Making WiFi: A Sociological Study of Backyard Technologists in Suburban Australia

Jungnickel, Katrina. 2008. Making WiFi: A Sociological Study of Backyard Technologists in Suburban Australia. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the culture of new digital technology - Wireless Fidelity (WiFi). Drawing on an ethnography of the largest not-for-profit community WiFi group in Australia, it examines how members construct a communications network that spans across the largely suburban city of Adelaide by connecting together home-made antennas, many ofwhich are located in their own backyards. I show how these individuals, whom I term backyard technologists, collectively make WiFi using a diverse range of materials and improvised methods in places and at times outside conventional information communication technology (lCT) innovation contexts. They imbue a DoIt-Yourself (DIY) ethic yet importantly they do not do it alone - they Do-It-Together (DIT). My study begins by examining the role and importance of representations established in science and technology studies (STS), particularly in the work of Latour and Woolgar (1979) and Henderson (1999). In these contexts, objects and methods of rendering are linked to particular ways of seeing the world: the production of graphs, diagrams and images are seen as pivotal to understanding how practitioners collaborate, construct knowledge and recruit allies. Central to this literature is the idea of stable, rigorously ordered and immutable public 'facts' that reduce, or entirely erase ambiguity and alternative interpretation. Foregrounding the many representations WiFi members make, I describe how regular encounters with trees, thieves, birds, possums, neighbours, technical complications, a myriad of materials and the weather are implicated in the daily practice of making WiFi. Rather than filtering out and tidying up daily interruptions, I show how members build them into their network. My analysis reveals the public exposure of the messy middlework of making WiFi and I explain that this practice is not a consequence of a fragile technology, the elastic nature of the group or an unpredictable environment but rather deliberately produced, critical to how they innovate, expand the network and recruit new members. Drawing on Actor Network Theory (ANT), I argue that the current understanding of representations in STS does not account for an expanded typology, that is, the possibility of multi-dimensional co-located contingent assemblies of knowledge. Moreover, attending to the nuances and textures ofthis homebrew high-tech network, this thesis establishes the presence of a distinct version of WiFi - an Australian WiFi - thus contributing to the study of different versions of ICTs (Miller and Slater 2000; Goggin 2004; 2007; Ito et a12005). It concludes by proposing alternate means of representing mess in STS and more broadly in the craft of sociology

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00028585

Keywords:

Wireless Fidelity (WiFi), Australia, Adelaide, backyard technologists, Do-It-Together (DIT), science and technology studies (STS)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology

Date:

December 2008

Item ID:

28585

Date Deposited:

02 Jun 2020 09:39

Last Modified:

02 Jun 2020 09:46

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/28585

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