WiFi Publics: Producing Community and Technology

Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No. 8, pp. 1068-1088, December 2008

34 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2009 Last revised: 23 Dec 2013

See all articles by Alison Powell

Alison Powell

London School of Economics & Political Science; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: January 21, 2009

Abstract

Drawing on community expertise, open-source software and non-hierarchical organizational strategies, community wireless networks (CWN) engage volunteers in building networks for public internet access and community media. Volunteers intend these networks to be used to reinvigorate local community. Together these two purposes: to engage volunteers in discussing and undertaking technical innovations, and to provide internet access and local community media to urban citizens create two distinct mediated publics. To better address the potential of CWN as a form of local innovation and democratic rationalization, the relationship between the two publics must be better understood. Using a case study of a Canadian CWN, this paper advances the category of "public" as alternative and complementary to "community" as it is used to describe the social and technical structures of these projects. By addressing the tensions between the geek-public of WiFi developers, and the community-public of local people using community WiFi networks, this paper revisits questions about the democratic impact of community networking projects. The paper concludes that CWN projects create new potential for local community engagement, but that they also have a tendency to reinforce geek-publics more than community-publics, challenging the assumption that community networks using technology development as a vector for social action necessarily promote greater democracy.

Keywords: Community networks, Internet access, Socio-technical, Wireless networking, New media, Democracy

Suggested Citation

Powell, Alison, WiFi Publics: Producing Community and Technology (January 21, 2009). Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No. 8, pp. 1068-1088, December 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1330944

Alison Powell (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science ( email )

London WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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