Wireless Cultures and Technologies Workshop

Convened by Dr Gerard Goggin (USyd) and Dr Melissa Gregg (UQ)
The University of Sydney
Friday 1 December, 1.30-5pm

Wireless cultures workshopWireless technologies and cultures could be said to encompass anything from WiFi-enabled laptops and handheld devices to wireless broadband protocols such as Bluetooth and Radiofrequency Identification (RFID) as well as a range of cultural and community movements centring on wireless networks. While these emerging technologies are of great critical and particularly business interest worldwide, there has been little cultural research and analysis accompanying their uptake in Australia. This lack of attention is notable, given the intense discussion of new wireless technologies in Europe and North America.

This ARC Cultural Research Network workshop aims to generate debate about the current and potential uses of wireless technology in Australia. It will draw together a number of speakers from academia and industry to showcase the kind of research and development taking place in relation to wireless use, with a view to understanding the Australian context in relation to international experience. Among other things, it will provide a voice for growing demands for quality wireless provision in public and private settings in this country. It does this by exploring the benefits of established cultural research methods and theories for understanding the rationales and desires behind technology design and adoption.

Confirmed speakers

Genevieve Bell (Intel Corporation)

Chris Chesher (USyd)

Marcus Foth (QUT)

Gerard Goggin (USyd)

Melissa Gregg (UQ)

Katrina Jungnickel (INCITE, UK)

Speakers will offer short presentations based on their current research on wireless use in particular contexts—domestic space, neighbourhood networks and workplace environments—as well as actual mobile technologies incorporating a wireless component. These discussion papers will lead into open debate on issues involved in wireless provision, policy and practice in Australia, with a view to establishing research priorities and collaborations on wireless cultures and technologies.

Elpeth Probyn launches books by Melissa Gregg and Gerard GogginWe invite CRN members to register for this event by emailing both organisers, Gerard Goggin (gerard.goggin@arts.usyd.edu.au) and Melissa Gregg (m.gregg@uq.edu.au). Places are also available on a strictly limited basis for other researchers and policy, community and industry representatives. Non-CRN members are asked to email the organisers by November 13 if they wish to attend, providing details of their particular interest in wireless cultures and technologies.

Draft program

1.30 pm – 2.45 pm: Panel 1 (chair: Gerard Goggin)

Genevieve Bell (Intel Corporation): ‘Life at the edges of the network: architectural, technological and social intersections of wireless in and around Australia’

Marcus Foth (QUT): ‘Using Wireless Technology and Locative Media to Digitally Augment a Society of Friendships’

Melissa Gregg (UQ): ‘Freedom to work: The impact of wireless on labour ideology’

2.45pm – 3.15pm: Afternoon tea

Show and tell: the e-TUKTUK

The eTUKTUK is a self-contained mobile telecentre and radio broadcasting unit housed within a three wheeled motorcycle. It was created last year in rural Sri Lanka in response to the limitations of a fixed-centre model for communication in a low infrastructure, largely unconnected context. It combines older media like community radio and loudspeakers with newer technologies of the laptop computer and the internet through a CDMA enabled wireless connection.

Jo Tacchi and Benjamin Grubb (QUT)

3.15 pm – 4.30pm: Panel 2 (chair: Melissa Gregg)

Katrina Jungnickel (Surrey, UK): ‘Hacking the home: Technological tantrums and wireless workarounds in domestic culture’

Chris Chesher (USyd): 'Joining the Mobile Milky Way: Enrolment and Translation in New Media Assemblages'

Gerard Goggin (USyd): ‘Should we imagine an Australian wireless commons!?’

4.30pm – 5.15 pm: Plenary discussion of research themes, priorities and agenda (chairs: Goggin & Gregg)


Genevieve Bell
‘Life at the edges of the network: architectural, technological and social intersections of wireless in and around Australia’

This paper explores intersections of new technologies, domestic contexts and cultural practices in Australia in contrast to other Asian countries to highlight the role, importance and contrasting notions of efficacy, religious beliefs and social values in the home. In particular, I am interested in the ways in which life functions at the edges of the domestic; the physical and potentially imagined life at those peripheries. I speculate that given the abundance of edges in Australian domestic life, they make an ideal location from which to re-examine the ‘digital home’, an outside-in perspective. I argue that this edgefulness might afford a very different understanding of the home.

Drawing primarily on research conducted in seven Asian countries on mobile technology, wireless infrastructures, ecologies and domestic landscapes this paper argues that the edges of the home should not be ignored and draws attention to how people conceptualize the home in terms of physical and virtual architectures, social and spatial boundaries and the movement of people and things across and within these spaces. This paper aims to provoke and challenge assumptions that shape deployments and imaginings of wireless connectivity and internet use in Australia and propose new ways to frame critical inquiry into the design, technology and culture of domestic contexts.

Genevieve Bell is the director of Intel Corporation's User Experience Group in Portland, Oregon. She holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and has spent the last eight years as a researcher at Intel. She has conducted several multi-sited ethnographic research projects, in Asia and Europe, focusing on domestic and daily life in a range of urban centres. Working at the intersection of academia and industry her work is often provocative and deliberately challenging in order to shift accepted beliefs and infuse new understandings of daily life into larger questions about how to build better technology platforms.

Chris Chesher
'Joining the Mobile Milky Way: Enrolment and Translation in New Media Assemblages'

At a climactic moment in U2 concerts on the Vertigo tour, lead singer Bono calls on the audience to hold up their mobile phones. The stadium fills with thousands of swaying tiny lights. He then asks them to use those phones to write a text message supporting a campaign against poverty. Transformations such as these - where phones become the 'milky way' or compose electronic petitions - are not unusual. They are characteristic of the ways in which successful innovations, including portable, mobile and wireless devices, are enrolled to participate in the programs of other actors.

This paper uses U2 gigs as a case study in how new media devices enter into familiar assemblages: in this case, stadium rock concerts. It adopts an actor-network theory (ANT) approach, as outlined in Bruno Latour's recent work, to trace the complex articulations by which assemblages such as U2's emerge: band+stadium+audience+phone lights+txts, etc. This approach, the sociology of translation, tries to take account of the interplay between programs and attachments of human and non-human actors, particularly in periods of change. For emerging technologies such as wireless, ANT problematises conventional approaches of design, critical sociology, survey, and market research.

Chris Chesher is Senior Lecturer in the Digital Cultures Program at the University of Sydney. His most recent publication is ‘The Invocator and the Muse’ in Potts, John and Scheer, Ed (2006) Technologies of Magic, Sydney: Power Publications. He is currently working on a co-authored book Understanding the Internet: Language, technology, media and power for Palgrave.

Marcus Foth
‘Using Wireless Technology and Locative Media to Digitally Augment a Society of Friendships’

This presentation seeks to stimulate further discussion about the social and cultural opportunities afforded by wireless technology and locative media for social interaction in urban neighbourhoods. Online interactions in a neighbourhood context are conventionally associated with structured online portals and public discussion forums which promote a one-to-many or many-to-many broadcast mode of communication. Offline initiatives may include neighbourhood watches, street rejuvenation initiatives or any type of place-based community activism. However, popular peer-to-peer types of network communication tools such as email, SMS and instant messaging focus less on collective interactions for discussions about place and more on networked interactions for sociability in place. The users of such tools see each other primarily as ‘friends who live close by’ and not as ‘neighbours’. The presentation will ground a debate around the question of whether neighbourhoods seen as opportunity spaces can be animated socially by technologies which add location- and proximity-based features to the communication mix employed by urban residents.

Marcus Foth is an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology. His research pioneers new development approaches toward interactive social networking systems informed by community, social, and urban studies, and employs human-centered and participatory design methods. Foth received a PhD in digital media and urban sociology from QUT. He is a member of the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association. <m.foth@qut.edu.au>


Gerard Goggin
‘Should we imagine an Australian wireless commons!?’

In this paper I reflect upon the Australian experience of wireless technologies and cultures, especially focussing upon WiFi and broadband wireless. It is arguable that the development of these new wireless technologies (as opposed to the old ‘wireless’ of radio) has taken quite different forms in Australia than it has done in other countries, notably the United States, Europe, or even other countries in the Asia-Pacific. To approach this question I consider the concept of a wireless commons, what it signifies, and indeed what it serves to raise this in the Australian context.

In the first part, I review and briefly characterise wireless in Australia in the past five years. Secondly, I discuss the concept of wireless commons as it is theorised by a range of commentators elsewhere, particularly Yochai Benkler. Thirdly, I consider how such notions of wireless commons translate, or travel, and what an Australian wireless commons might resemble. Finally, I conclude with remarks on whether such a project is worthwhile.

Gerard Goggin is an ARC Australian Research Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at The University of Sydney. His books include Internationalizing Internet Studies (Routledge, 2007; with Mark McLelland), Mobile Phone Culture (Routledge, 2007), Cell Phone Culture (Routledge, 2006), Virtual Nation: The Internet in Australia (UNSW Press, 2004), and Digital Disability (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003; with Christopher Newell). He is editor of Media International Australia.

Melissa Gregg
‘Freedom to work: The impact of wireless on labour ideology’

This paper uses images of wireless use in popular culture to discuss the changing face of labour politics in the so-called New Economy. It shows how the promotion of wireless technology reinforces the hegemony of flexible labour as ideal, particularly as a solution to what are assumed to be ‘natural’ gender preferences regarding the appropriate location for paid labour. The paper is interested in the forms of mobility imagined as desirable in the promotion of new media technologies for work purposes. Current trends in wireless advertising reflect the notion that in neoliberal societies, freedom is no longer understood in terms of liberation from work but the freedom to work—in more places and more often—albeit at times that are personally convenient. The challenge this poses to traditional labour ideology is something that the paper seeks to explore.

Melissa Gregg is an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland. She is author of Cultural Studies' Affective Voices (Palgrave, 2006) and co-editor of ‘Counter-Heroics and Counter-Professionalism in Cultural Studies’ Continuum 20 (2). With Greg Seigworth, she is currently editing The Affect Reader. Her latest research looks at the impact of new media technologies on work and home life. <m.gregg@uq.edu.au>


Ben Grubb
Ben recently implemented a research and development project in Sri Lanka that extended the current model of community radio and telecentre facilities to incorporate a mobile ICT infrastructure that delivered cost effective access to relevant information and knowledge that can assist the alleviation of poverty and isolation of remote communities in the developing world.

Ben has been a consultant for both AusAID and UNDP in the Pacific and UNESCO in South Asia where he has been actively involved in the evaluation, planning and establishment of telecentre and ICT training facilities and programmes.

Ben holds a BAppSc in Multimedia and Technology from Swinburne University of Technology and is a postgraduate student in the Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology.

Katrina Jungnickel
‘Hacking the home: Technological tantrums and wireless workarounds in domestic culture’

Building on Elaine Lally’s (2002) study of desktop computer use in Australian homes, this paper shows how new wireless infrastructures (WiFi and WiMAX) reorganise domestic experiences and therefore use of ICT’s in the home. Whilst Lally explores the social life of fixed computers from childhood through to retirement my research traces the mobile life of wireless computing devices from room to room (and out the front door). Drawing on a traditional ethnography of a volunteer community wireless network group conducted as part of my doctoral research and a one-year interview based research study on wireless ICTs in the home I show how wireless technologies are domesticated spatially and temporally, how they collide with existing visible and invisible infrastructures in the home and the tensions and the conflicts that arise from these new intersections.

Kat Jungnickel is a PhD student at INCITE [Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography] at the University of Surrey, UK. She is currently doing fieldwork in Adelaide with volunteer community wireless networks and is conducting a year long study called Domestic Space and Interfaces for Located Mobility for Intel's Domestic Design and Technology Research [DDTR]. She blogs at www.studioincite.com/locatedmobility, www.studioincite.com/makingwifi and www.studioincite.com/blog

Jo Tacchi
Jo is an expert on radio and new media technologies and currently works on a range of research and development projects across Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

In collaboration with UNESCO and the UNDP, Jo is leading the Australian Research Council project Finding a Voice, a three-year initiative aimed at promoting local content creation within community ICT centres in South Asia and Indonesia.

Jo also led the development of Sticky, a web-based content management system which allows young people to upload and download creative multimedia and collaborate with other young creators via the ARC-funded Youth Internet Radio Network. Jo is a Principal Research Fellow in the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London.