User:)biyibiyibiyi(/RW&RM 04/thesis o 0 1 0

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1. Thesis Statement

My thesis will examine technical textual media used in DIY networking processes. By technical textual media, I refer to text documents such as tutorials, user manuals, bug reports, and RFCs (Request for Comments). I propose to examine these textual mediums critically, despite the impression that they appear to be accessible, instructive, and universal.

Do textual media imply barriers of access? If there is, how are these barriers constructed? Are there ableism and meritocracy in open practice? If there is, how are these signs of privileges and power indicated? By acknowledging these un-comforting urgencies, I want to call for critical interpretation towards textual media. Critical examination can activate textual media as public, civic sites to lessen barriers to be able to engage with technology, interject lay-speech into technological discourses and instigate collective making.

2. Background

The examination of textual media is contextually situated within the larger landscape of DIY networking practice. During the last fifteen years, DIY networking practices have been proliferating in Europe and North America. It serves as a counter narrative to mainstream networking, responding to pathologies of the modern networked world, such as opacity of network infrastructure and asymmetry of power between network monopolies and users (Dragona & Charitos, 2017). Centralized network infrastructure are growing into opaque entities impossible to elucidate for the general public, laden with asymmetries of power between network monopolies and users (Ibid). The objective of DIY networking projects is to reclaim digital autonomy, and collaborate within a transparent, horizontal environment, where decisions are made by consensus within the community.

To accomplish these objectives, the building and facilitation of DIY networks is often done with Free/Libre Open Source Software (F/LOSS) and open hardware. The culture and sociality surrounding DIY networks also adhere strongly to open source principles, such as openness and freedom, in terms of network architecture, topology, and governance. In turn, the adoption of open source tools and culture affirm the original objectives DIY networks, such as accessibility and transparency and free distribution. By accessibility, I refer to the examples of DIY community networks that bring connection for off grid regions without mainstream provider coverage. Additionally, accessibility also means the option for considering alternatives to centralized network infrastructural services. By transparency, I refer to visibility of network topology and architecture, and processes for maintaining, taking care DIY networks, such as decision making, reaching consensus, raising critiques, so that power is distributed in a visible, horizontal and democratic manner. By free distribution, I refer to the practices that make possible for more communities to initiate similar actions, such as forking and modifying source codes, procuring equipments from open BOMs (Bill of Materials). The potentials of open source practice in DIY networking are multifaceted, and I will not go on with its elaboration.

I will study DIY networking practices with network archaeology methods. My interest in network archaeology is two fold. First, the field of networking is a sedimented terrain, consisted of newly developed layers built on top of pre-existing ones. Network archaeological methods will unravel historical lineages of network development, and shed light on understanding how modern network's topology, attributions, structures and qualities come into beings as of today. Second, there has been recurring interests and practices devoted to networking with conventionally considered as phased out media, such as amateur radio communities. Archaeological reuse of these media effectively provoke a tension in temporality that critically question modern network's promise of faster speed, greater durability, wider bandwidth and constant connectivity. To summarize, the relevancy of network archaeology to DIY networking is two fold. First, to understanding the current state of networking in a reverse engineering manner, by looking back to histories of networking. Second, to survey the reuse of retro, considered-as phased out media in DIY networking practices.


Topic 1: A Survey into DIY Networking Practices

DIY networking projects vary, by their technical medium, original context, and scale. Few examples include feminist server infrastructures, local community mesh networks, and speculative infrastructures. This section will take a close look into the emergent DIY networking projects, and try to summarize what kind of counter-infrastructures are they, why are they urgently needed as alternative models, and how do counter-infrastructures realize objectives such as autonomy, accessibility, transparency, and etcetera.

Point A: The key principles of DIY networking projects – locality, autonomy, agility, adaptability, online vs. offline, speed, band-width and latency.

During the last fifteen years, DIY grass root networking practices are actively adapted by communities, organizations, predominantly and Europe and North America. DIY grass root networking initiatives aim for securing autonomy, transparency, and accessibility for communities of different scales, locations and contexts. The research of Daphane Dragona and Dimitris Charitos coined DIY infrastructure as counter-infrastructures.

Dragona has categorized three types of networks in state-of-the-art of the alternative networking landscape, such as community networks, tactical mesh networks, off the could networks, and speculative networks. These categories and characteristics are not mutually exclusive.

DIY network projects can be summarized in following four types non-mutually exclusive categories and characteristics.

1. Locality, inclusion and autonomy: Community networks are mesh networks typically within a geographical region, such as NYC Mesh in New York City, and Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network in Athens. Within a community network, nodes are able to perform internal communication; Internet access can also be shared, using routing protocol such as the Open Mesh protocol (Freifunk, 2013). Community networks are bottom-up initiatives, owned and controlled by its users. Users are entitled to participate in both technical and social aspects of network development, holding its fate at their own hands.

2. Agility and resistance: Due to its centralized topology, Internet blackouts can disconnect significant amount of users from communication. The blackouts can be caused by environmental disasters, insurrections and censorship, such as the state wide Internet blackout taken place in Egypt in 2011. For example, by using (Jud & Wachter, 2012), Wifi enabled devices can form a resistant network, and communicate internally. This autonomous network effectively provides a resistant alternative to Internet reliant communication.

3. Safe, intersectional spaces: Feminist network infrastructures, such as feminist servers, are initiatives that adopts an intersectional approach to network infrastructure (Gonzales et al, 2018), responding to phenomenon factors that make women vulnerable, such as misogynist trolling and hate speech. Feminist server space creates a safe environment for women to occupy social presence. The Feminist Server Manifesto articulates the vision for creating a vocabulary for feminist infrastructure, emphasizing infrastructure is a social, situated technology that requires collective maintenance and care (Constant, 2013).

4. Reinterpreting speed, bandwidth and latency: Speculative networks questions the promises of network advancement, such as ever increasing speed and bandwidth. The “Sneakernet” network consists of nodes that are loaded on pairs of sneakers (de Bel & Roscam Abbing, 2014). When two nodes encounter each other, a connection is established and files will synchronize. The undeterminable latency contests efficiency and synchronicity, offering a slower, more conscious alternative (Ibid).

Point B: The significances of DIY Networking with Retro Media

This section will take a close look into the amateur radio networking community. Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, has gathered a vibrant network of enthusiasts. One particular principle in amateur radio communication attracted my curiosity, that no commercial content is allowed to spread within the network, as amateur radio network is solely used for non-commercial purposes. Does the restriction for non-commercial content allow a degree of autonomy? What motivate radio network practicers' dedication of time, equipment and energy for this particular network infrastructure, while there are proliferating technologies promising greater compatibility of media and greater degree of integration in modern networks?

Topic 2: Networking: Relevancies between its history and current state

Point A: Networking is a sedimented field.

Point B: Networking is subjective. The history of networking reveals network infrastructure's social, cultural and political implications. Rather than the impression that technological networks are objective topologies to transmit information, the building of network infrastructure and protocols are bounded by subjective social, political and ideological conditions. This section will take a look into several examples to illustrate that network space is a strongly discursive space. The examples will start with the precursor of the modern web, ARPANET. Developed during the cold war era in military context, the network's design and implementation embodied management principles of indisputable execution for top-down commands; despite the fact that the topology of ARPANET communicate a degree of decentralization, as the networked locations are geographically spread out and are able conduct inter-nodal communication. Methodologies and terminologies from Alexander Galloway's How Control Exists after Decentralization will be useful to unpack the antagonism between centralized control and decentralization. The followed examples are other networks which are developed different contexts and inclinations of interest, such as the French Minitel Network, Usenet, and Soviet network OGAS. The study of these networks is to stress the fact that networks are not neutral spaces, but loaded weighs from social-political interferences.

Topic 3: Urgency for Diversification

Point A: Welcoming Queer Interpretations to build DIY Networks. This example will study the initiatives that takes feminist and queer approaches to build DIY networks. These initiatives recognize the shortcomings of mainstream networks and aim to create safe and autonomous places for marginalized groups.

Point B: Textual Media as a Diversifying Tool. This section will draw upon the prototypes developed from the project proposal. The prototypes try to reinvent textual media as tools to welcome sociality around textual media.


When critically engaged, textual media can enable counter narrating, reverse engineering, un-blackboxing, the empowering of marginalized groups and investigate the possibilities of decolonialization.