Symposium 02

Militant Particularism: Beta Testing a New Society

As David Harvey notes in his recent assessment, Raymond Williams liked to invoke the idea of "militant particularism," meaning that solidarities developed in specific local struggles gave rise to general ideas about benefitting humanity (Harvey, 1996: 19–45). For Williams (1989), global ideals like the democratization of social, political and economic life and the creation of vibrant public spaces were hatched in the tumult of concrete conflicts in communities, factories, offices, and homes. This paper addresses a contemporary version of militant particularism, what some might see as a distorted or even perverse variation on Williams' theme, namely, the creation of local and regional high technology zones that transform spatial, social, and cultural relations in a region to the detriment of democratic ideals and the public sphere. The paper concludes by reflecting on the significance of these developments and specifically of militant particularism for the field of international communication.

The End of Geography?
It is an increasingly popular myth that computer communication ends geography by completing a revolution in the process of transcending the spatial constraints that historically limited the movement of information. The Death of Distance (Cairncross,1997) is just the latest in a series of books announcing the triumph of technology over place, the annihilation of space with time. The argument is simple. The convergence of computer and communication technologies permits people to meet anywhere at any time thereby making possible the ubiquitous exchange of information from the simplest two person exchange to the operation of a multinational conglomerate with its vast requirements for moving information and ideas rapidly, efficiently and with close to complete security. In the nineteenth century, spatial barriers meant that news took weeks by packet boat to get from New York to New Orleans. Now, distance is by and large insignificant and, particularly with the arrival of global mobile satellite systems, which will permit seamless wireless communication between any points on the globe, soon to be completely irrelevant. In an important sense, all space is becoming cyberspace, because communication is migrating there. But cyberspace is fundamentally different from geography as we know it because this space is almost fully transparent with respect to communication. Notwithstanding the occasional nuance in the "death of distance" literature, it is typically a breathlessly overstated argument. In this respect, it follows in a long tradition of writing about technological change, particularly electronic technology, which has been announcing the death of distance for over a century. In the nineteenth century, the railroad would unite Europe as no conqueror ever did, the telegraph would overcome class and racial divisions in America, and electricity would bounce messages off the clouds to isolated villages, which would nevertheless need to cope with the minor irritant of what was charmingly called "celestial advertising." The historian David Nye (1990) convincingly refers to these as visions of the "technological sublime," a literal eruption of feeling that briefly overwhelms reason only to be recontained by it. Or better still, as his mentor Leo Marx (1965) put it, "the rhetoric of the technological sublime" involves hymns to progress that rise "like froth on a tide of exuberant self-regard sweeping over all misgivings, problems, and contradictions." Taken in by this frothy sublime, the death of distance advocates have missed significant characteristics of communication that call for a modification of its meaning. Assuming that overcoming distance improves communication, supporters miss the equal tendency of more communication to increase dissonance and intensify conflict. The rail and telegraph brought Europe closer together in war as well as peace. Moreover, and this is particularly significant to the issue at hand, proponents of the end of geography idea underestimate the importance of face-to-face contact and of informal networks whose contacts are based partly on, and certainly facil designers and software engineering firms do not locate in South Dakota or Nebraska where the cost of doing business is low and where the telecommunications infrastructure is sufficiently robust to permit tele-connections at the level of most anywhere else on the continent. Instead, they locate in places like lower Manhattan in New York City where the costs of doing business are among the highest on the continent because physical proximity to fellow professionals, potential customers in the advertising and publishing businesses, service providers, and universities are enormously important to their business success. Whereas tele-marketing and mail order computer firms like Gateway, Inc., which sees little benefit from such networking and has a lot to gain from low-cost, docile labour, can benefit from locating in the hinterland, professionally based companies, the bedrock of the producer services industry, require more cosmopolitan settings.

Location, Location, Location
Rather than think about this as the death of distance, it is more useful to refer to the transformation of space made increasingly salient by the introduction of information and computer technology (ICT). In the sense of physical geography, the use of ICT reconstitutes the spatial map by revalorizing locations and the relations between them. It also reconstitutes what we now call cyberspace. Cyberspace is typically conceived of as something new, a product of ICT applications. But this formulation perpetuates myths of revolution which suggest that everything now changes with the arrival of this technology, creating a radical rupture with history that diminishes the value of the past because cyberspace provides an entirely new start to time. Notwithstanding the value of such mythic formulations which have received extensive attention, cyberspace is not new but rather a deepening and extension of those shared communication spaces created over the history of communication technology and accelerating with the telegraph, telephone and broadcasting technologies. ICT applications contribute to reshaping or remapping the contours of cyberspace just as they remap physical geography. Perhaps more importantly these dual transformations interact so that physical geography and cyberspace mutually constitute one another. Hence, while it makes some sense to distinguish analytically between Castells' space of places and space of flows, we should not make too much of this. Physical space is easily understood as the space of places, but it too is a space through which flow people and objects so it too is a space of flows. Similarly, cyberspace is not just a space through which flow our electronic transmissions but it is also a space of places with identifiable addresses that take on much of the same significance, economically and politically as well as socially and culturally that traditional spaces enjoy. Hence, while it is hard to disagree with the value of Castells' notion that information and communication technology transforms spatial relations, it does not do so by combining material resources in powerful places with the immaterial flows of placeless power. Rather, we are experiencing the remapping of the global political economy by the combination of valuable resources and valuable flows in both physical geography and cyberspace.

Magic Places: The Technopoles
The technopole is one reason why specific local places are taking on a growing significance in spite of the "end of geography" talk. For the technopole is a specific place which brings together institutions, labour, and finance that generate the basic materials of the information economy. They result from various local, national, and, in some cases, international, planning activities by public and private sector organizations to promote systematic technological innovation. The term technopole originated in the Japanese government's effort of the 1960s to build a science-based technopole Tsukuba about 40 miles outside of Tokyo and most would see Silicon Valley in California as its icon and most successful form. In their global survey, Castells and Hall (1994) refer to two dozen or so technopoles, many eager to emulate the Silicon Valley model. Japan began this process by recognizing the need to maintain and perhaps even accelerate the productivity gains that its economy enjoyed in the 1950s based largely on the post-war occupation and direct foreign investment. As the occupation and its trappings ended and as foreign investment moved elsewhere, Japan looked to an alternative. With no advantage in natural resources, it turned to intensive technological development built on the tight coordination of centralized government, corporate and research institutions. Led by agencies like the Ministry of International Trade (MITI), companies with such households names as Toyota and Sony helped to organize scientific and technical research and development networks that brought together diverse professionals in specific locations to carry out basic (often simply the reverse engineering of successful Western products) and applied research and incubate products developed from research until they were ready for the export market. Although some of this work took place in isolated regions of the country, the most successful were based around Tokyo where they could enjoy proximity to centers of finance capital, other producer and consumer services, and government. The focus on technology and the urban connection gave birth to the technopole designation. There is a link between the original technopole in Japan and the best known of these Silicon Valley. First, the latter grew out of a similar protected network, only in the case of Silicon Valley it was the Department of Defense that fed military contracts to teams of engineers based in and around Stanford University. With the help of DOD, teams grew into networks that formed companies which continued to benefit from the protection that a growing military research budget and Cold War justification could bring. Japan also provoked the "second coming" of Silicon Valley when its 1980s mastery over mass production of semiconductors, brought about by a highly protected oligopoly industry and low wage production, forced Silicon Valley firms into high-end customized production or face the loss of global leadership. As Saxenian (1994) and other have documented, the preeminence of Silicon Valley was built upon the success of this transition. Much of the credit goes to the fluid network of associations among professionals who moved from company to company, met in many different informal as well as workplace settings, and cross-fertilized innovations that make up the hardware and software landscape of business and home. Notwithstanding the importance of this factor, which it is frequently pointed out, was missing in the more centralized, rigid, and less successful technopole based outside of Boston, insufficient attention is paid to the treatment of labour in Silicon Valley. This includes the "work until burn out" treatment of young computer professionals and the low wage, often homework based production facilities, a labour process that provides a low cost production base at one end of the Silicon Valley food chain. The most interesting of the newer technopoles draw from the Japanese and Silicon Valley models but more importantly take them a significant step further. These earlier successes built resilient and fluid production networks that brought together diverse knowledge professionals who could manage innovation from idea to market. Newer technopoles integrate these production networks into similarly resilient and fluid consumption networks located within the technopole. The paper proceeds to take up two types of this newer computer technopolis in New York's Silicon Alley and Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor.

New York: From Broadway to Silicon Alley
Silicon Alley is the technical hub of an agglomeration of New York's media industries connecting advertising, publishing, broadcasting, telecommunications, mass entertainment, contemporary art, and fashion all concentrated in a collection of overlapping districts from Broad Street at the south end of Manhattan through Times Square and along Madison Avenue. Filling office buildings left vacant by financial services firms that shed workers with new technologies or relocation and giving a post-industrial economic allure to a city once bankrupt and out of manufacturing alternatives, Silicon Alley embodies a cyber version of the phoenix myth: here is a city reborn from the ashes of its industrial past. Even so, it also propels a transformation of urban politics and power as corporate-controlled bodies like Business Improvement Districts remake public spaces into private enclaves and rewrite the rules of policing, civic activity and public spectacle. All of this takes place for the sake of connectivity, in this case referring to the connections among the convergent computer, communication, and cultural sectors in Manhattan and to the market potential of a web industry built on enhancing electronic connectivity worldwide. In a short time Silicon Alley has become a global centre for multimedia design and development. According to a 1997 Coopers and Lybrand report, the district anchors a new media industry that employs 56,000 in New York City and 106,000 in the metropolitan area's 5,000 new media firms, making it one of the largest employers of computer communication workers in North America, on a par with Silicon Valley. Annual revenues climbed 56 percent over 1996 to $2.8 billion in the City and 50 percent in the metro area to $5.7 billion. Full time jobs in new media now match those in the premier media industries of New York, advertising and print publishing. In addition, Silicon Alley has become a model for the kinds of mobile production that is increasingly common in web work. Casual workers move in and out benefitting from physical proximity when necessary and returning to other office or home sites. In fact, Silicon Alley has pioneered in the short-lease, prebuilt, prewired office, what it calls the Plug 'n' Go system, which allows small businesses and casual workers to move and plug into physical and cyber networks. The growth of Silicon Alley began at a time when businesses were fleeing a city on the verge of bankruptcy with an eroding infrastructure and dwindling tax rolls (Goff, 1996). Silicon Alley is now an integral part of a revived lower Manhattan whose new, up-scale neighbourhoods (Battery Park City and Tribeca) join with the artistic communities of SoHo and Greenwich Village, and the Madison Avenue advertising district. These, in turn, are increasingly linked to the mass media rejuvenated, mid-town and Times Square districts, supported by major investment from the Disney Corporation and most recently by Reuters which is building a headquarters across from a Disney theater, to produce an agglomeration of interconnected post-industrial spaces rooted in cultural production. A 1996 Coopers and Lybrand report highlights the significance of close ties among businesses in these several communities. Forty-three per cent of new media companies surveyed worked principally for advertising firms and forty-two per cent for print publishing and entertainment firms. Silicon Alley is unique in its integration of media (especially publishing and advertising), the arts (particularly the development of SoHo) for attracting talent to multimedia design and production, and telecommunications (for example the regional Teleport). According to one commentator, "A lot of the style of Silicon Alley may be new, but the muscle behind it is not. Established New York industries, especially advertising, publishing, fashion and design are now leading much of the expansion of the new technologies." (Johnson, 1997) By the start of 1997, New York had surpassed all rivals in the number of registered commercial and nonprofit Internet domain sites, twice as many as its nearest rival, San Francisco and 4.3 percent of the entire U.S. (Johnson, 1997) This is evidence of the extraordinary degree of connectivity distinguishing the New York technopole. The advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi demonstrates a vital way in which this connectivity works. The S&S Silicon Alley web unit Darwin Digital, brought together Proctor & Gamble with Time Warner at the address The project links Time Warner's child-care magazine division with an integrated advertising package supplied by P&G, all created and run from New York City. Darwin Digital has also helped create a new network for children's games on the Internet with the major sponsorship of General Mills, the Minneapolis-based cereal company, whose creative staff came to New York to produce the site with Darwin. This growth has been boosted by local government strategies for new neighbourhood development (specifically Battery Park City and Tribeca) in attracting people to work and live in the city. Much is also made of the role of the state and city governments in supporting the recycling (including rewiring) of vacant buildings, making it easier for multimedia start-up firms to locate in sites that meet their technical requirements. For example, the city of New York announced in 1997 that it would set aside $30 million for a Silicon Alley job creation fund. It is also important to consider the significance of universities, particularly New York University, and networking organizations, primarily the 4000 member New York New Media Association, in fostering new businesses in this sector.

Creatio ex Nihilo in Malaysia
If New York is viewed as the information age phoenix rising from the ashes of manufacturing decline, then Malaysia is the magic land where palm-oil plantations become Multimedia Super Corridors almost overnight. The Multimedia Super Corridor enacts an alternative but related myth, creatio ex nihilo, as the Malaysian national government creates a completely new built environment out of what it views as the raw material of 400 square miles of rain forest and palm oil plantation south of Kuala Lumpur. The increasingly celebrated place is where the Malaysian government proposes to spend between $8 and $15 billion of public and private money to turn this area of rolling countryside, rain forests and palm-oil plantations into a post-industrial district where multinational corporations will develop and test new software and multimedia products. Malaysia's "nothing" will give way to two new high technology cities: Cyberjaya, what one pundit called "an info tech omphalos," and Putrajaya, a new cyber-ready capital including an administrative capital and a new international airport. (Greenwald, 1997; Rizali, 1997; Wysocki, 1997). Today their only existing highway is a $2 billion fibre network under construction. But the plan is that in these cities bureaucrats will serve the public in cyberspace, consumers will shop with smart cards, children will attend virtual schools, professors will lecture electronically at the planned Multimedia University, executives will manage through teleconferencing, and patients will be treated through telemedicine. The government has struck deals with many of the world's leading computer communication companies, including Microsoft, IBM, and Nortel which will establish development sites in the region to test new products and services such as electronic commerce, telemedicine, virtual education, paperless administration, and state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and policing. The companies will enjoy substantial tax freedom, the opportunity to import their own labour and technology, and to export all capital and profit. Malaysia hopes to use this project to jump start a stagnant economy and move beyond a low wage platform as the basis for growth. The implications of purchasing this hoped-for growth by turning its land into the locus for transnational cyber-development projects and its citizens into beta testers for electronic capitalism are profound. Like the Silicon Alley project, the Super Corridor is to be built on two conceptions of connectivity, including the idea that the creation of a dense web of multinational businesses in a new space can propel national development and the idea that social progress grows out of fully integrating citizens into the electronic web. The MSC is an effort to stem the erosion in the massive growth that Malaysia experienced based on a labour cost advantage it enjoyed in computer and telecommunication hardware production. Having lost that advantage to other Asian nations, particularly to Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China, the Malaysian government believes it can pioneer in software and product development. Malaysia proposes nothing short of making a national model out of the city-state Singapore's centrally directed, export-oriented, high technology approach to development. Indeed, although the MSC is concentrated in one soon-to-be developed region, plans exist to support the MSC with a hardware corridor in the north of Malaysia, including the island of Penang, that would attract national and foreign businesses interested in higher end production with more skilled labour than can be found in the lowest wage regions of Asia (Ng, 1997: 23). Malaysia marks an important test of whether the once super fast-growing regions of Asia can continue to grow in the highly competitive area of software engineering and information technology product development. It also bears close scrutiny because Malaysia proposes to retain tight censorship, strong libel laws, and a patriarchal Islamic culture, even as it welcomes foreign multinationals, inviting them to test the full range of new media products on its citizens. Recent developments in global financial and equity markets also mark this as a case to watch because massive declines in currency values, near collapse of stock prices and the withdrawal of foreign capital have created huge rifts between Malaysia (joined by Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand) and first world powers that once pointed to these so-called Asian tigers as evidence for the success of traditional modernization schemes (Sanger, 1997).

Technopoles and Governance
The most important conclusion that I can draw from my analysis of these cases, and which by and large applies across the technopole literature, is that there is a great deal of interest in them as economic growth engines, some interest in the technopole as a new form of cultural representation (King, 1996 and Zukin, 1995), and practically no interest in their political governance, that is, in addressing technopoles as sites of political power and their residents as citizens. This is particularly unfortunate because many of the technopoles, including the New York and Malaysia cases, are not only test beds for high tech products. They are also testing new forms of governance and new forms of social and cultural experience with significant implications for citizenship. Because the new technopoles are not only sites for building connectivity among producers, as has been Silicon Valley, but also for doing so between producers and consumers and among the latter, they hold considerable significance for cultural analysis.

NYNY: Corporate
Along with the creation of a new media district in New York, we find a significant transformation in governance with the formation of private sector run Business Improvement Districts that have been put in charge of a wide range of services. They police the streets, manage the parks, haul away trash, and remove the homeless, all with private, mainly non-union, low wage workers. In addition to this, they have the authority to issue bonds (much to the consternation of city officials who fear both the competition in credit markets and the consequences of a BID default) and pay their management well: the head of one earns over twice the salary of the mayor. Moreover, the BID which encompasses Silicon Alley, has managed to divert public and private funds to build some of the only new public spaces in New York, primarily to service up scale high tech workers and their families. So along with high technology comes the privatization of basic services and the reorganization of urban government and civic spaces. Once public places like historic Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library, now under BID control, closes at night, contains swarms of private security guards, particularly in evidence during the many corporate sponsored events such as fashion shows, who prevent people with large bags, i.e. the homeless, from entering the park (Birger, 1996; Breskin, 1997; Greenhouse, 1997; Zukin, 1995). As a result, even the usually staid New York Times editorialized that "in its eagerness to benefit from privatization, the department (of Parks) seems to be allowing businesses to set the agenda." (January 27, 1998, p. A–18) The only new park construction in New York City is located in Silicon Alley, a model of up-scale space to attract high tech workers. Some showcase parks like Central Park and Bryant Park have been spruced up with private money, the rest of the City's public space suffers from extreme neglect. In the past decade public funding for parks in down 31 percent and the city is left with 1,700 park employees for 1,400 parks and playgrounds on 27,000 acres. This is in keeping with the general erosion in the quality of life for New Yorkers who now enjoy the dubious distinction of living in the city with the largest gap between upper and middle and between upper and lower income groups.

Malaysia: Beta Testing for Multinationals
The Malaysian government has signed agreements with several of the world's major computer and telecommunication firms under which the companies agree to set up shop in the new technopole and in return receive a ten year or so tax holiday and complete freedom to bring in their own work force and capital and to export all products developed in the zone. These will be permitted to test new products in seven "flagship" areas which the Multimedia Development Corporation defines as follows:
1. Electronic Government: An opportunity to reinvent government.
2. Multi-Purpose "Smart" Card: Tool for the information age.
3. Smart Schools: Education for a smart society.
4. Telemedicine: A new paradigm in healthcare provision.
5. R&D Cluster: Next-generation multimedia technologies
6. World-wide Manufacturing Web: Building Best Practices in High-Tech Operations
7. Borderless Marketing: New Frontiers in Commerce (Multimedia Development Corporation, 1997b)
Putrajaya is to be the new national administrative capital operating as fully as possible in an electronic environment, including compulsory smart cards for each resident (Multimedia Development Corporation, 1997a). One cannot help but conclude that this gives a whole new meaning to the responsibility of citizenship, namely, beta testing new products for transnational computer companies. Shall we call this virtual citizenship? Cyberjaya, the new residential city is, a hyper-version of the corporate suburb permitting near full corporate ownership, control, and governance. This view is reinforced by legislative changes planned to test new forms of legal citizenship within the Corridor. According to current plans, municipal governance will become the responsibility of a private corporation with its own corporate rules and tax structure, its own form of citizenship and the power to enact new laws. Tenants will not enjoy traditional legal occupancy rights but will have to abide by a 10-point Bill of Guarantees overseen by the corporation. Leading the transition is an International Advisory Panel headed by the Prime Minister. Its 32 members are all from private business (except for one professor of business) and include Bill Gates, and the heads of Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Compaq Computer, British Telecom, Sony, NTT, Siemens and others comprising a Who's Who of corporate cyberspace.

It is hard to find in the technopoles of the world any genuine source of inspiration for fresh thinking about citizenship at the local level, for ways to return to its original of meaning of citizenship in the city or the community.

One such region is Emilia Romagna in north central Italy which includes and extends out from the city of Bologna. In spite of its enormous economic success, which regularly places it among the fastest growing regions of Europe, Emilia Romagna rarely appears in any of the technopole literature partly because high technology is not central to its development and most likely also because the region has been governed by the Communist Party of Italy, now the Democratic Party of the Left. "The Third Italy," as it is widely known, in contrast to the heavy manufacturing region of the north and the poor, agricultural land of the south, bases its economic success in thousands of small, mainly family businesses producing customized products for the export market. In 1996 it ranked tenth among 122 regions of the EC in per capita income and was the second highest region in Italy. There are some 68,000 manufacturing firms in this region of 3.9 million and only a handful of firms employ more than 500 workers. Compare this to the state of New York with 16 million people and only 6,000 manufacturing firms. Moreover, the Third Italy supports a thriving co-operative sector with 60,000 workers in 1,800 so-called red co-ops. Emilia-Romagna is particularly interesting because it emerged out of a remarkable partnership between enterprising family firms and a series of supportive regional governments of the left. Those who see the Third Italy as a genuine alternative to the major mainstream models of economic development build on the work of Bagnasco (1977) who concluded that Emilia Romagna combined two key traits: commercial, artisinal, and financial skills based on a centuries-old set of entrepreneurial values and, equally important, strong networks of mutually supportive families. These combine to support post-Fordist production based on flexible specialization and customization for the export market. The regional governing parties of the Left have supported this development with a strong definition of cooperative citizenship: a rich social welfare system, including a world-renowned system of public preschool education, universal trade unionism, widespread social and political networks, and region-wide agencies that pool capital for local investment, distribute business information and coordinate global marketing efforts (Brusco and Righi, 1989; Cadwell, 1997; Cossentino, Pyke, and Sengenberger, 1996; Fitch, 1996; Piore and Sabel, 1984; Putnam, 1993).
Admittedly, critics like Harrison (1994) and Amin and Robins (1990) call our attention to the underreported influence of large national and transnational firms in the region, on the brief time-period that post-Fordist practices have operated, on the inadequate use of new technologies, particularly communication and information technologies, that would be essential to sustain the Third Italy, and on the growing reliance on immigrant labour unprotected by the "discipline" of citizenship (see also Bianchini, 1991). Nevertheless, the region invites our close scrutiny because it has at least until recently succeeded in weathering this cold climate and managed to combine strong citizenship with economic success.

Notwithstanding all the talk about the death of distance, research demonstrates that, whether defined in geographical or electronic terms, place matters. Rather than annihilating space with time, the application of communication and information technologies transforms space, including both the space of places and of flows. This paper has addressed one leading edge example of transformed spaces, the technopole, or high tech centre. Drawing on recent exemplars, it examined the evolution of technopoles from a largely productivist space to one based on connectivity among producers and consumers, both collective and individual. The New York and Malaysia examples are important because they represent both an expansion and a tightening of the technopole net and because they attract widespread attention by enacting myths of birth and rebirth which provide a particularly magical allure to the space these technopoles occupy. These are also important cases because they raise fundamental questions, which have not received much attention in a largely technicist and economistic literature, about the nature of governance and citizenship in the technopole. Both New York and Kuala Lumpur are pioneering in redefining the control of space by privatizing and internationalizing it in new and more penetrating ways. They are providing striking examples of just what "local" citizenship may come to mean in high technology places. A search for alternatives to the declining significance of citizenship in the nation state may very well lead us to the "local" but not to high tech or cyber versions of this, but rather to more prosaic places like Emilia Romagna where citizenship is more traditional and arguably far more democratic and rich.

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