Bottom-up Infrastructures: Aligning Politics and Technology in building a Wireless Community Network
Contemporary innovation in infrastructures is increasingly characterized by a close relationship between experts and lay people. This phenomenon has attracted the attention from a wide range of disciplines, including computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), science and technology studies (S&TS), organization studies and participatory design (PD). Connecting to this broad area of research, the article presents a qualitative case study concerning the building and maintenance of a grassroots, bottom-up information infrastructure in Italy, defined as wireless community network (WCN). Methodologically, the research is based on qualitative interviews with participants to the WCN, ethnographic observations and document analysis. The aim of the article is to understand the alignment between the technical work implied in building this bottom-up infrastructure and the political and cultural frameworks that move people to participate to this project. Relying on the field of science & technology studies, and in particular on the notions of ‘inverse infrastructure’ and ‘research in the wild’, we disclose the WCN’s peculiar innovation trajectory, localized outside conventional spaces of research and development. Overall, the presentation of the qualitative and ethnographic data allows to point out a more general reflection on bottom-up infrastructures and to enrich the academic debate concerning bottom-up infrastructuring work and other similar typologies of collaborative design projects in the domain of infrastructures.