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WiFi publics: producing community and technology

By Alison Powell


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 the following two purposes create two distinct mediated publics: to engage volunteers in discussing and undertaking technical innovations, and to provide internet access and local community media to urban citizens. 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 article 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 article revisits questions about the democratic impact of community networking projects. The article 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

Topics: HM Sociology, T Technology (General)
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1080/13691180802258746
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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