Drawing lessons form the history of alternative media and networks

In September 2014, the first edition of the “Alternet Workshop” was held at the London School of Economics on the topic of the future of alternative Internet(s). This second workshop aims to explore further the future of alternative networks by drawing lessons from the history of alternative media and networks.

In The Master Switch (2010), Tim Wu convincingly argued that the history of media and communications technologies since the 19th century has followed recurring process of normalization and commodification : after an initial phase where a new technology appears subversive or even revolutionary, it undergoes a process of industrialization and is the object of the reaffirmation of state sovereignty. In this second Alternet Workshop, we propose to look at historical episodes in which individual or collective actors sought to deploy alternative communications technologies or promote alternative uses of existing technologies and, in doing so, interacted with state or market actors.

To that end, we invite presentations on a range of topics that look at specific episodes or offer a comparative analysis. The reflection will be based on research questions and/or on case studies of alternative designs and uses of telecommunications and media technologies.

Case studies should cover a wide historical scope and could include for instance :
- The use of cryptography and the struggle for communications confidentiality in the 18th century in the American and French Revolution
- The deployment of alternative telephone networks at the end in the 1890’s.
- The free radio movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
- The first Internet community networks deployed in the 1990’s.
- The crypto wars in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
- The history of alternative designs in past or current Internet technologies and potentially other applications providing an alternative to mainstream communication technologies (e.g. Indymedia as an alternative to mainstream media, Firechat as an alternative to cellular networks, etc.)

Potential research questions include :
- The goals of these “alternet groups”, their motivations, political identities, ideologies and resources (time, expertise, money and infrastructure(s) as well as the organizations and structures to mobilize and deploy those resources) ;
- The structural constraints or opportunities in the interactions of these alternet groups with the state and market actors (e.g. repression or institutional support, business demand for an alternative communication technology, co-optation by market actors, etc.) ;
- The reciprocal influence, or co-shaping, of the cultural, political and legal environment on the one hand, and the technological designs as well as political strategies used to promote them on the other.

Please send your proposal (max 300 words, in English) before October 3, 2016, to Dominique Trudel (dominique.trudel@cnrs.fr).

Travel funding will be available for a limited number of European participants to the workshop. Please join to your proposal an estimate of your travel costs.

Scientific Committee

Panayotis Antoniadis (NetHood, Zurich)
Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay (Institut des sciences de la communication, CNRS)
Félix Tréguer (Institut des sciences de la communication, CNRS)
Dominique Trudel (Institut des sciences de la communication, CNRS)
Alison Powell (London School of Economics)

The workshop is organised by the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) and supported by the netCommons project and the LSE Law and Communications network.

November 4, 2016

Institut des sciences de la communication
20 rue Berbier-du-Mets, Paris 13e
Métro « Les Gobelins »

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