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The life and times of the information society: a critical review

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This paper offers an analytical synthesis of research that has engaged critically with the concept of an 'information society’. It draws on an original much longer synthesis prepared by the author as the introduction to a four volume Routledge Master Works Series on ‘The Information Society’. In contrast to the synthesis prepared for this set of republished papers, the present paper assesses several key bodies of research in this area in terms of their contribution to what may broadly be understood as the field of ‘media and communication’ studies. This is important because, despite the claims to interdisciplinarity that are often made for our work in this field, a critical synthesis of research and publications under this slogan demonstrates that there is surprisingly little cross-fertilisation between the work in various social science disciplines in this area. Notwithstanding this observation, critiques of this way of designating the nature of societies in the modern period bear some strong similarities to each other despite being based frequently rather different underpinning theories. A secondary aim of the paper is to consider selected aspects of the corpus of work included in the Master Works series in terms of why many of the more insightful critical arguments, seem to have failed to make incursions into more mainstream discussions about information societies. This aspect of the paper considers some of the political dimensions of the policy processes in which information (or knowledge) societies have been promoted. It examines explicitly some of the mismatches in the understandings of the dynamics of change in this area. The papers providing the basis for the analytical synthesis are drawn mainly from the last three decades, have appeared in English, and have been authored mainly (though not exclusively) by scholars in the Western industrialised countries. Paper prepared for the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Department of Media and Communications, ‘Media, Communication & Humanity’, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 21-23 September 2008.

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