Political infrastructure: community wireless mesh networks and urban politics

March 24, 2016  • Posted in Member Projects  •  0 Comments

Emma Slager, University of Washington

In this project, I examine community-built Internet infrastructure as it relates to broader struggles for community autonomy and citizen empowerment in Detroit, MI. In neighborhoods where commercial home Internet is unavailable or prohibitively expensive and where austerity urbanism makes public solutions insufficient or infeasible, communities are building wireless mesh networks—DIY WiFi networks covering a few city blocks that can serve as an intranet for local communication or be used to share a connection to the global Internet. My work seeks to understand the social and technical processes through which these networks are assembled and how they relate to urban politics in the city. I draw on theories of digital inequality that understand its co-production with urban inequality, rejecting a binary understanding of the digital divide as a matter of mere access. I employ a post-colonial lens that provincializes mainstream global urbanism and offers techniques of analysis drawn from Global Southern cities. And I adopt an infrastructure studies approach that focuses attention on the (in)visibility of infrastructure to ask how the production of technological literacy can challenge the politics of expertise.

Twitter: @emmaslager

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