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
Date Written: January 21, 2009
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
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