Shaping the space of flows : local economies and information and communication technologies
Technological and economic development have long since been associated. From the archaeological discoveries of urban living to the cities of the future; from Babylon to places such as Singapore, technology and life are entwined. Much preoccupation today is with information and communications technologies (ICTs) and misguided notions of 'cyberspace' and 'information superhighways' and of course, life in the informational age. The hype that goes with this often conjures up images of endless potential for marginalised groups, or in turn, reinforces the powers of dominant groups during a most challenging period for capitalism. Yet there is a need for research into the way technology, and in particular ICTs, interacts with the social, political, cultural and economic complexity that forms the basis of place. This thesis attempts to address that need by focusing on the role of ICTs in local economies. Based on an extensive overview of the North East, and followed by an intensive approach of investigation into a small number of case studies, this work looks at the political processes that go hand-in-hand with technology and place. Specifically, the thesis pays attention to locally based partnerships that have taken form to build up the ICTs potential of local economies, and it seeks to understand the reasons why these have occurred at this particular moment in time. The research has identified a number of points in the local economy that appear to be emerging as areas for ICTs application. In effect, these are the key points from which the local economy is connected to the global economy. It is argued that local economies are falling in line behind a more global shift towards what Manuel Castells refers to as the informational mode of development. The role of local ICTs partnerships is crucial in enabling such development and the mechanics behind this are investigated. Again, by drawing on the work of Castells, it is contended that these groups are trying to condition the dynamics of the informational age and the logics of that age. That is, local ICTs partnerships, at the level of place, are attempting to shape the space of flows. Four cases are considered in detail. There is the work of the Sunderland Telematics Working Group who have developed a strategic path for the application of ICTs in the city. There is the work of the Wansbeck Initiative, focused on an emerging set of methods to deal with local economic decline and peripheralisation. There is the work of the County Durham Informatics Partnership, led by the county-wide Training and Enterprise Council and supported by the local University, the County Council and a number of local district authorities. And then there is Teesside, a place that has had a number of false starts in commencing on the road to informationalism, due in part to a lack of cohesion in the partnership building process. There is also the work of Northern Informatics who act as part of the bigger regional picture, perhaps suggesting that as these groups take form there may be an ICTs 'turf-war' to consider. This work shows that there is indeed some level of contestation as local ICTs partnerships are formed. Fundamentally, we are at the beginning of something new here, and there can be no predetermined outcome of how local groups attempt to shape the space of flows.