harsh competition. Netflix only recently adapted the strategy by offering its
own original drama, relying mostly on (social) media buzz with original programming
shaping the brand identity. Thus, while drawing on familiar formats and marketing strategies from TVIII, Netflix is also clearly positioned as something other than television
through forms of distribution, business model (assumed), viewing practices and
What will be considered in more detail here is Netflix’ production and distribution of
season 4 of Arrested Development. Through this, Netflix managed to position itself in
relation to the ‘cult’ TV show, offered an original approach to the series through a slight
change in format, a changing narrative perspective and a different narrative structure. In
the run-up to the season’s publication on Netflix, what seemed to be particularly highlighted in press statements and interviews was the text’s suitability for the practice of
binge-watching, which now seems to be an encouraged mode of viewing all Netflix
series, as recent reviews of the second season of House of Cards (Netflix, 2013-) seemed
to confirm. Although the season brought in a disappointing number of new subscriptions,
the textual strategies employed by season 4 of Arrested Development are quite telling in
terms of how Netflix positions itself within the broader television landscape.
Arrested Development, binge-watching, ‘cult’ TV and not TV
Season 4 of Arrested Development was premiered on the 26 May 2013 on Netflix. This
was significant in a number of ways: first, the series had previously run on network channel Fox, but had been cancelled after only three seasons in 2006 due to low ratings. Yet,
the series has managed to attain a ‘cult’ status (as disputed as the term is), and a follow-up
film has been rumoured for years. Second, all 15 episodes of the season were put online
at once. Netflix argued at the time that this was a response to assumed viewer behaviour
of the so-called binge-watching, supposing that viewers would wish to watch more than
one episode in one sitting or, at least, schedule their Arrested Development consumption
as they pleased. Third, the text of season 4 seems aware of this transition in viewer behaviour: the narrative structure is different from the first three seasons, seemingly responding
more to the needs of self-scheduled, rather than scheduled, television. Arrested
new media & society 18(2)
Development, season 4, functions well as case study as it shows how Netflix positions
itself in relation to TVIII, ‘cult’ or ‘quality’ TV and encourages specific modes of viewing.
More so, by building on a familiar ‘cult’ text and associated (assumed) practices of watching the series, Netflix seems to also ‘teach’ its audiences how to watch Netflix.
Seasons 1–3 of Arrested Development were well received by critics, and the series
was nominated for and won a number of prestige awards during its run.1 With its indie
film aesthetics, its often outrageous humour that sometimes made it seem like a parody
of itself and its witty commentary on contemporary politics, it seemed to function as a
network counterweight to a still emerging cable ‘quality’ TV market. Yet, due to low ratings, Fox cancelled the series in 2006, which possibly contributed to its ‘cult’ status as a
series whose worth had not been recognised by the network or ‘mainstream’ audiences.
This narrative that Arrested Development has been wronged by Fox and cancelled in its
prime, leaving fans to imagine what could have been, contributed to its ‘cult’ status.
Furthermore, some of the actors’ following projects were more in independent rather
than mainstream films (as much as such a distinction is possible), cementing their status
as ‘indie’ stars (though this may not be true for all of them any more) with Michael Cera
and Jason Bateman both starring in the indie-hit Juno (Reitman, 2007), while Will Arnett
starred in 30 Rock (NBC, 2006–2013), a sitcom that, along with The Office (NBC, 2005–
2013), seems to have taken the place of Arrested Development as original and somehow
‘quality’ network sitcom. The cast has often re-enforced this ‘cult’ narrative in interviews
and repeated it in the run-up to season 4 (see, for example, Kelly, 2013).
Yet, while this narrative has been used as marketing strategy for the DVDs of the
series and its Netflix season, these complaints are not unwarranted. In 2005, a Chicago
Tribune article by Maureen Ryan (2005) claimed,
The conventional wisdom says Fox’s Emmy-winning comedy ‘Arrested Development’ is a cult
success but a commercial failure. The conventional wisdom may well be wrong. The critically
acclaimed show, which returns from Fox’s baseball break with two episodes featuring guest
star Charlize Theron on Nov. 7, is indeed ratings challenged, but it’s surprisingly dominant in
another arena. Fox won’t release sales totals, but executives at the company’s home-video
division say ‘Arrested’, which chronicles the misadventures of the dysfunctional, formerly rich
Bluth family, has sold very well on DVD. […] Season 2 of the show has spent much of the past
week at the top of Amazon.com’s boxed-set best-sellers chart, where the Season 1 boxed set
can usually be found among the chart’s top 40 releases. And that commercial success, along
with critical praise, a shelf-full of industry awards and a ferociously supportive Internet fan
base, has helped keep the show alive, at least for a while.
Thus, Arrested Development can be viewed as part of a general movement in the early
2000s where DVD box sets of TV series became increasingly popular and, in some cases,
even seemed to replace the scheduled television experience. While hardly a ratings-hit in
its original run on Fox, the series seems to have an active afterlife (even before its resurrection on Netflix) on DVD, through online streaming and (often illegal) downloads and
with an avid fan base. As Hills (2007) argues,
DVD culture encourages audience-text ‘closeness’ and, at the same time, operates at the level
of textual valorisation (both technically, with regards to digital image quality, and symbolically,
with regards to isolating out and bounding texts). It is therefore relatively unsurprising that
DVD technology has been most welcomed by those groups of audiences already invested in
(differential) types of close reading – namely, academics and fans […]. If DVD culture works,
partly, on television to re-position many of its texts as symbolically bounded and isolatable
‘objects’ of value, then as a machinery of valorisation stressing the ‘total system’ of TV serials
and series, it works to popularise ‘close reading’ and the artistic re-contextualisation of some
TV content. But this is seemingly true only in so far as these reading tactics (characteristic of
fan and academic subcultures) can be made to fit with commercial strategies of branding and
value-generation. (pp. 48–49)
Arrested Development fandom may already be grounded in DVD culture and the viewing practices that come with it. Yet, this seems to have happened at a time when Fox was
at a loss at how to take commercial advantage of a series that fails to attract audiences
through ‘conventional’ channels, but manages to have an almost immediate ‘cult’ appeal,
attracting an enthusiastic and active fan base and sells well on DVD (a fate Arrested
Development seems to share with Fox contemporary Firefly; Fox, 2002–2003).
Netflix’ choice of Arrested Development seems to consciously draw on the fandom
and related viewing practices. The practice of binge-watching associated with the DVD
culture becomes central. Debra Ramsay (2013), in a blog post on CST online, addresses
one quite significant problem with the marketing of a TV series (or season) as material
Just what constitutes a televisual ‘binge’? Does it involve watching more than one episode of one
series concurrently, and if so, how many constitute a ‘binge’? Or is it watching an entire season or
more – sometimes described in somewhat more respectable terms as ‘marathon’ viewing – in an
uninterrupted session? Why would watching consecutive hours of television, but viewing different
programmes during that time, not be considered a ‘binge’? Which raises the question of why an
extended period of consuming television should be considered ‘binging’ in the first place.
In her blog post, Ramsay admits to watching a whole season of Supernatural (CW,
2005) in 1 day, but for those who do not watch TV professionally, anything above four
episodes may seem excessive, though they may also describe themselves as bingewatchers. A recent survey by Harris Interactive conducted on behalf of Netflix seems to
define a binge as watching 2–3 episodes in a row (see Spangler, 2013). At any rate, what
exactly constitutes a binge is likely to be different for everybody and defined through
highly individualised terms and practices. In this, binge-watching as viewing practice fits
well into the structures of post-postmodern capitalism where consumer habits and identity
construction are intertwined (as will be discussed later on). A major factor of binge-watching is that it is disconnected from scheduled television. As Jason Jacobs (2011) argues, such
viewing practices serve to remove any ‘pollution’ of the text through advertising breaks:
The difference between the VCR – the earliest domestic weapon against interruption and
chronological authority of the broadcast schedule – and digital television technology seems to
be that the various ways to own, time-shift or otherwise mine texts are promoted as the obvious
and routinized ways to interact with the medium rather than viewing the schedule in real time.
‘Who wants to watch adverts, promos and the rest of the connective tissue of the television
new media & society 18(2)
flow?’ seems to be the compelling appeal to common sense that digital television marketers
deploy most frequently. (Location 3125)
The practice of binge-watching implies not only viewers’ desire for autonomy in
scheduling when they want to watch what, but also a wish for a ‘pure’ text (as Jacobs
terms it) that is distinctively not part of the television flow.
Another factor in binge-watching is the text itself. The kind of attention demanded by
some series seems to make it necessary for viewers to consciously make a decision to
focus entirely on the series, something only possible if viewers can schedule autonomously. Jason Mittell (2010) argues,
Complex comedies like Arrested Development encourage the freeze-frame power of DVDs to
catch split-second visual gags and pause the frantic pace to recover from laughter. These
televisual strategies are all possible via scheduled flow, but greatly enhanced by viewing
multiple times via published DVDs. Having control of when and how you watch also helps
deepen one of the major pleasures afforded by complex narratives: the operational aesthetic.
Jacobs (2011) also points to a link between viewing practices and text:
Viewers might set aside time for the concentrated watching or rewatching of a DVD or
download, a trend seemingly acknowledged in the genre of contemporary television drama,
with its foregrounding of incremental characterizations, backstory rationing, and enigma
webbing, which precisely reward frequent attentive viewing or reviewing. (Location 3171)
While seasons 1–3 of Arrested Development already rejected the familiar sitcom formula, relying on complex jokes and storylines that easily extend beyond one episode or
even season, season 4 complicates the matter further by developing an even more complex narrative structure. Kathrin Rothemund (2013) suggests that complexity can be
defined through a large number of storylines, a variety in the nature of these storylines
(both can be summarised under the term diversity), an emerging sense of connection
between these diverse storylines (to a ‘whole’), non-linearity, openness (polysemic
meanings of the narration as intertextual and multi-platform storytelling) and contingency (pp. 55–78). In all of these aspects, season 4 seems to be even more complex than
the first three seasons. Each episode focuses on one character of the Bluth family who,
after falling out in the last episode of season 3, all went their separate ways. The individual storylines intersect at varying points, leaving ‘mini-cliffhangers’ in the middle of
episodes. In light of this, it is particularly the first episode, ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ (04/01)
that seems confusing as it provides a number of scenes that are difficult to de-code without the information provided later on. These various ‘intersections’ or connections
between narrative threads create a sense of a ‘narrative web’, or, as Jacobs terms it,
‘enigma webbing’, where it is never immediately clear exactly how the storylines are
connected. Hollywood Reporter reviewer Tim Goodman (2013) even compares the narrative structure to Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950), thus placing it distinctively in a ‘high
culture’ context. As such, season 4 of Arrested Development, demands more attention
from viewers through its narrative structure.
The case of Arrested Development shows quite clearly how Netflix positions itself in
relation to DVD culture, fandom and associated viewing practices. The season seems to
mostly function as a way to ‘teach’ audiences how to watch Netflix in the long term. It is
hard to measure how successful this idea of ‘teaching’ viewers using a familiar text as
starting point has been. Furthermore, nothing akin to ratings has been published by
Netflix (possibly because the figures could be disproportionate to media buzz). However,
other than Netflix, original dramas such as Orange is the New Black (Netflix, 2013-) and
Arrested Development garnered a lot of media and fan attention before it went online.
Thus, its success was measured by the audiences it attracted instantly rather than over a
long period of time as with House of Cards or Orange is the New Black. The failure to
attract numbers of new subscribers proportionate to the preceding media buzz immediately translated into a drop in share prices (see Brown, 2013). Quite possibly, it was this
aspect (along with a mixed review in the influential New York Times by Mike Hale, 2013)
that fed into an overall impression that critics remained unimpressed, though most
reviews in the mainstream press seem to echo the title of Dan Zak’s (2013) review in The
Washington Post that it is ‘A Chore to Watch and a Delight to Decrypt’.2 This suggests
that an immediate desire for viewing numbers akin to Nielsen ratings, in other words a
‘traditional’ way to measure commercial success in a TVI, II and III era, proved to be
destructive to Netflix’ brand and the text, possibly eliminating chances for a film revival
or another season of Arrested Development and silencing long-term media buzz. Thus,
the season’s supposed failure also serves as an argument why ‘traditional’ ways of measuring the ‘success’ of serialised drama and conceptualising the audience and their viewing practices seem insufficient in an era of self-scheduled binge-watching. After all, a
major aspect of viewer autonomy is that it should not matter if audiences watch the season on the day it is released or months, even years, later. Thus, Arrested Development
seems to fall victim to changing concepts of how to measure audience reactions and
commercial ‘success’ once again. Yet, the series’ resurrection positions Netflix as a corporation that panders to binge-watchers in general (even though they may not be attracted
by this particular text).3
Post-postmodern capitalism and television?
Netflix, thus, builds on models of individualised viewing practices and self-scheduling
of TV. This heavy emphasis on individual preferences is in line with what Jeffrey T.
Nealon (2012) argues is post-postmodern capitalism:
Post-postmodernism marks an intensification and mutation within postmodernism […]. So the
initial ‘post’ in the word is less a marker of postmodernism’s having finally used up its shelf life
at the theory store than it is a marker of postmodernism’s having mutated, passed beyond a
certain tipping point to become something recognizably different in its contours and workings.
In other words, Nealon (2012) observes an epistemological shift in which we cannot
speak of a new epoch, but rather of a ‘stage’ within postmodernism where some of the
aims have been achieved (as much as this is possible with such a disunified ‘project’), but
new media & society 18(2)
also some of the problems with postmodernism have intensified. One quite remarkable
shift is that postmodernism, with its celebration of the fragmented, the chaotic or the pluralistic, seems to make the formulation of ‘alternative’ systems to capitalism impossible,
a factor heavily criticised by Frederic Jameson (1991: 17) or Jean Baudrillard (e.g. 1988
or 2000 ). Instead, rather than one common political goal within a nation state
(often globalised), movements develop concerning the rights of specific social groups
(e.g. the Human Rights Campaign). While other groups or individuals belonging to other
social groups may show solidarity with these campaigns and even join into the effort, this
seems more like a celebration of ‘otherness’ and an embracing of the equality of all the
different ‘fragments’ of society than an imagining of alternative economic, social or political systems. Partly, this may also be due to a capitalist system that has adapted to postmodernism so much that this led to an intensification of it rather than abolition:
Indeed, when Led Zeppelin plays over Cadillac commercials and a Rolling Stones tour can be
brought to you quite literally by the housing bubble (the Stones’ 2005 official tour sponsor was
now-defunct Ameri-Quest Mortgage), you have to assume that the cultural rebellion narratives
of the ‘60s, which often revolved around the liberation of an individual’s or group’s desire in the
face of various social repressions, can now officially be pronounced dead. Under an economic
logic that is in fact dedicated to the unleashing of multifarious individual desires and floating
values (broadly speaking, a corporate-nation-state model), rather than desire’s dampening or
repressive territorialisation on a gold standard of univocal value (broadly speaking, the traditional
nation-state model) the role of ‘normalization’ (previously the purview of the state’s Ideological
Apparatuses) needs to be rethought from the ground up. Put simply, a repressive notion of
‘normalization’ is not the primary danger lurking within contemporary capitalism. […] There are
myriad social and political dangers latent in the neoliberal truisms of finance capital, but the
rigid normalization of cultural options isn’t paramount among them. (p. 21)
In light of calls for stronger regulation of financial markets, chief among them calls
for a less unequal distribution of capital; it is rarely capitalism itself that is questioned or
alternative economic or social systems that are imagined. Capitalism as the freedom to
express one’s identity through consumer behaviour (e.g. socially or ecologically responsible consumption) and a ‘fair’ capitalism that serves all the fragments of society seem
the ultimate goal of the political left and groups such as the Occupy movement, rather
than an idea of a unified nation with common goals.
The contemporary media landscape feeds into this current state where consumer
behaviour and individualised identity construction are intrinsically linked. Jacobs (2011)
It is true, however, that digital television threatens the universal experience of television’s
social function. Digital television’s promises of control imply disconnection and separateness
from the usually nationally socialized presence of television. (Location 3225)
Yet, these moments of socialising can happen online as one’s viewing behaviour is shared
on Facebook or tweeted. Thus, viewing behaviour (and consumer behaviour) is projected as
part of one’s (online) identity and can be commented on by others. Furthermore, the ‘watercooler’ moment in other social interactions is hardly gone as viewers are still likely to
discuss their viewing experiences, despite the fact that these are not synchronised. Thus,
what you watch (or rather, what you publicly share about it) may take on a different meaning, in particular as middle-class tastes have strongly gravitated towards serialised drama
with high production values and complex narrative structures, such as House of Cards.4
As such, the blurring of lines between production, distribution and exhibition may
only be a logical consequence of a marketplace that panders to consumers who link consumer habits and identity construction. In other words, Netflix’ tailor-made product can
only function in a system of distribution where this process is also individualised.
This article has explored how Netflix’ move to producer, distributor and exhibitor of its
own content links in with a TVIII media landscape, consumer behaviour and viewing
habits of serialised content and a contemporary capitalism and social sphere. In this, it
analysed the ways Netflix fits neatly into the way we use the terminology of TVIII, but
also how it is decidedly different from existing formats (with other corporations like
Amazon quickly following its example). As such, the shift Netflix signals may be significant enough to allow for a terminology of TVIV.
The company also ties in with a discourse in contemporary capitalism where media
corporations never appear to be exclusively producer, exhibitor and distributor of content, but additionally seem to be linked in with other markets, as with the ubiquitous
Amazon. Recently, even the online version of the renowned Spiegel started offering the
streaming of films in Germany, blurring lines between news magazine, news website,
television and cinema. As such, Netflix may be best understood as a signifier for shifts
within the media industry where the understanding of clearly differentiated media forms
becomes obsolete. After all, Netflix as a company may not survive in the long run against
competitors like Amazon or in the face of battles surrounding ‘Net Neutrality’ in the
United States (meaning that Internet providers need to provide the same bandwidth for
all content, a rule under revision at the time of writing), but as a business model that
introduced ‘independent’ (disconnected from established television channels) VOD, it is
likely to have a long-lasting legacy.
Jacobs (2011) argues that
Television […] must continually solicit the attention of the potentially distracted viewer and
effectively aggravate that potential by deploying programming breaks to incorporate commercials
and promotional or other connective material. It is little wonder that a major appeal of the digital
distribution and consumption of television programs is precisely in the avoidance of that aspect
that threatens an already precarious maintenance of attention. (Location 3149)
Yet, if television is defined less through the technology used and more through formats (particularly, it seems, the format of serialised drama) and we can schedule it ourselves, then the way to ask for our attention changes significantly. In other words,
increasingly complex narrative structures demand our attention in a way scheduled television rarely can. In this sense, Netflix may be viewed as part of a television matrix, but,
apart from offering serialised content, it signals a further move away from what is still
new media & society 18(2)
understood as television. A key aspect here is Netflix’ independence from branding infrastructures that link television with online media. Instead, orienting itself more towards
much more prolific online-based companies like Amazon or Google, Netflix builds its
own brand, a premium online channel independent from more ‘traditional’ forms of
channel branding in network and cable television with even smaller ‘niche’ audiences
with the autonomy to build their own schedule. Arrested Development, season 4, shows
just how much Netflix ties in with an already existing discourse surrounding ‘cult’ and
‘quality’ TV and viewer autonomy.
The shift signalled by Netflix concerns issues of technology, but maybe more importantly, branding and programming strategies, viewing practices independent from scheduling that lead to a complication in how audience behaviour needs to be understood and
‘success’ of a programme measured, and how familiar associations with the concept of
television are not ‘merely’ subverted, but changed completely. In a matrix media and
(potentially) TVIV landscape, this does not eliminate existing and familiar concepts of
what ‘television’ is, but it extends them significantly and introduces a range of other
media forms and discourses to this matrix.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or
During its original run, Arrested Development was nominated for 22 Primetime Emmys and
won 6, 3 Golden Globe awards and winning 1, nominated 3 times for a Screen Writers Guild
award and was nominated and won a number of other awards.
metacritic.com, looking at 21 (US) reviews states that the critical reception of the season has
been overwhelmingly positive, with no negative reviews and only 6 mediocre ones, scoring 71 (not much below House of Cards’ score of 76). This still places season 4 as the least
popular of the series among critics and also in fan ratings, but the overall response seems to
be positive, though not overly enthusiastic.
In this, Arrested Development would not be the first series to be resurrected to help introduce viewers to a different kind of television viewing. Other examples would be Dragnet
(National Broadcasting Company [NBC], 1951–1959 and 1967–1970) or Battlestar Galactica
(American Broadcasting Company [ABC], 1978–1979 resurrected by SciFi, 2004–2009).
The first two episodes of the second season of House of Cards were even shown at the
Berlinale film festival in 2014, securing its position as ‘high culture’. Some aspects that play
into contemporary notions of ‘quality’ are a willingness to challenge the norms of television, often through a supposed transgression of social norms (see, for example, Ritzer, 2011:
26–53 or Akass and McCabe, 2007b: 66), an association of creative staff with cinema or other
‘Quality TV’ or ‘high art’ (see, for example, Thompson, 1996: 59 and 150–152 or Feuer,
2007: 146–157), or a pandering to the so-called ‘quality demographics’, described by Ellen
Seiter and Wilson (2005) as
A quality demographic is young, affluent viewers, with money to spend, and with the cultural
capital that translates into recognition by industry tastemakers with Emmys and other prestige
awards. The label ‘quality’ indicates audiences that would not otherwise want to be associated with the debased television form or the audiences that regularly watch it. (p. 140)
Akass K and McCabe J (eds) (2007a) Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond.
Akass K and McCabe J (2007b) Sex, swearing and respectability: courting controversy,
HBO’s original programming and producing quality TV. In: Akass K and McCabe J
(eds) Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond. London: I.B.Tauris,
Baudrillard J (1988) America. London: Verso.
Baudrillard J (2000 ) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Sydney: Power Publications.
Brown A (2013) Netflix shares take a hit from disappointing ‘Arrested Development’ reviews.
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netflix-shares-take-a-hit-from-disappointing-arrested-development-reviews/ (accessed 28
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In: Cunningham S and Iordanova D (eds) Digital Disruption: Cinema Moves On-Line. St
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Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era. London: Routledge (Kindle), pp.
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Contemporary American Television and Beyond. London: I.B.Tauris, pp. 145–157.
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University Press (Kindle) (Location 3065–401), pp. 255–282.
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(eds) Television as Digital Media (Console-ing Passions). Durham, NC and London: Duke
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Berlin: Bertz + Fischer.
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Mareike Jenner passed her PhD in Television Studies in November 2013 at the Department of
Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University. Her PhD was titled ‘Follow the
Evidence? Methods of Detection in American TV Drama’. Her monograph on American Detective
Drama will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. She has published on issues of US television, television genre and gender. More works on US television, genre, postmodernism and politics are forthcoming.
Materials for an explorator y theory of the
This article aims at proposing some elements for a grounded theor y of the
network society. The network society is the social structure characteristic of the
Information Age, as tentatively identi ed by empirical, cross-cultural investigation. It permeates most societies in the world, in various cultural and institutional manifestations, as the industrial society characterized the social structure
of both capitalism and statism for most of the twentieth centur y.
Social structures are organized around relationships of production/consumption, power, and experience, whose spatio–temporal con gurations constitute
cultures. They are enacted, reproduced, and ultimately transformed by social
actors, rooted in the social structure, yet freely engaging in con ictive social practices, with unpredictable outcomes. A fundamental feature of social structure in
the Information Age is its reliance on networks as the key feature of social morphology. While networks are old forms of social organization, they are now
empowered by new information/communication technologies, so that they
become able to cope at the same time with exible decentralization, and with
focused decision-making. The article examines the speci c interaction between
network morphology and relationships of production/consumption, power,
experience, and culture, in the historical making of the emerging social structure
at the turn of the Millennium.
KEYWORDS: Information networks; social structure; information age; social
theory; social morphology
The network society is a speci c form of social structure tentatively identi ed by empirical research as being characteristic of the Information Age.
By social structure I understand the organizational arrangements of
humans in relationships of production/consumption, experience, and
power, as expressed in meaningful interaction framed by culture. By Information Age I refer to a historical period in which human societies perform
their activities in a technological paradigm constituted around microelectronics-based information/communication technologies, and genetic
British Journal of Sociology Vol. No. 51 Issue No. 1 (Januar y/March 2000) pp. 5–24
ISSN 0007 1315 © London School of Economics 2000
engineering. It replaces/subsumes the technological paradigm of the
Industrial Age, organized primarily around the production and distribution
In this article I aim at clarifying the theoretical implications that can be
induced from my observation of contemporary social structures and social
change, proposed in my trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society, and
Culture (see the updated, and revised ‘New Millennium edition’ of this
work: Castells 2000a). Since, in my view, theor y is simply a research tool,
and not the end product of research, the purpose of this exercise is to help
the construction of an analytical framework that could inform, and better
organize, further research. However, given the dif culty of the task, and
the necessarily collective character of this endeavour, what is presented
here should be considered, literally, as materials to be used in the building
of a sociological theory able to grasp emerging forms of social organization
and con ict. This theory is still in its explorator y stage, and should remain,
like all relevant theories, as a work in progress open to recti cation by
Because I am trying to distill theory from observation, I will not discuss
here the many important, and fruitful, theoretical contributions that exist
in sociology and related disciplines, which could anchor the categories and
analyses proposed in this article. I will present an argument as schematic,
and simpli ed as possible, so that it could be useful to sociologists’ collective investigation, without spending space and time in reminding the reader
of well-established theoretical contributions. A short bibliography indicates
the works that have helped me in theorizing my investigation. Similarly, the
statements on current social trends cannot be empirically substantiated in
this paper: they rely on data and sources presented in the updated version
of my trilogy (Castells 2000a).
For the sake of clarity, I will rst present the conceptual framework I use
in my analysis of social structure. I will then proceed to enumerate the main
transformations taking place in social structures around the world, in the
Information Age. Since a trend common to many of these transformations
refers to the prevalence of information networking as the organizational
form of dominant activities, I will then de ne information networks, and
elaborate on the implications of networking in social morphology. Finally,
I will present how, speci cally, information networks affect social structures
(as conceptualized in this article) to induce the kind of transformations we
are observing. Within the limits of tentative elaboration, this exercise
intends to open the way for a theoretically meaningful codi cation of
current processes of social transformation, thus providing theoretical
meaning to the ideal type of the network society. I hope the reader will be
benevolent enough to use what s/he nds useful in this effort, and discard
the rest. I also hope that we all end up adopting the notion of disposable
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
CONCEPTUALIZING SOCIAL STRUCTURE
Human societies are made from the con ictive interaction between
humans organized in and around a given social structure. This social structure is formed by the interplay between relationships of production/consumption; relationships of experience; and relationships of power.
Meaning is constantly produced and reproduced through symbolic interaction between actors framed by this social structure, and, at the same time,
acting to change it or to reproduce it. By meaning, I understand the symbolic identi cation by an actor of the purpose of her/his/their action. The
consolidation of shared meaning through cr ystallization of practices in
spatio–temporal con gurations creates cultures, that is systems of values
and beliefs informing codes of behaviour. There is no systemic dominance
in this matrix of relationships. There are all layers of social structure and
social causation, folded into each other, distinguishable only in analytical
terms. Thus, meaning is not produced in the cultural realm: it is the cultural realm that is produced by the consolidation of meaning. Meaning
results from symbolic interaction between brains which are socially and ecologically constrained, and, at the same time, biologically and culturally able
of innovation. Meaning is produced, reproduced, and fought over in all
layers of social structure, in production as in consumption, in experience
as in power. What makes sense to anyone is de ned by the endless reconstruction by humans of the sources and purpose of their action, always constrained but never pre-scripted. So, production can be oriented towards
glorifying God (and punishing the in dels), as well as religious belief can
be twisted to the service of capital accumulation. What actually happens,
when, and where (usually by random combination of social events in a preexisting, historically determined, social structure), makes speci c societies,
such as now the ‘network society’.
Production is the action of humankind on matter (nature), to appropriate it and transform it for its bene t by obtaining a product, consuming
(unevenly) part of it, and accumulating the surplus for investment, according to socially decided goals. Consumption is the appropriation of the
product by humans for their individual bene t. Analytically, it is a component of the production process, seen from the reverse side.
Experience is the action of humans on themselves, determined by the
interplay between their biological and cultural identities, and in relationship to their social and natural environment. It is constructed around the
endless search for the ful lment of human needs and desires.
Power is the action of humans on other humans to impose their will on
others, by the use, potential or actual, of symbolic or physical violence. Institutions of society are built to enforce power relationships existing in each
historical period, including the controls, limits, and social contracts,
achieved in the power struggles.
More particularly, production is organized in class relationships (or
relationships of production) that de ne the process by which some
humans, on the basis of their position in the production process decide the
organization of production, the sharing and uses of the product vis-à-vis
consumption, and investment, as well as the differential appropriation of
the product (consumption). The structural principle under which surplus
is appropriated and controlled characterizes a mode of production, such as
capitalism or statism. The concept of mode of production belongs exclusively to the relationships of production. In this view, the notion, for
instance, of a capitalist state, is void of theoretical meaning, although it can
usefully characterize an empirical observation, when a given state is primarily geared toward the preservation and promotion of capitalist social
relationships of production.
Experience is structured around sexual/gender relationships, historically organized around the family, and characterized hitherto by the domination of men over women and children. Family relationships and sexuality
are the foundations of personality systems, understanding by personality
the individuation of social relationships in speci c brains, in interaction
with the brain’s biological features.
Power is founded upon the ability to exercise violence. Historically, it is
the monopoly of physical violence, embodied in the state, which has been
the main expression of power relationships. Outside the direct sphere of
the state, the exercise of power within production organizations or in apparatuses of experience (such as the family) ultimately relied on the ability of
these apparatuses to call upon the state (or para-states, such as the Church)
to enforce violently the dominant rules on restive subjects. However, symbolic violence has always been a fundamental dimension of power, and it
increases in importance over time, as societies make progress in establishing institutional limits to the arbitrary exercise of physical violence. By symbolic violence I mean the capacity of a given symbolic code to delete a
different code from the individual brain upon whom power is exercised.
Symbolic communication between humans, and the relationship
between humans and nature through production/consumption, experience, and power, cr ystallize over histor y in speci c territories, thus generating cultures which go on to live a life on their own. Individuals may
adopt/adapt to cultures, so building their identities. Or else, they may construct their own, individual identities through the interaction between available cultures, and their own symbolic recombinant capacity, in uenced by
their speci c experience.
There is another layer that is folded in production/consumption, experience, power, and culture. This is technology. By technology I mean ‘the use
of scienti c knowledge to specify ways of doing things in a reproducible
manner’. Technology is embodied in technical relationships, which are
socially conditioned, so in itself it is not an independent, non-human
dimension. In principle, because it is the application of knowledge to
obtain a product of some kind, it could be assigned primarily to the process
of production, in which we could then distinguish social relationships of
production, and technical relationships of production, as proposed in the
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
Marxian model, and as I had proposed in my own work. I now think this is
questionable. Because technology is as decisive in the realm of power (military technology, for instance) as in the realm of production. Similarly, technology plays an essential role in framing the relationships of experience:
for instance, human reproductive technology frames family relationships
and sexuality. Therefore, we must integrate technology, on its own ground,
as a speci c layer of the social structure, following an old tradition in
human ecology. I would like to use for conceptualizing technology as a layer
of the social structure, the Tourainian concept of ‘mode of development’
(also consistent with Bell’s analytical framework), that I will de ne, in my
own terms, as: ‘the technological arrangements through which humans act
upon matter (nature), upon themselves, and upon other humans’. By
technological arrangements I mean the set of tools, rules, and procedures,
through which scienti c knowledge is applied to a given task in a reproducible manner. Modes of development are de ned by their central
technological paradigm and by their principle of performance. Following,
and adapting to sociology, Christopher Freeman’s de nition of a technoeconomic paradigm, I would characterize as a technological paradigm a
cluster of inter-related technical, organizational, and managerial innovations, whose advantages are to be found in their superior productivity and
ef ciency in accomplishing an assigned goal, as a result of synergy between
its components (1982). Each paradigm is constituted around a fundamental set of technologies, speci c to the paradigm, and whose coming
together into a synergistic set establishes the paradigm. Thus, energy for
the Industrial Paradigm, Information/communication technologies
(including genetic engineering) for the Informational Paradigm.
Technology as a material tool, and meaning as symbolic construction,
through relationships of production/consumption, experience, and
power, are the fundamental ingredients of human action – an action that
ultimately produces and modi es social structure.
THE NETWORK SOCIETY: AN OVERVIEW
In the last two decades of the twentieth centur y a related set of social transformations has taken place around the world. While cultures, institutions,
and historical trajectories introduce a great deal of diversity in the actual
manifestations of each one of these transformations, it can be shown that,
overall, the vast majority of societies are affected in a fundamental way by
these transformations. All together they constitute a new type of social
structure that I call the network society for reasons that hopefully will
become apparent. I shall summarize below the main features of these transformations, in a sequential order that does not imply hierarchy of causation in any way.
We have entered a new technological paradigm, centred around microelectronics-based, information/communication technologies, and genetic
engineering. In this sense what is characteristic of the network society is not
the critical role of knowledge and information, because knowledge and
information were central in all societies. Thus, we should abandon the
notion of ‘Information Society’, which I have myself used some times, as
unspeci c and misleading. What is new in our age is a new set of information technologies. I contend they represent a greater change in the
history of technology than the technologies associated with the Industrial
Revolution, or with the previous Information Revolution (printing).
Furthermore, we are only at the beginning of this technological revolution,
as the Internet becomes a universal tool of interactive communication, as
we shift from computer-centred technologies to network-diffused technologies, as we make progress in nanotechnology (and thus in the diffusion capacity of information devices), and, even more importantly, as we
unleash the biology revolution, making possible for the rst time, the
design and manipulation of living organisms, including human parts. What
is also characteristic of this technological paradigm is the use of knowledgebased, information technologies to enhance and accelerate the production
of knowledge and information, in a self-expanding, virtuous circle. Because
information processing is at the source of life, and of social action, every
domain of our eco-social system is thereby transformed.
We live in a new economy, characterized by three fundamental features.
First, it is informational , that is, the capacity of generating knowledge and
processing/managing information determine the productivity and competitiveness of all kinds of economic units, be they rms, regions, or countries. While it took two decades for the new technological system to yield its
productivity dividend, we are now observing substantial productivity growth
in the most advanced economies and sectors, in spite of the dif culty in
measuring informational productivity with the categories of the industrial
Second, this new economy is global in the precise sense that its core, strategic activities, have the capacity to work as a unit on a planetary scale in
real time or chosen time. By core activities I mean nancial markets, science
and technology, international trade of goods and services, advanced business services, multinational production rms and their ancillary networks,
communication media, and highly skilled speciality labour. Most jobs are
in fact not global, but all economies are under the in uence of the movements of their globalized core. Globalization is highly selective. It proceeds
by linking up all that, according to dominant interests, has value anywhere
in the planet, and discarding anything (people, rms, territories,
resources) which has no value or becomes devalued, in a variable geometry of creative destruction and destructive creation of value.
Third, the new economy is networked. At the heart of the connectivity of
the global economy and of the exibility of informational production,
there is a new form of economic organization, the network enterprise. This is
not a network of enterprises. It is a network made from either rms or
segments of rms, and/or from internal segmentation of rms. Large
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
corporations are internally de-centralized as networks. Small and medium
businesses are connected in networks. These networks connect among
themselves on speci c business projects, and switch to another network as
soon as the project is nished. Major corporations work in a strategy of
changing alliances and partnerships, speci c to a given product, process,
time, and space. Furthermore, these co-operations are based increasingly
on sharing of information. These are information networks, which, in the
limit, link up suppliers and customers through one rm, with this rm
being essentially an intermediary of supply and demand, collecting a fee
for its ability to process information.
The unit of this production process is not the rm, but the business
project. The rm continues to be the legal unit of capital accumulation.
But since the value of the rm ultimately depends on its valuation in the
stock market, the unit of capital accumulation (the rm) itself becomes a
node in a global network of nancial ows. In this economy, the dominant
layer is the global nancial market, where all earnings from all activities and
countries end up being traded. This global nancial market works only
partly according to market rules. It is shaped and moved by information
turbulences of various origins, processed and transmitted almost instantly
by tele-communicated, information systems, in the absence of the institutional regulation of global capital ows.
This new economy (informational, global, networked) is certainly capitalist. Indeed, for the rst time in history, the whole planet is capitalist, for
all practical purposes (except North Korea, but not Cuba or Myanmar, and
certainly not China). But it is a new brand of capitalism, in which rules for
investment, accumulation, and reward, have substantially changed (see
Giddens and Hutton 2000). Besides, since nothing authorizes capitalism as
eternal, it is essential to focus on the characteristics of the new economy
because it may well outlast the mode of production where it was born, once
capitalism comes under decisive challenge and/or plunges into a structural
crisis derived from its internal contradictions (after all, statism died from
its self-in icted aws).
Work and employment are substantially transformed in/by the new
economy. But, against a persistent myth, there is no mass unemployment
as a consequence of new information technologies. The empirical record
is conclusive on this matter (Carnoy 2000). Yet, there is a serious unemployment problem in Europe, unrelated to technology, and there are dramatic problems of underemployment in the developing world, caused by
economic and institutional backwardness, including the insuf cient diffusion and inef cient use of information technologies. There is a decisive
transformation of work and employment. Induced by globalization, and the
network enterprise, and facilitated by information/communication technologies, the most important transformation in employment patterns
concerns the development of exible work, as the predominant form
of working arrangements. Part-time work, temporar y work, self-employment, work by contract, informal or semi-formal labour arrangements, and
relentless occupational mobility, are the key features of the new labour
market. Feminization of paid labour leads to the rise of the ‘ exible
woman’, gradually replacing the ‘organization man’, as the harbinger of the
new type of worker. The key transformation is the individualization of
labour, reversing the process of socialization of production characteristic
of the industrial era, still at the roots of our current system of industrial relations.
The work process is interconnected between rms, regions, and countries, in a stepped up spatial division of labour, in which networks of
locations are more important than hierarchies of places. Labour is fundamentally divided in two categories: self-programmable labour, and generic
labour. Self-programmable labour is equipped with the ability to retrain
itself, and adapt to new tasks, new processes and new sources of information, as technology, demand, and management speed up their rate of
change. Generic labour, by contrast, is exchangeable and disposable, and
co-exists in the same circuits with machines and with unskilled labour from
around the world. Beyond the realm of employable labour, legions of discarded, devalued people form the growing planet of the irrelevant, from
where perverse connections are made, by fringe capitalist business, through
to the booming, global criminal economy. Because of this structural divide
in terms of informational capacities, and because of the individualization
of the reward system, in the absence of a determined public policy aimed
at correcting structural trends, we have witnessed in the last 20 years a dramatic surge of inequality, social polarization, and social exclusion in the
world at large, and in most countries, particularly, among advanced
societies, in the USA and in the UK (see UNDP 1999; Hutton 1996; Castells
2000b, for sources).
Shifting to the cultural realm, we see the emergence of a similar pattern
of networking, exibility, and ephemeral symbolic communication, in a
culture organized primarily around an integrated system of electronic
media, obviously including the Internet. Cultural expressions of all kinds
are increasingly enclosed in or shaped by this electronic hypertext. But the
new media system is not characterized by one-way, undifferentiated messages through a limited number of channels that constituted the world of
mass media. And it is not a global village. Media are extraordinarily diverse,
and send targeted messages to speci c segments of audiences responding
to speci c moods of audiences. They are increasingly inclusive, bridging
from one another, from network TV to cable TV or satellite TV, radio, VCR,
video, portable devices, and the Internet. The whole set is coming together
in the multimedia system, computer-operated by the digitalized set-top box
that opens up hundreds of channels of interactive communication, reaching from the global from the local. While there is oligopolistic concentration of multimedia groups, there is, at the same time, market
segmentation, and the rise of an interactive audience, superseding the uniformity of the mass audience. Because of the inclusiveness and exibility of
this system of symbolic exchange, most cultural expressions are enclosed in
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
it, thus inducing the formation of what I call a culture of ‘real virtuality’.
Our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured by this exible, inclusive hypertext, in which many people surf each day. The virtuality of this
text is in fact a fundamental dimension of reality, providing the symbols and
icons from which we think and thus exist.
This growing enclosure of communication in the space of a exible,
interactive, electronic hypertext does not only concern culture. It has a
fundamental effect on politics. In almost all countries, media have become
the space of politics. To an overwhelming extent people receive their information, on the basis of which they form their political opinion and structure their behaviour, through the media and particularly television and
radio. Media politics needs to convey very simple messages. The simplest
message is an image. The simplest, individualized image is a person. Political competition increasingly revolves around the personalization of politics.
The most effective political weapons are negative messages. The most effective negative message is character assassination of opponents’ personalities,
and/or of their supporting organizations. Political marketing is an essential mean to win political competition, including, in the information age,
media presence, media advertising, telephone banks, targeted mailing,
image making and unmaking. Thus, politics becomes a ver y expensive business, way beyond the means of traditional sources of political nancing, at
a time when citizens resist giving more of their tax money to politicians.
Thus, parties and leaders use access to power as ways to obtain resources
for their trade. Political corruption becomes a systemic feature of information age politics. Since character assassination needs some substance
from time to time, systemic political corruption provides ample opportunity, as a market of intermediaries is created to leak and counter-leak
damaging information. The politics of scandal takes centre stage in political competition, in close interaction with the media system, and with the
co-operation of judges and prosecutors, the new stars of our political soap
operas. Politics becomes a horse race, and a tragicomedy motivated by
greed, backstage manoeuvres, betrayals, and, often, sex and violence – a
genre increasingly indistinguishable from TV scripts.
As with all historical transformations, the emergence of a new social
structure is linked to a rede nition of the material foundations of our life,
of time and space, as Giddens (1984), Adam (see chapter below), Lash and
Urry (1994), Thrift (1990), and Harvey (1990), among others, have
argued. I propose the hypothesis that two emergent social forms of time
and space characterize the network society, while coexisting with prior
forms of time and space. These are timeless time and the space of ows. In
contrast to the rhythm of biological time characteristic of most of human
existence, and to clock time characterizing the industrial age, timeless time
is de ned by the use of new information/communication technologies in
a relentless effort to annihilate time. On the one hand, time is compressed
(as in split second global nancial transactions, or in the attempt to ght
‘instant wars’), and on the other hand, time is de-sequenced, including
past, present, and future occurring in a random sequence (as in the electronic hypertext or in the blurring of life-cycle patterns, both in work and
The space of ows refers to the technological and organizational possibility of organizing the simultaneity of social practices without geographical contiguity. Most dominant functions in our societies ( nancial markets,
transnational production networks, media systems etc.) are organized
around the space of ows. And so to do an increasing number of alternative social practices (such as social movements) and personal interaction
networks. However, the space of ows does include a territorial dimension,
as it requires a technological infrastructure that operates from certain locations, and as it connects functions and people located in speci c places. Yet,
the meaning and function of the space of ows depend on the ows
processed within the networks, by contrast with the space of places, in which
meaning, function, and locality are closely interrelated.
The central power-holding institution of human history, the state, is also
undergoing a process of dramatic transformation. On the one hand, its sovereignty is called into question by global ows of wealth, communication,
and information. On the other hand, its legitimacy is undermined by the
politics of scandal and its dependence on media politics. The weakening of
its power and credibility induce people to build their own systems of
defence and representation around their identities, further de-legitimizing
the state. However, the state does not disappear. It adapts and transforms
itself. On the one hand, it builds partnerships between nation-states and
shares sovereignty to retain in uence. The European Union is the most
obvious case, but around the world there is a decisive shift of power toward
multi-national and transnational institutions, such as NATO, IMF/World
Bank, United Nations agencies, World Trade Organization, regional trade
associations, and the like. On the other hand, to regain legitimacy, most
states have engaged in a process of devolution of power, decentralizing
responsibilities and resources to nationalities, regions, and local governments, often extending this de-centralization to non-governmental organizations. The international arena is also witnessing a proliferation of
in uential, resourceful non-governmental organizations that interact with
governments, and multinational political institutions. Thus, overall the new
state is not any longer a nation-state. The state in the information age is a
network state, a state made out of a complex web of power-sharing, and
negotiated decision-making between international, multinational, national,
regional, local, and non-governmental, political institutions.
There are two common trends in these processes of transformation that,
together, signal a new historical landscape. First, none of them could have
taken place without new information/communication technologies. Thus,
while technology is not the cause of the transformation, it is indeed the
indispensable medium. And in fact, it is what constitutes the historical
novelty of this multidimensional transformation. Second, all processes are
enacted by organizational forms that are built upon networks, or to be more
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
speci c, upon information networks. Thus, to analyse the emerging social
structure in theoretically meaningful terms, we have to de ne what information networks are, and elaborate on their strategic role in fostering and
shaping current processes of social transformation.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND SOCIAL MORPHOLOGY: FROM NETWORKS TO
A network is a set of interconnected nodes. A node is the point where the
curve intersects itself. Networks are very old forms of social organization.
But they have taken on a new life in the Information Age by becoming information networks, powered by new information technologies. Indeed, networks had traditionally a major advantage and a major problem, in contrast
to other con gurations of social morphology, such as centralized hierarchies. On the one hand, they are the most exible, and adaptable forms of
organization, able to evolve with their environment and with the evolution
of the nodes that compose the network. On the other hand, they have considerable dif culty in co-ordinating functions, in focusing resources on
speci c goals, in managing the complexity of a given task beyond a certain
size of the network. Thus, while they were the natural forms of social expression, they were generally outperformed as tools of instrumentality. For most
of human history, and unlike biological evolution, networks were outperformed by organizations able to master resources around centrally de ned
goals, achieved through the implementation of tasks in rationalized, vertical chains of command and control. But for the rst time, the introduction
of new information/communication technologies allows networks to keep
their exibility and adaptability, thus asserting their evolutionary nature.
While, at the same time, these technologies allow for co-ordination and
management of complexity, in an interactive system which features feedback effects, and communication patterns from anywhere to ever ywhere
within the networks. It follows an unprecedented combination of exibility
and task implementation, of co-ordinated decision making, and decentralized execution, which provide a superior social morphology for all
Networks de-centre performance and share decision-making. By de nition, a network has no centre. It works on a binar y logic: inclusion/exclusion. All there is in the network is useful and necessar y for the existence of
the network. What is not in the network does not exist from the network’s
perspective, and thus must be either ignored (if it is not relevant to the
network’s task), or eliminated (if it is competing in goals or in performance). If a node in the network ceases to perform a useful function it is
phased out from the network, and the network rearranges itself – as cells
do in biological processes. Some nodes are more important than others,
but they all need each other as long as they are within the network. And
no nodal domination is systemic. Nodes increase their importance by
absorbing more information and processing it more ef ciently. If they
decline in their performance, other nodes take over their tasks. Thus, the
relevance, and relative weight of nodes does not come from their speci c
features, but from their ability to be trusted by the network with an extrashare of information. In this sense, the main nodes are not centres, but
switchers, following a networking logic rather than a command logic, in
their function vis-à-vis the overall structure.
Networks, as social forms, are value-free or neutral. They can equally kill
or kiss: nothing personal. They process the goals they are programmed to
perform. All goals contradictor y to the programmed goals will be fought
off by the network components. In this sense, a network is an automaton.
But, who programmes the network? Who decides the rules that the automaton will follow? Social actors, naturally. Thus, there is a social struggle to
assign goals to the network. But once the network is programmed, it
imposes its logic to all its members (actors). Actors will have to play their
strategies within the rules of the network. To assign different goals to the
programme of the network (in contrast to perfect the programme within
the same set of goals), actors will have to challenge the network from the
outside and in fact destroy it by building an alternative network around
alternative values. Or else, building a defensive, non-network structure (a
commune) which does not allow connections outside its own set of values.
Networks may communicate, if they are compatible in their goals. But for
this they need actors who possess compatible access codes to operate the
switches. They are the switchers or power-holders in our society (as in the
connections between media and politics, nancial markets and technology,
science and the militar y, and drug traf c and global nance through
The speed and shape of structural transformations in our society, ushering in a new form of social organization, come from the widespread introduction of information networks as the predominant organizational form.
Why now? The answer lies in the simultaneous availability of new, exible
information technologies and a set of historical events, which came
together by accident, around the late 1960s, and 1970s. These events
include the restructuring of capitalism with its emphasis on deregulation
and liberalization; the failed restructuring of statism unable to adapt itself
to informationalism; the in uence of libertarian ideology arising from the
countercultural social movements of the 1960s; and the development of a
new media system, enclosing cultural expressions in a global/local, interactive hypertext. All processes, interacting with each other, favoured the
adoption of information networks as a most ef cient form of organization.
Once introduced, and powered by information technology, information
networks, through competition, gradually eliminate other organizational
forms, rooted in a different social logic. In this sense, they tend to assert
the predominance of social morphology over social action. Let me clarify
the meaning of this statement by entering into the heart of the argument,
that is, by examining how speci cally the introduction of information
Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society
networks into the social structure accounts for the set of observable transformations as presented in the preceding section. Or, in other words, how
and why information networks constitute the backbone of the network
THE ROLE OF INFORMATION NETWORKS IN SHAPING RELATIONSHIPS OF
PRODUCTION, CONSUMPTION, POWER, EXPERIENCE, AND CULTURE
Information networks, as de ned above, contribute, to a large extent, to
the transformation of social structure in the information age. To be sure,
this multidimensional transformation has other sources that interact with
the speci c effect of information networks, as mentioned above. Yet, in this
analysis, I will focus on the speci city of the interaction between this new
social morphology and the evolution of social structure. I will be as parsimonious as possible, tr ying to avoid repetition of arguments and observations already presented in this text.
A social structure is transformed when there is simultaneous and systemic
transformation of relationships of production/consumption, power, and
experience, ultimately leading to a transformation of culture. Information
networks play a substantial role in the set of transformations I have analysed
in my work and summarized here. This is how and why.
Relationships of Production
Although I suppose information networks will shape, eventually, other
modes of production, for the time being we can only assess their effect in
the capitalist mode of production. Networks change the two terms of the
relationship (capital, labour), and their relations…