A Marketplace of Networks: Power and Counter-Power in the Domain Name System

38 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2016

See all articles by Kenneth Merrill

Kenneth Merrill

American University School of Communication

Date Written: 2014


This paper draws on early findings from a multiple-case study analysis to consider the ways in which country code top-level domain names (ccTLDs) are embedded with specific political, economic and cultural values and the extent to which these techno-social objects go on to mediate geopolitical and economic conflicts, including political censorship, intellectual property rights enforcement and cybercrime. It suggests that a focus on power and the sociopolitical and cultural relations that both shape and are shaped by these technological objects is crucial to understanding the role of ccTLDs in the networked public sphere. To this end, the following overarching research questions inform the overall direction of this project: (1) to what extent, if any, do ccTLDs mediate geopolitical, social, and economic conflict, and in what ways? And (2) to what extent, if any, are ccTLDs mediated by geopolitical, social, and economic conflicts, and in what ways?

To answer these questions the project draws on a multiple-case study design focusing on three cases, which I suggest are emblematic of the extent to which ccTLDs serve as boundary objects, mediating power and counter-power in the networked information economy. Before delving into the cases, the project begins with a historical analysis of the origins of ccTLDs and their role in early debates over Internet governance. Drawing on publicly available texts and archival materials from relevant stakeholders, this analysis seeks to provide much-needed historical context to contemporary debates over ccTLD policy and Internet governance more broadly. This is followed by early findings from a case study of Switzerland’s “ch” ccTLD and its role as the “domain of last resort” for Wikileaks.

Filling a gap in the literature on the role of ccTLDs in global Internet governance debates past and present, this study suggests that notions of territorial sovereignty and local authority, often associated with ccTLDs, belie a much more complicated reality in which geographically agnostic relations are constructed along political, economic and cultural lines. To this end, the paper concludes by situating ccTLDs in the larger context of Internet governance and the politics of Internet architecture.

Keywords: GigaNet

Suggested Citation

Merrill, Kenneth, A Marketplace of Networks: Power and Counter-Power in the Domain Name System (2014). GigaNet: Global Internet Governance Academic Network, Annual Symposium 2014, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2809869 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2809869

Kenneth Merrill (Contact Author)

American University School of Communication ( email )

Mary Graydon Center
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3053319634 (Phone)

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