Technological Citizenship: Perspectives in the Recent Work of Manuel Castells and Paul Virilio

by Nick Stevenson
University of Nottingham

Sociological Research Online, Volume 10, Issue 3,

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary.

Received: 17/9/2003 Accepted: 13/7/2005 Published: 30/9/2006


This article draws out the different models of technological citizenship that are available in the writing of Castells and Virilio. Particular attention is paid to the importance of local ecological struggles against the imperatives of technological capitalism. However both Castells and Virilio contain strengths and weaknesses in this respect. Whereas Castells emphasises the contested nature of modernity, Virilio emphasis the dominance of technological reason over the life-world. Further both agree that the defence of local space has a key role to play in the construction of alternative citizenships. In contrast I argue that there can be no local solutions to global problems. Here I look at a number of cosmopolitan perspectives and argue that the claims of justice, sustainability and democracy requires new global institutions. However the blind spot in the cosmopolitan argument remains a top down approach to politics and imperviousness as to how to link radical politics to the contours of everyday life.

Keywords: Citizenship, Technology, Network, Politics, Exclusion, Cosmopolitanism.


1.1 Citizenship, as is well known, is a socio-legal status defined by specific sets of rights (Marshall 1992). In such a view, technological change only impacts upon citizenship if it alters or undermines these rights. This might lead to an analysis of the impact of new technology on the labour market or the restructuring of reproductive rights and responsibilities. While not wanting to discount these features, this article presumes a broader definition of citizenship which encompasses changing patterns of public participation, the development of new forms of citizenship and the construction of popular imaginations (Stevenson 1999, Urry 2000). Citizenship then is concerned with a diverse set of practices and cultures that structure complex patterns of inclusion and exclusion within modern society.

1.2 The development of neo-liberal market driven societies currently threatens to drive out citizenship altogether (Isin and Turner 2002). The most significant aspect of technologically driven globalisation in this respect is economic globalisation. Yet the specific role of technology in helping define the implications of an increasingly marketised society differs depending upon the analysis. For some globalisation offers the possibility of moving beyond national forms of politics and developing more cosmopolitan frames of reference less restricted by localism (Beck 1999). The argument here becomes how to develop a more global form of politics as a response to the withering power of nation-states. On the other hand, different approaches are more concerned to map the assault of technological globalisation on the frameworks of citizenship and its erosion by more instrumentally defined logics.[1] Here it is not so much the redefintion of citizenship, but the recovery of the local practices of citizenship that is at issue. My argumentative strategy is that an engagement with the work of Castells and Virilio helps us move the debate beyond oppositions between the local and the global in respect of the struggle for a genuinely inclusive citizenship.

1.3 In this respect, I seek to explore the possibilities and dangers of the technological society through the recent writing of Manuel Castells and Paul Virilio. Both link a debate about the nature of technology within modernity to questions about the focus of contemporary citizenship. In particular, my discussion seeks to uncover the cultural and ecological focus of their work. This is because both Castells and Virilio have correctly in my view seen the development of the cultural and ecological dimensions of citizenship as playing a central role in the definition of the technological society. More specifically both Castells and Virilio argue that the hegemonic cultures of technological modernity are shaped by the needs of capital rather than labour which has both exaggerated income inequalities and eroded our common environment. However, Castells and Virilio offer contested accounts in respect of technological modernity and the kinds of political engagement that becomes possible under this rubric. Whereas Virilio offers a warning against the perils of instrumental reason Castells places more emphasis the culturally contested nature of modernity. At this point I argue that while both positions contain important features it is Castells’s analysis that has most to offer critical notions of citizenship. Despite these differences both Castells and Virilio remain strongly tied to critical notions of urbanity and the potential of a politics of place. In particular I seek to emphasise that unlike many recent accounts both Castells and Virilio seek to reconnect critical politics to more everyday forms of experience. Here we shall see that many cosmopolitan arguments have displaced the extent to which democratic engagements needs to grow out of the life-world. The struggle for democratic control must work at the local level. However, as we shall see, neither Castells nor Virilio offer suggestions as to how local politics might be able to generate the necessary forms of cosmopolitan solidarity needed to preserve citizenship against the downward economic pressure of neo-liberalism. While both Castells and Virilio focus upon local forms of resistance and struggle neither adequately address the normative possibilities of post-national citizenship in the European context. Such is their concern to develop ‘bottom up’ strategies for citizenship that they neglect to link the struggle for justice and rights to the development of post-national citizenship.

Informationalism, Networks and Social Movements: Manuel Castells

2.1 Castells (1996, 1997, 1998a) argues it is the development of the 'informational economy' that is central to his attempt to rethink the dynamics of post-industrial society. In this new economy it is the application of knowledge and technology in customised production that best ensures economic success. The technological level of the enterprise is a much better guide to its competitiveness than older indices like labour costs (Castells 1989). The rapid development of information technology in the 1970s in Silicon Valley USA enabled capital to restructure itself after the impacts of a worldwide recession. 'Informationalism' has allowed organisations to achieve increased flexibility through more knowledge dependent and less hierarchical structures. New technology has facilitated large structures to co-ordinate their activities world-wide, while building in reflexive inputs to both quickly respond to the current state of the market and benefit from economies of scale (Castells and Hall 1994). Whereas industrialism was oriented towards economic growth, informationalism is more concerned with the development of knowledge and the creation of networks. The digitalisation of knowledge bases allows information to be processed and stored across huge distances. Capitalism is becoming less dependent upon the state and more upon the ability of a common informational system to transmit knowledge across distanciated networks (Castells 1996).

2.2 The dominance of the flows of capital as opposed to the locality of labour has heightened processes of social exclusion. The new informational economy is characterised through simultaneous processes of economic development and underdevelopment. The 'black holes' of the informational economy include people who are socially and culturally out of communication with mainstream society. While informationalism has lead to the growth of employment within the higher tiers of management there has also been a substantial reduction in low skilled employment and heightened exclusion of the earth's poorer regions from the flows of global capital. These excluded zones (that can not be mapped onto any simple North/South divide) have responded to such processes by operating 'perverse' forms of inclusion. This has fostered the expansion of illegal and criminal economies within inner city ghettos and the planet’s most marginalised economies. This means that capital becomes ever mobile, tourists find different places to visit and the global media move our attention elsewhere. Networks are structured through the dynamic effects of interconnection and disconnection delivering a global economy that is enhancing processes of economic polarisation both between and within nation-states. At the global level the network society has produced a world where income differentials between the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent have leapt from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994 (Castells 1998b).

2.3 The dominance of the informational economy has many definite cultural effects which are multifarious. Television in particular and the media in general have become central and defining institutions in modern society. Castells illustrates this by pointing to the fact that television currently frames the language and types of symbolic exchange that help define society. Unless a social movement, set of ideas, or commercial product appears on television it may as well not exist. From the advertising jingles we hum on the way to work to our opinions on the government's latest set of social policies the media frames our sets of common understandings, knowledges and languages. The media do not so much determine political agendas, but provide the background and context to political and social struggles. The centrality of modern communications in contemporary culture does not deliver a mass culture, but what Castells calls a culture of 'real virtuality'. The idea of a mass culture has now been surpassed by a media environment where messages are explicitly customised to the symbolic languages of the intended audience. The future will not so much be governed by a homogenous mass produced culture repressing human diversity, but by a diversified popular culture where competitive advantage comes through product differentiation and audience segmentation. For Castells (1996): ‘we are not living in a global village, but in customised cottages globally produced and locally distributed’.

2.4 The newly emergent information society is characterised by a media culture that is more individuated and less homogenous than before. The culture of 'real virtuality' opens out a world where popular moralities and perceptions opened by soap operas can have as much impact on modern sensibilities as the moral strictures of politicians. Indeed we can probably think of numerous examples where the 'popular' and the 'political' have become irreversibly intertwined. This might invoke soap opera's raising political questions, the development of so called info-tainment, politicians receiving media training, protests deliberately designed to attract maximum media exposure and the development of the art of media spin doctoring. Taken together these aspects and others speak of a new media and cultural environment that presses the case that unless you are on television then you are not in politics. The combination of the culture of ‘real virtuality’ and the hollowing out of the state has effectively produced an official political culture of strategic advantage, spin doctors and short term advantage. However the agendas of mainstream political parties are in turn seemingly interrupted by a variety of social movements from below. Castells (1997) characterises a number of social movements as developing highly skilful media techniques in fostering largely reactive and defensive responses to economic globalisation. By this he means that the movements under review do not so much articulate a vision of a future emancipated society, but a more conservative attempt to preserve current social identities.

2.5 For Castells (1997: 69), 'people all over the world resent loss of control over their lives, over their environment, over their jobs, over their economies, over their governments, over their countries, and, ultimately, over the fate of the Earth'. The task of any oppositional movement must be to connect local experiences to a more global agenda. Defensive reactions to globalisation can be seen in a range of fundamentalist and communalist political movements and cultural struggles. Under this argument the democratic state becomes increasingly reduced to an empty shell the new sites of power being connected to images and information codes. As Castells (1997: 359) puts it the 'sites of this power are people's minds'. However given the new vitality given to information and culture in the network society, the mobilisation of peoples through information flows and networks are likely to be short lived. In terms of media politics, today’s firmly held principles and beliefs soon become disregarded. This is not so much a question of ‘dumbing down’, more the informational logic of a new society.

2.6 Yet Castells argues that new media technology can contribute to the building of networks amongst new social movements. This picture is further complicated elsewhere in discussing who actually uses the Net. Here Castells asserts that new media technologies reinforce existing social structures rather than transforming them. For instance, because access to the Net is dependent upon economic and educational factors it is likely to reinforce the cosmopolitan orientation of social elites, rather than destroying social hierarchies in the way that some commentators had been expecting. New media technologies therefore simultaneously reinforce relations of cultural capital, hierarchy and distinction while enabling social movements to publicise campaigns and connect with distant publics. This creates a fundamental division between social elites who inhabit the culture of hyper-modernity and a neo-luddite tendency amongst the dispossessed where globalisation means job insecurity, crime and poverty. For Castells neither technological enthusiasm nor its opposite is likely to lead to new waves of social and economic development which reverses processes of exclusion.

2.7 However Castells argues that the social movement most likely to promote a different sensibility to the culture of ‘real virtuality’ remains the environmental movement. The environmental movement, in Castells’s terms, are primarily concerned with the mobilisation of local communities in the defense of space. Locally organised movements against toxic waste and the attempt to defend the quality of life against the interests of business and bureaucracy are all of this type. These movements tend to emphasise a distinction between between two different spatial logics that have become apparent within modern society. That is the dominant spatial structure ushered in by the network society is described as the ‘space of flows’ where economic and political processes are organised globally. The green movements emphasis upon locality then fractures this logic by seeking to promote local control over spaces where people live. Castells (1997: 124) argues that such movements provide a challenge to the ‘basic lever of the new power system’. That is the need to defend the locality against the imperatives of the space of flows attempts to reposition democracy within the locality. Yet whereas ecological movements are localists in the defence of space, they are globalists in seeking to promote a culture of glacial time. That is to propose sustainable forms of development is to foster a concern with the unity of the species through different stages of development. It is our identities as human-beings which connects us to indigenous cultures, previous historical periods and to future generations. Again Castells (1997: 127) reads these developments positively in that ‘green culture’ aims to shape an understanding of humanity, which ‘is the only global identity put forward on behalf of all human beings, regardless of their specific social, historical, or gender attachments, or of their religious faith’. Within this context, Castells (1997: 127) affirms that green culture acts as ‘the antidote’ to the prevailing culture of real virtuality.

2.8 Castells’s argument then is not that ‘green culture’ offers an exit from the dominant structures of the information society. Instead he suggests the possibility of a globally informed and locally mobilised citizenship based upon our species membership that is resistant to the cynicism, spin doctoring and ideas of strategic advantage that are promoted by more mainstream social and political concerns. Information technology then not only presides over the spatial dominance of capital over labour, but also provides the tools for resistance. Despite the evident hierarchies which are fostered by new technologies, green web sites run by a computer literate elite play a role similar to that of artisan printers at the beginning of the labour movement. In this sense, ‘green culture’ can not afford to be anti-information technology or science given their reliance on alternative experts and alternative sources of information.

Virilio, Speed and Technological Capitalism

3.1 Despite Castells’s arguments on the possibilities and exclusions of the information age many have chosen to view the arrival of a technological society through a more negative optic. Here the development of the on line economy, instantaneous public opinion and a culture of sensation has robbed human-beings of the capacity for critique. In this understanding, it is not so much commodification that is the danger, but the triumph of technological reason. These much more pessimistic reflections have recently been refined within the work of French theorist Paul Virilio. Yet rather than concentrating upon the disapearence of modernity, Virilio has argued that its hyper-development has delivered an inhuman culture which is pushing global society ever closer to ecological catastrophe. Hence whereas Castells explores the ambivalent possibilities of the information society, Virilio’s work is better read as a rejection of the positive spin many have sought to place upon the mutual development of globalisation and technological change.

3.2 For Virilio the problem with those who seek to emphasise the positive aspects of new technology is that it tends to lead to a concern for others who are distant, over those who are our immediate neighbours. Indeed Virilio has argued over a number of publications that the impact of new technologies of communication on the human senses is overwhelmingly negative. The ‘real time’ of modern media communications has fundamentally altered and distorted our shared conception of reality. Here Virilio makes some important links between technology and communications, war and speed. Within these co-ordinates virtual reality and the Internet are not completely new forms of communication, but the exaggeration of key aspects of modernity and the dominance of a form of technological fundamentalism. In this respect, John Armitage’s (2000) description of Virilio as a hyper-modernist seems accurate. For Virilio the emergence of new technology has distorted our conceptions of the ‘real’ while building upon the destructive developmental logic of modernity. Critical of Marxism, post-modernism and other conceptual approaches that have made an impact in the study of technological cultures, Virilio describes himself as an urbanist. By this he argues for a regenerated politics of the city that tries to reconnect people with their immediate neigbours, themselves and nature. Virilio (1999: 48) argues that ‘the main question is to regain contact’. We do this by recovering the practice of social intercourse, the conditions for an inclusive communal life, and as we shall see, most crucially of all, a livable temporality. In this respect, Virilio wants to create a space for the ‘Other’ in democratic deliberation. We can only achieve this in relations of co-presence not by following debates over the television or by mailing discussion groups on the Net. New and old media in this respect are actually bound up with a set of harmful fantasies that suggest that we can escape from the fragility of the human body, our dependence upon nature and the more immediate sets of social relations in the communities in which we live.

3.3 For Virilio, politics has been taken away from the people and is increasingly determined by the military, the state and technology. This has lead to a decline in meaningful public forms of participation and the increasing power and scope of social elites. The increasing speed of the transport of people, images and perspectives within modernity has all been driven by the need to dominate and control a territory with as few obstacles as possible. The power of modern warfare is actually dependent upon the development of new forms of information technology. As Virilio (1998: 24) writes ‘to possess the earth, to hold terrain, is also to possess the best means to scan it in order to protect and defend it’. The main driving force behind technological developments connecting the rise of photography, television and the Internet has been determined by the military’s requirements for more extensive wars. This has involved a shift in political boundaries from the localised politics of the city to a global geo-politics of domination and conquest. It is then the requirements of war rather than democracy that is best served by the emphasis upon speed, efficiency and globality. For example, in Virilio’s (1989) War and Cinema he points to cultural connections between the development of cinematic techniques and warfare. In the 1914-18 war cameras were used to take motion and still pictures from airplanes to help decide military tactics. Later, after the Second World War, spy satellites and other technologies were used as a means of military intelligence with weapons systems being systematically trained upon visible targets. This connects the desire to make subjects and objects visible with the need to destroy them as the enemy. However, if new technologies of communication actually make the enemy more visible, they also reduce their physical presence. Cinema helped convert war into a visible spectacle, films were deliberately made as forms of war propaganda, while mostly female announcers managed to blur the destruction of the bombers by developing personal relations with members of the crew. There was then no bombing without photographs and no mass destruction without cameras. Within this configuration the human eye, the camera and the bomb all become weapons of war.

3.4 The invention of cameras and photographs actually entails a reduction in the field of vision. For example, Virilio compares the art of the painter Rodin to the visual effects produced by photographic images. Whereas a photograph freezes the image in time the work of art could seek to capture the complex temporality of motion. Electronic images do not bring the subject any closer to the world, but obscure the phenomenology of a complex field of vision. For Virilio (1994: 13) the fusion of the eye and the camera leads to the human gaze becoming more fixed and predictable. Within this Virilio (1994: 13) detects a totalitarian ambition within visual technology that he calls ‘omnivoyance’. This term is linked to the desire to repress the complex negotiations of the human subject and replace them with normalising vision machines. The vision machine’s evolution begins with the camera and ends with video equipment that places the public under constant surveillance. The development of computerized vision machines have finally dispensed with the human senses given that they are fully operated by machines. Hence what Virilio (2000a: 57) calls the ‘industrialisation of vision’ has not so much added new realities, but permanently displaces our sensitivity towards different temporalities and visual ambivalences within modernity. This has produced a ‘dyslexic version of reality’ (Virilio 1995: 72). The real-time of television has come to dominate our shared definitions of reality. The showing of events ‘as they happen’ has meant that a society of images and spectacles has come to replace public forms of dialogue. Whereas the press, in France, were originally both read and talked about in the ‘galleries of the cloitre des Cordeliers’ (Virilio 1995: 37) today the media become constituted through speed and technology. As we shall see, ‘with real-time technologies, real presence bites the dust’ (Virilio 1995: 57).

3.5 The speed of modern technological communications in this regard has a number of consequences. Firstly, speed destroys thought and the possibility of democratic deliberation. Ideas concerning the possibility of using technology to enhance democracy are mistaken. Speed technology produces a culture where communications are used to condition the responses of the public (Virilio 2000b: 109). Secondly, the global spread of information and computer technology introduces the possibility of the ‘terminal citizen’. By destroying temporal relationships human-beings become more concerned with the reality of the screen than the actual physical proximity of their more immediate personal and communal relationships. Society then becomes divided between two distinct temporalities which Virilio (1997: 71) describes as the absolute and the relative. The radical divide is between those whose economic, political and cultural activities are driven by speed, and those who become ever more destitute while living in ‘real’ spaces. For the ‘terminal citizen’ virtual reality, an event driven media and the frantic mobility of information has not come to supplement ‘reality’ but to replace it. Thirdly, the paradox of the information society is that it is simultaneously leading to an increase in virtual mobility and physical inertia. That is the ‘terminal citizen’ does not have to actually move about as technology is increasingly modeled to fit the contours of the human body. The new interactive space that is facilitated by the Internet, television and virtual reality means that the home becomes a cockpit that receives the world without the occupant having to move. We are then not so much in the age of mobility as the age of paralysis. This induces the subject into a ‘vegetative state’ or culturally induced coma where the search is not so much for the possibility of public action, but the ‘intensiveness of sensations’ (Virillio 2000a: 69). Fourthly, the speeding up of ‘reality’ in real time has an individualizing effect whereby information becomes increasingly focused in on the self. This process, coupled with the replacement of reality, means that we actually pay less and less attention to our ecological landscapes that support all life forms. The collapse of space then turns us inwards away from the world and into the increasingly simulated world of new technology, fun and cyberfantasies. The televisualisation of reality does not so much deliver a cosmopolis but an ominopolis. In short, modern technology imposes upon us a hegemonic and monolithic version of ‘reality’. This enhances the possibility of a global accident that could destroy large sections of humanity. As we become distanced from our own naturalness and vulnerability the possibility of global catastrophes through economic collapse, global warming, nuclear war or the spread of viruses come ever closer. Technological imperialism pushes us closer to disaster while robbing our common human senses of the ecological sensitivity necessary to resist such changes. Fifthly, the global spread of ‘real time’ technologies increases the possibility of a new phase of totalitarianism by putting us under constant forms of surveillance. These new forms of danger and control can be detected in the seemingly innocent practice of setting up live Internet broadcasts from the home to the war in Kosovo. Live cams set up on the Internet from people’s kitchens and bedrooms are not about information or entertainment, but the exposure and invasion of the individual. The constant monitoring of human activity now takes place on a global basis and makes us all constantly visible, imposing upon us a ‘technological vigil’ (Virilio 2000b: 62). The spread of new technologies of surveillance from mobile phones (which abolish the distinction between public and private for employees) to the orbital surveillance of enemy territories subjects us all to global forms of control. Control, as demonstrated by the war in Kosovo, is now not so much a function of state sovereignty, but the capacity to determine who occupies air and space. This enhances the possibility of global powers (like the United States) of launching an information war through the presence of satellites (monitoring population movements) and live broadcasts providing citizens with disinformation. This control is also linked to the ability to pollute information exchange through disinformation (Virilio 2000c). In short, the technological society, other than at the local level has both sought to eliminate participatory forms of citizenship while blunting the capacities of the human subject. Here the transformation of citizenship is likely to be a slow and painful process that depends upon face to face relations and local forms of political action.

Technology, Citizenship and Critique

4.1 Both Castells and Virilio argue that questions of technology are intimately tied into the operation of citizenship. Despite their differences the technological features of modern society are considered to be central aspects shaping new social relations. Technology, in their analysis, is not innocent but helps foster certain social worlds rather than others. For example, for Castells information technology is constitutive in the current definition and framing of ecological questions, whereas for Virilio technology more generally is disabling our shared ecological sensibilities. But, despite their differences, both Virilio and Castells sought to affirm the defence of local public spaces as being key to the struggle for citizenship. In this respect, both Castells and Virilio argue that a return to matters local disrupts the domination of technological capitalism over human society.

4.2 We could argue that both Castells and Virilio emphasise different but equally important features of contemporary technological societies. Unlike Castells, Virilio’s politics and social theory fails to appreciate the ways in which contemporary society and culture has been unalterably transformed by the impact of new technology. There is a lingering sense within Virilio’s writing of a possible return to a society with low levels of technological development. While such views may indeed form part of a resistance to certain features of contemporary social development they can hardly be expected to generate a sustainable political perspective working within the contradictions and ambivalences of the present. Indeed Virilio’s position on the information society often comes close to the neo-luddism described by Castells (1998b). Within this Virilio misses the opportunity to think more constructively as to how new technologies might become utilised by inclusive forms of social development. That is if a globally sustainable planetary economy is to become possible it will be built through the new information technologies not their abolition. The main problem here being that Virilio offers an excessively one-sided view of technology which ‘substitutes moralising critique for social analysis and political action’ (Kellner 2000). In other words, Virilio’s ‘reading’ of the effect of information technology can not adequately account for a diversity of contested cultures and subject positions. Within this we might emphasise along with Castells (see above) and Melucci (1996) that power within modern society is exercised through the production and exchange of symbols and not the erosion of human reality by technology. The establishment of master codes and symbols within global flows of information are increasingly likely to be contested in a diversity of spaces and places. Inevitably this means that the introduction of information technology opens the possibility for new forms of information that challenge, reinforce and contest the organisation of our understanding of the main features of human life from questions of sexuality to global poverty. These perspectives invariably introduce both an awareness that modernity remains constituted through powerful centers of information and symbolic provision, and that such codes are increasingly drawn upon in a diversity of social and cultural contexts. The problem here is that Virilio fails to investigate the contestation of identities and codes preferring to emphasise the ‘brute’ effects of technology.

4.3 Arguably then Virilio underestimates the extent to which modernity has become the site of cultural contestation. However, we could equally argue, that Castells tells us very little about the ways that the imperatives of capitalism and technology are reshaping the life-world. Virilio presents a stark picture of modernity where the imperatives of technology and capital have largely colonised the human subject. While I have argued that Virilio has considerably overstated these processes giving little room for their contestation and redefinition his work does articulate some of the dominant features of technological capitalism. More recently, the psychoanalytic critic Joel Kovel (2002) has argued that speed, the overestimation of the power of technology and grandiosity are indeed hegemonic features of the dominant social system. However, Kovel is careful to argue that such sentiments are still more readily found within global elites and amongst the rich and powerful than the population more generally. Such dispositions are unlikely to foster the forms of care necessary to change our relations with ourselves, our communities and nature. Kovel is careful to leave open the possibility that forms of cultural resistance could well make themselves apparent amongst those ordinary citizens who feel increasingly stressed, overworked and dissatisfied by the imperatives of consumerism. Indeed, as Virilio suggests, such features could well play an important role in the resistance to neo-liberal forms of globalisation of the future.

Localisation, Cosmopolitanism and Citizenship

5.1 So far I have argued that the contributions of Castells and Virilio contain strengths and weaknesses in respect of their analysis of the relationships between technology, capitalism and citizenship. Here I want to press these features further, and look at the prospects for the generation of more local forms of citizenship. Here it is notable that neither Castells nor Virilio would be likely to show much enthusiasm for the introduction of more cosmopolitan forms of citizenship. Both Castells and Virilio in admittedly different ways are holding out the prospect that the dominant political languages of spin and strategic advantage could only be interrupted from below by an ecological form of politics with more substantive commitments. In this respect, they both argue that the defense of place and locality against the imperatives of neoliberalism can only begin from the bottom up. However there can be no local solutions to global problems. Many who hold a cosmopolitan view of politics have suggested that civic solidarity has to be generated beyond the walls of the nation state. In an age of electronic communication a genuinely progressive politics would need to move out of the local and into more global arenas. It is to the development of a genuinely cosmopolitan consciousness that many now see as the progressive edge of radical politics (Held 1995; Habermas 2001).

5.2 Neither Castells nor Virilio follow these critical possibilities for two quite different reasons. Castells restricts himself to making empirical observations in respect of the key dynamics of the present global situation and is sceptical of those who wish to promote new normative agendas[2]. On the other hand, Virilio’s technological pessimism and extreme localism cancels any possibility of a critical politics emerging at this level. Here I think it is possible to demonstrate both that Virilio and Castells highlight a major weakness of the cosmopolitan project, and that they are insufficiently concerned to map new normative forms of citizenship appropriate for a global age.

5.3 In terms of a more cosmopolitan orientated politics in respect of the environment and sustainability many have been keen to stress the importance of 1992 Rio Earth Summit and in particular Agenda 21 for providing the political context to enhance involvement with local communities in environmental decision making. In other words, the development of local democracy requires a legislative framework for its re-empowerment. This is what Anthony Giddens (1999) has called ‘democratising democracy’. Here the idea is that democracy must transform itself by becoming simultaneously more global and more local at the same time. The democratisation of democracy requires the devolution of power, constitutional reform, citizen’s juries, but perhaps above all the development of a strong civic culture. Such a view of cosmopolitanism then articulates a view of the citizen who can live in the local and the global at the same time (Tomlinson 1999). In this respect, whereas Castells and Virilio merely talk about the defense of the local the cosmopolitan viewpoint seeks to transcend the opposition between the local and the global that seems to be present in such assertions. The cosmopolitan view is that without the development of a global civil society we will remain a world at the mercy of the flows of capital, the threat of war, an increasingly unstable environment and pervasive global injustice. A global civil society therefore is concerned with the civilisation and democratisation of globalisation. This can only be achieved through the development of new global institutions and the establishment of a global rule of law (Kaldor 2003). However, in reading the arguments for cosmopolitan forms of citizenship, it is easy to see how they might end up reinforcing dominant versions of citizenship and politics. Despite the calls for a new civic culture most of the proposals that are suggested are introduced from the top down[3]. Here Castells and Virilio offer important arguments in that both develop substantive arguments in respect of more grassroots organisations and local forms of citizenship.

5.4 These features are best demonstrated through the development of the European Union. Europe remains a key development on the world stage in respect of a new form of politics which has sought to foster democracy beyond the nation-state. The idea of multi-layered citizenship it would seem is more likely to be developed here than in any other world region. But it is noticeable that many of those actively engaged in environmental politics are sceptical of the kinds of cosmopolitanism that are currently being promoted at the European level. The European Union remains a key actor in respect of the environment in that it has passed over three hundred pieces of detailed legislation in this area (Garner 2000). Yet if the European Union has the potential to secure common environmental norms and regulations then it has also played its part in promoting a neo-liberal culture of globalisation by pressing an agenda of open markets, cheap plane travel, unfair subsidies and the global transportation of food and animals. For example, Michael Woodin and Caroline Lucas (2004) like many in the green movement seek to press an agenda of localisation against the imperatives of mainstream politics, technology and capital. In this analysis, the revival of the local takes place through a concerted normative agenda that seeks to challenge the power of large corporations and established European bureaucracies by enhancing the role of the local economy and public sphere. Here the revival of citizenship as a form of participation is less dependent upon a framework of rules and resources imposed from above, but the redistribution of power and autonomy in respect of the economy. Over a period of time there is a transition away from dependence upon international export markets to the provision of local food and services. Further, such proposals are tied to the implementation of a ‘Green Marshall Plan’ for Third World societies in order to help deal with crippling levels of debt and build sustainable local economies. Such proposals connect the local and the global but with the aim of empowering locality. However these political positions remain limited in respect of the politics of economic globalisation. It is one thing to argue for the recovery of politics at the local level, but another to argue that new forms of citizen involvement, deepening forms of social justice and sustainable futures would not require a reformed Europe. At the European level there is clearly a danger that politics will become increasingly driven by the needs of business elites rather than the engagements of ordinary people (Crouch 2004). Here European’s are inching towards a post-democracy where elections become empty spectacles shaped by the needs of capital. Similarly for Castells (1998) Europe could become important as a way of defending human rights, democracy and social welfare without regressing into communalism. Europeaness then would need to become what Castells (1997: 8) describes as a project identity. A project identity becomes available when social actors and movements seek to simulateously redefine themselves and their position within society. Yet under current conditions, most of the identities that Castells charts can more accurately be described as resistant or communal identities. Under the impact of globalisation and the shrinking state, both radical individualism and fundamentalist certitude are currently more prevalent than project identities. However, as I have indicated, he fails to take the argument further to develop a more normative cosmopolitan argument.

5.5 In the context of a severely weakened social democracy, the decline of the labour movement and the development of neo-liberalism the question becomes how such a radical politics might become possible? Inevitably the defense of local space against the power of the market has a role to play, but without the development of more robust cosmopolitan visions such a politics remains limited. A politics of hope would require the mobilisation of intellectuals, social movements and nation-states to develop a European social state. Such a view contains the recognition that a cosmopolitanism that was able to link the global and the local would need to develop what Pierre Bourdieu (2001: 41) has called ‘a new internationalism’. Such a development would offer an alternative to both regressive forms of nationalism and a politics of neo-liberalism and privatisation. Similarly, in Habermas’s (2001) estimation the key to the success of the European Union, will be its ability to provide a response to global economic pressures. Under the conditions of global finance national governments are under increasing pressure to lower taxes and provide economic environments in the interests of corporations rather than people. Such down ward pressures compel national governments to accept increasing inequalities while downgrading systems of social welfare. In this scenario what happens is that money replaces politics. Here the European Union would need to develop a market-correcting ethos with new forms of regulation and redistribution. This version of European identity has at heart the ability of citizens ‘to learn to mutually recognise one another as members of a common political existence beyond national borders’ (Habermas 2001: 99). This does not mean homogenising different national and ethnic identities into a super European nation-state. A cosmopolitan European identity actually requires a form of civic solidarity where fellow Europeans take responsibility for one another. These processes are dependent not only on the formulation of a common European civil society, constitution and social policy, but also on a common sense of solidarity being created through political institutions. The development of a European cosmopolitan identity is dependent upon civic forms of solidarity being developed beyond the nation.

5.6 Inevitably these projections seem somewhat utopian in terms of current political ‘realities’, and yet they remain crucial in respect that they remind us that progressive politics should not be allowed to retreat into a form of localism. However they point to the necessary realignment between a re-emerged social democracy and an environmental politics in respect of the global, the national and the local. If old style social democracy is currently under threat it can only be revived through a cosmopolitan politics that links the global and the local. As Michael Jacobs (1999) argues there is indeed evidence of a closer alliance being forged between environmental perspectives and social democracy on issues connected with ‘quality of life issues’. Here the argument becomes the maintenance of a public sector that balances egalitarian concerns, welfare, education, health and environmental sustainability. Again the regeneration of local forms of citizenship remains key in this argument. The regeneration of locality is dependent upon the linking together of sustainable development and the redistribution of resources in ways that are dependent upon more global social relations. Such a politics cannot limit itself to the defense of local space, but requires the active participation of citizens in building more just and sustainable communities. The active process of ‘greening the city’ therefore requires a mutual politics of social regeneration and the development of more sustainable lifestyles. Here a central concern is the revitalisation of civil society at the local level in such a way that citizens are able to engage in a process of what John Barry (1996:123) has called ‘social learning’. However it is no exaggeration to suggest that such features are unlikely to be achieved inside the current frameworks of liberal politics. A stronger stress upon the importance of civic engagement and political agency is required by educational institutions. In particular the young need access to communicative public spaces where they can develop their own voices and thereby learn to become cultural producers as well as cultural consumers (Giroux 2004). Citizenship needs to become an engaged practice that seeks to foster conversation that opens the possibility of learning through dialogue. As the work of Raymond Williams (1965) continues to remind us the development of a politics of ‘voice’ requires a redefinition of who has a right to speak and make themselves heard in contested public spheres. This would mean challenging the dominance of communicative relations by large conglomerates and national political parties to make space for the materially and culturally excluded. Such a view aims, like Castells and Virilio; to move politics beyond state centric definitions, but also seeks to develop a politics of normative deliberation. But the pernicious effects of globalisation cannot be resolved by localism but as I have sought to stress the regulation of global institutions. This returns us to the continued relevance of the European project. Such a project would require us to choose the logic of global responsibility over ‘local retrenchment’ (Bauman 2004:135).

Citizenships of the Future

6.1 In conclusion, I have argued that the perspectives of Castells and Virilio need to be reconstituted to build an adequate model of technological citizenship. Despite their considerable differences their main strengths in this respect has been an emphasis upon the structuring power of technology and the importance of temporal and spatial dimensions in respect of the study of citizenship. Both identify attempts to deconstruct speed capitalism from below as being an essential contribution of green movements and the struggle for citizenship more generally. By identifying local forms of resistance both Castells and Virilio build a powerful case against the imperatives of the present. Yet neither Castells nor Virilio develop a normative cosmopolitan politics that might be capable of linking the local to the global. While they provide an important corrective to ‘top down’ cosmopolitanism, neither seeks to explore the need to build new republican cosmopolitan institutions adequate for a global age. In this respect, they fail to develop normative agendas beyond the capacities of actually existing social movements and narrow forms of localism. Here my argument was to develop a cosmopolitan politics of hope in the European context that would be capable of providing an alternative to neo-liberalism. However, the work of Castells and Virilio is likely to spark considerable debate in the future as both academics and activists alike search for meaningful forms of political community and engagement beyond the narrow confines of technological capitalism.


1For example of these views see Ritzer (1999) and Schiller (1991).

2This is made particularly clear in a private interview conducted by my former colleague Ankie Hoogevelt with Castells on Friday, 22 January 2000.

3There are important differences between many writers on cosmopolitanism on this particular theme. See Archibugi (2003) for numerous perspectives on these themes.


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