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Making sense of the information age

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This article traces the development in Britain of research on information and communications in relation to trends in Sociology and this discipline's relations with Cultural Studies. It observes at the outset the seminal contribution of Daniel Bell's conception of Post-Industrial Society, characterizing it as blending theory with empirical observation while providing an account of the most consequential features of change. Sociology in the UK during the 1980s largely ignored macro-level analysis and focused on work and employment, took its starting point as opposition to the technological determinism associated with this first wave enthusiasm for the ‘microelectronics revolution', and produced localized and textured studies. Manuel Castells' conception of the Network Society, while distinctive, signalled a return to the scale and scope offered by Bell, notably in being a macro analysis that combined theory and empirical evidence. Castells' contribution coincided with a second wave of technological enthusiasm associated especially with the Internet. Alongside this Sociology in Britain has experienced the rise of Cultural Studies, a field that has competed for important parts of what might have been considered Sociology's terrain. Indeed, Cultural Studies has outpaced Sociology in response to recent changes in the information domain. Its emergence expressed little concern with technological determinism, embracing ‘virtuality' and being more open to the exploration of expanding culture. Nonetheless, Cultural Studies remains methodologically flawed while, like so much sociological research on ICTs and information, seemingly incapable of combining theory and empirical evidence that identify and explain the major contours of change.
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Keywords: Cultural Studies; Information Age; Information Society; Sociology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, City University, Northampton Square, London, EC1V 0HB, UK

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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