"The historical ascent of the so-called West, in fact limited to Britain and a handful of nations in Western Europe as well as their North American, and Australian offspring, is fundamentally linked to the technological superiority achieved during the two Industrial Revolutions. Nothing the cultural, scientific, political or military history of the world prior to the industrial revolution would explain such indisputable "Western" supremacy between the 1750s and the 1940s. China was a far superior culture for most of the pre-Renaissance period; the Muslim civilization dominated much of the Mediterranean and exerted significant influence in Africa and Asia throughout the modern age. Russia ruled in splendid isolation a vast expanse across East Europe and Asia. Technology, expressing specific social conditions, introduced a new historical path in the second half of the eighteenth century." - Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (NY: Blackwell, 2000), 34.
      Heaven only knows how much Castells was paid for this series of books (which runs three volumes and nearly 1500p.), but as an analysis of the current state of the world's 'Information Society' (as it used to be called, or the 'global village' before that, etc.), it suffers, first and foremost, from a completely non-objective approach to technological issues and history. Sweeping generalizations (as you can see) abound; not in and of itself a bad thing, but a bit much when you're tackling the 'historical ascent' (might as well call it 'national destiny', or 'evolutionary superiority') of the West. The book is much better when he leaves the theorizing aside and lets the facts speak for themselves: in 1993, ten countries accounted for 84% of global R&D and controlled 95% of the US patents registered. By the late 1990s, 1/5th of the world's people (living in the high income countries) had at their disposal 74% of the telephone lines and accounted for 93% of Internet users. (Tell that to the next e-biz goon who starts babbling about how 'inherently' democratic the Internet is.)
      However, he immediately plunges back into the broad conclusions again, stating "knowledge generation and technological capacity are key tools for competition between firms, organizations of all kinds, and, ultimately, countries. Thus, the geography of science and technology should have a major impact on the sites and networks of the global economy." Notice the immediate assumption of competition and economic comparison, as if knowledge had to be based on these principles, i.e. economic determinism (besides being analytically sloppy).
      Now, compare Castells rhetoric to that of Thomas Homer-Dixon, who wrote a similar work on the same subject in the same year (The Ingenuity Gap, NY: Knopf, 2000.) :
"Economic optimists usually dismiss any less upbeat assessments of humanity's prospects as little more than hand-wringing. Problems like global climate change or the social dislocations caused by markets might be serious, they concede, but they add that ever generations feels it lives on the cusp of chaos...this untempered faith in human ingenuity was often grounded in a partial and selective reality...about half the people on the planet - some three billion, all told - rely on agriculture for their main income...one billion of these agriculturists are mainly subsistence farmers...over 1.2 billion lack access to clear drinking water; many are forced to walk kilometers to get what water they can find...many of us manage to ignore the contradiction these people present to our rosy worldview because we rarely see them or go to the places where they live." (30-31)
      The two authors use many of the same sources and statistics; they quote the same reports and organizations, they cite the same leading journals and newspapers. The difference between their conclusions, however, is vast.