I’ve just published an article in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication : Democratizing Communication Policy in the Americas: Why It Matters. The issue was edited by the fabulous Professor Shade and Dr Becky Lentz.
My article is called “Metaphors for Democratic Communication Spaces” and argues that how decision-makers talk about communications infrastructure is as important as the architectural decisions they make in rolling it out. Decision-makers, even when they understand that the impacts of communications infrastructure are partly related to how consumers adopt it, still often expect that the technology will be a “magic bullet.” So instead of thinking about how to create more democratic (or public interest) spaces through citizen participation, decision-makers stick with “build it and they will come.” The paper compares two Canadian public Wi-Fi projects, the Île Sans Fil project in Montreal, and the Fred-eZone project in Fredericton. It concludes that both go some way to creating democratic communication spaces, but that they could go further by using language and practices (like co-design) that let citizens participate in imagining how new technology will impact their cities.
Here’s the academic version of the abstract:
Communications policies, like many other social policies, are founded on an
ideal of democracy that connects the development of communication infrastructures with
democratic public spheres. This framing is a constructivist endeavour that takes place through
language, institution, and infrastructure. Projects that aim to develop these capacities must
grapple with the way such new media technologies are integrated into existing contexts or
spaces, often using metaphors. This paper analyzes how such metaphors are employed in
the case of local wireless networking. Referring to empirical research on networks located in
Montréal and Fredericton, Canada, the paper critiques the narrow approach to democratization
of communication spaces inherent in networks of this type. This narrow focus is associated
with metaphors used to describe a co-evolution of wireless technology and urban space.
The paper identifies that the design processes that shape these networks could benefit from
a more radical democratization associated with metaphors of recombination of space and
A previous version is online as an SSRN Working Paper.