Gentrification in the mesh: ethnography of Open Wireless Network (OWN)

Cardullo, Paolo. 2017. Gentrification in the mesh: ethnography of Open Wireless Network (OWN). City, 21(3-4), pp. 405-419. ISSN 1360-4813 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The paper offers a critical perspective on practices of construction and consumption of wireless mesh networks in urban environments. It narrates Open Wireless Network (OWN) in Deptford, at the moment in which this inner borough of London undergoes an intense gentrification process.

Drawing on critical urban theory, the ethnography frames OWN as a socio-technical assemblage deeply entangled with everyday city life. It argues that gentrification poses challenges to grassroot wireless network like OWN, because it risks to reduce it to an individualised utility. This is because the process of neoliberal re-organisation of urban space displaces working-class disposition towards others, as well as their ethos for sharing—which are essential to the development of OWN. The initial findings suggest that the communitarian construction of this wireless network has so far helped to maintain a commitment to reciprocity, potentially offering—for its users and developers—pockets of resistance against their cultural displacement.

The research operates on a multidisciplinary level evoking, at the same time, production of urban space, hackers, and technology. It wants to stitch back together some literature on socio-technical assemblage and the 'right to the city'. The final part of the paper suggests a Lefebvrian oeuvre for the 'rights claims' of OWN users, as a space in which digital rights and material needs might come together in playful, engaging and innovative ways.

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wireless networks, gentrification, civic hacking, ethnography, displacement

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9 June 2016Accepted
8 June 2017Published Online

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Date Deposited:

11 Jan 2016 22:30

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:19

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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