Why ‘Society 5’?

What do we mean by ‘Society 5′?

Throughout this project we want to raise a simple argument: that the changes in social organisation brought about by the Internet constitute a break with the recent past as dramatic as that seen during the Neolithic or industrial revolutions, and that we are in a unique place to be able to seize the democratic potential presented by this moment.

To make this argument we’re drawing (well, in this case really it’s Will drawing) from Paul James’ argument in Nation Formation that social formations can be understood via their dominant and subordinate forms of production, exchange, organisation, communication and enquiry.

But that’s an overly wordy way of phrasing it…

James’ argument – and our argument here – is that significant technological changes in production or communication have enabled radical shifts in social organisation.

Dramatic social changes of the order we’re interested in have previously been ushered in by the development of agriculture, by the invention of writing, and by the emergence of industrial modes of production. Each of these have brought about new forms of social organisation: agricultural societies born from their hunter gatherer forbears; literate from the agricultural; industrial from the literate.

The Internet has brought about the fifth.

In making this argument we recognise that this reductionism lumps together particular historical societies that in many ways are really quite different. There is much that divides the thinking, modes of production and modes of communication of Victorian England and Post-War America. Yet our classification lumps both together as societies of the industrial age. There is probably more separating Imperial Rome and Renaissance Italy. Yet again we lump these together as societies of the literate age.

This is clearly reductionist. Yet we do argue that the changes in communication and production being brought about by Internet constitute a radical break with the recent past. The integration afforded by the Internet is rapidly and radically becoming the form of integration that dominates social organisation. We’ll be providing evidence for this in many of our coming posts.

We also believe that though we can point to much that is shaping this emerging society, we are safer at this point resisting explicit names – whether the ‘networked society’, the ‘information society’ or the ‘Internet society’. Here Hegel’s dictum that “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” suggests to us that wisdom on this topic may be many years off yet. At this stage we’re better off being just that bit more cautious and open rather than declarative and closed.

In future posts we hope to flesh out more on the relationship between different forms of social organisation, particularly dwelling on Paul James’ argument (page 22) that “all societies are formed in the uneven intersection of various overlaying levels of integration”. Though new modes of production and communication may have brought about this Society 5, there is much that still connects us with the world of the past.

4 thoughts on “Why ‘Society 5’?

  1. Have you looked at Harold Innis’ “Empire and Communications” and “The Bias of Communications”? I would suggest that “Empire” particularly would complement the argument I think you’re making in that it explicitly traces the changes in society and societal power that derive from changes in forms of communication I.e. clay tablets to papyrus to parchment to printing.

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