The Politics of Science and Techology: Authority, Expertise and Democratic Participation

Schermata 2016-07-11 alle 16.02.543rd ISA Forum of Sociology

Wien, July 10-14 2016

RC23 Sociology of Science and Technology

 The Politics of Science and Techology: Authority, Expertise and Democratic Participation

PRESENTATION – Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:00

Building Alternative Infrastructures for Digital Communications: Technoscientific Activism in the Italian Wireless Community Network


Stefano CRABU, University of Padova, Italy
Paolo MAGAUDDA, University of Padova, Italy

Wireless Community Networks (WCNs) are grassroots emerging infrastructures of communication, build up at local level by activists as political and material alternatives to the hierarchical global governance of the Internet (Chenou, 2014). WCNs are raised by groups of people rooted in media-activism (Carroll and Hackett, 2006) and engaged in the implementation of a non-profit infrastructure, which is developed through the cooperation of activists, including scientists, hackers, and lay-people. Technically, a WCN is a decentralized infrastructure for digital communication, alternative to commercial Internet Service Providers, that allows interconnecting a community of people sharing a set of goals, beliefs, and political identities, and resulting in radical criticism of the contemporary governance of Internet.
In this paper we present the outcome of an on-going qualitative research (articulated through in-depth interviews, ethnographic observation and document analysis) focussing on the multi-dimensional processes of democratic involvement and technoscientific activism of the Italian WCN named, started in 2001 and composed by more than 320 interconnected nodes.
In the presentation we will particularly unfold the cultural, political, and technological issues raised by the project, highlighting how these different aspects are strictly interwoven each other, and can hardly be understood as separate dimensions. Thus, we will pay attention to the relationship between the various actors involved in the project, highlighting how the WCN is the emerging outcome by the cooperation of members involved in a process of mutual-learning and of sharing of scientific expertise and political outlooks.
In this sense, we ends up describing the WCN as an “heterogeneous” (Law, 1987) innovation process, in which technical, political, material and cultural aspects interact recursively each other, and where the democratic involvement of media-activists and scientists is crucial to materialize a political project into an innovative model of the digital infrastructure.

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