In this article Sassen describes ICTs (i.e. digital technology) as powerful tool in regards to the digital public space (the Internet) in the areas of human rights, environments, politics used by political activists, and worker strikes etc. She also highlights the extensive use of this technology within the wider global business world for capital hyper-mobility etc. She also points out while this is so, we cannot see this in isolation from capital fixity, such as building space, infrastructure etc in a social context within the global market.
Even though the internet is dominated by a measure of power it still enables women to engage in proactive endeavours in different areas of politics and economics etc. She has explorer these ideas quite extensively through her own research and has quoted from and utilised idea and thoughts from a number of sources and research papers which are quite large and extensive for me to quote in this paper.
Within ICTs its technical attributes or features tends to be the focus of discussion within the changes in the development of current or rather modern times. Sociologists perceive technology as a stimulant for most social trends and transformations. In terms of this development ICT is perceived within the sociological perspective as one of application and impacts. The sociological challenge is to capture the complex relationship between technology and society.
The challenge is to understand that instead of looking at ICTs simply from a technological perspective we need to tune our minds to it connectedness and its outcomes for the different social orders. Technology cannot be assessed on its own but instead must be interpreted on how it affects and or impacts on society. Often in trying to analyse the impact of digitization on various conditions within the society analysts ten to take a purely technological approach or compare technology from a purely historical perspective – digital vs. non-digital technology – which neutralizes or diminishes any sociological factors such as the material conditions etc.
When developing Digital Networks both technical features i.e. software and hardware stands, and societal factors i.e. power dynamics, hierarchy etc. But it is the societal factors that controls the distribution of electronic space and shapes the productions of software. Electronic space is however not purely determined by technological factors but within it there is other segmentations. An instance of this is access both on public access and private access levels, of digital networks. Similarly this can be portrayed in the internet through public access portion of the internet and the corporate fire-walled private sector websites.
Electronic space however in terms of infrastructure and access is going to be far more present in highly industrialized countries that in the less developed world and far more present for middle class household in developed countries that for poor households in those same countries. The more sophisticated the business/material world the need for protection and privacy become paramount, “in the last few years has been on firewall”6. This is representative of private appropriation of public space. While e-commerce threatens the ‘democratic potential’ that is the of the internet by commercialization the internet is still dominated by non-commercial use and users i.e. NGOs and civil societies.
Digital space and digitization are not exclusive conditions that stand outside the non-digital rather, digital space is within the larger societal and subjective and economic imaginary structures. Sassen finds that literature examining the mediation between digital technology and users tends to portray that there is a lack of interaction between user and technology. Her own research finds that the use of technologies is constructed in terms of specific cultures and practices through which the users express their experience of electronic space. This electronic space is changed by values, culture, power systems etc within which it is contained.
Sassen describes the importance of social connectivity and social functions and the multiplication of spatial correlates of centrality which is made possible by the net ICTs. This process facilitates geographical dispersal of business activities whilst maintaining closer links and system integration and strengthening the importance of central co-ordination and control functions for business and markets. She also points out whilst this is important other resources such as human resources etc are required to maximize social connectivity. This process facilitates a new type of ‘urbanization economy’.
This maximises the benefit they can derive from new digital technology which in turn helps them to maximise their capabilities for operating in the global market. ICT has enabled many firms a greater flexibility of operating in a wider range of locations both locally and globally. Although the main business centres (for the firms) is placed in a central business district, new ICTs have enabled localized business centres to operate with different geographical region and interconnecting with other central business districts.
Sassen highlights the presence of women in cyberspace in which she sees woman in which she sees women underrepresented even though there is a sharp growth in their internet usage. She also points out that women are also actively involved in E-business and woman oriented websites created and run by women. Cyberspace brings new opportunities to women both in business as well as in home settings. Woman have experienced (according to Sassen) new opportunities as professionals and they may fight for greater equality with men in these sector. There is a move from the Non Government Organizations enabling women into situations that they rarely had access to in the past, particularly concerning women’s issues.
Other uses of digital networks (as described by Sassen) are in the area of politic where political activists use this technology for global and non-local transactions. Digital technology can also be used to support local initiatives with the local community such as the neighbourhood concept etc. The internet service can be used by the local services to become part of a global network in many areas whether it is political or other forms of activities
Saskia Sassen’s write in her article that, “the challenge for sociology is not so much to deny the weight of technology, but rather the developed analytical categories that allow us to capture the complex imbrications of technology and society.” This is the focal point of her main argument which basically suggests that the sociological challenge is to capture the complex relationship between technology and society. She then further develops the challenge in two aspects.
The first “that understanding the place of these new technologies from a sociological perspective requires avoiding a purely technological interpretation and recognizing the ’embeddedness’ and the variable outcomes of these technologies for different social orders”. Two, “therefore there will be a call for categories that capture what are now often conceived as contradictory or mutual exclusive attributes.” She explores this through analysis of the digital world vs. material world, relationship between user and technology, and the destabilizing of hierarchies of scale and also via sub arguments developing countries vs. developed countries, infrastructures, different social classes, public sector vs. private sector, technology & women, material space vs. electronic space.
It was a well written article with and academic flavour to it. However while Saskia Sassen began the article with a somewhat generalized approach, by exploring the impacts of ICTs and digital technology within the society between electronic space and material space, then she tended to focus on issue of globalisation in terms of financials shifts between developing and developed countries, but towards the end however her approach is very concentrated towards issues related to women.
I had difficulty with the structure of her writing and her heavy vocabulary which seemed to me her intention was to produce a highly intellectual analysis of the subject discussed. However in discussing her personal views i.e. women’s issues, her writing was easier and much simpler to read as it was not as highly structured as the other issue being discussed. It was very informative on issues which I would have normally overlooked in terms of the vast impact digital space like the Internet, and how society uses firewalls on that public space in an attempt to commercialize it and how the impact of technology along with the impact of globalization and different power structures reconfigure territory.