This paper explores the evolution of political systems in an age of globalization and information technology. In the book we trace the past, present and emerging future to systems of governance, looking at the changing sociopolitical context as we move into a network society and the institutional reconfigurations required for political organizations to survive and thrive within this context.
Just as the more traditional political modalities of our industrial societies are showing signs of crisis, a new form of sociopolitical system is emerging – what the sociologist Manuel Castells defines as the network society, “a society whose social structure is made up of networks powered by microelectronics based information and communications technologies.” Such socio-political organizations have the key characteristics of complex systems. They are often globally distributed with limited centralized top-down coordination. They are built out of and around the interdependencies between members who share common interests instead of being based on a shared homogeneous culture or territory. They are systems in the sense that the whole is greater than any of its parts, as Manuel Castells puts it “The logic of the network is more powerful than the powers of the network.”
The rise of these new forms of IT-enabled organizations is presenting us with new possibilities for sociopolitical organization, that was previously unavailable. They replace a dependency on centralized organization and enable much more direct person to person, peer-to-peer, forms of collaboration out of which networks emerge in an organic bottom-up fashion. These networked organizations are much more dynamic and normalized for the nonlinear volatile environments we are increasingly presented with. In these new forms of networked organization, we can see the future and an alternative to the mass, centralized systems of organization inherent to the Industrial Age.
These networked systems represent a new form of organization that seems aligned with the emerging context of the information and knowledge age and a more distributed world that many wish for. But this shift from one sociopolitical paradigm to another – from one basin of attraction to another – will be a hugely disruptive one as it plays out along many dimensions in the coming decades, with many surprises in store for us. The question remains open though as to how do we bridge the gap between Industrial Age institutions of governance and these new forms of network organizations that are relevant to a world of complex systems?
In this book, we trace the past present and future of sociopolitical systems in an attempt to answer this question. We go in-depth in our analysis of the current period of sociopoltical transition; tracing the primary vectors of change that are working to take us into this more complex reality of the 21st century. Our focus will be on understanding this emerging context in order to try and identify and give an outline to what forms of political organization might be best aligned with the workings of a network society.