Inverse Infrastructures
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Inverse Infrastructures

Disrupting Networks from Below

Edited by Tineke M. Egyedi and Donna C. Mehos

The notion of inverse infrastructures – that is, bottom-up, user-driven, self-organizing networks – gives us a fresh perspective on the omnipresent infrastructure systems that support our economy and structure our way of living. This fascinating book considers the emergence of inverse infrastructures as a new phenomenon that will have a vast impact on consumers, industry and policy. Using a wide range of theories, from institutional economics to complex adaptive systems, it explores the mechanisms and incentives for the rise of these alternatives to large-scale infrastructures and points to their potential disruptive effect on conventional markets and governance models.
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Chapter 3: Mapping Institutional, Technological and Policy Configurations of Inverse Infrastructures

Rolf Künneke


Rolf Künneke INTRODUCTION Vree’s (2003) notion of ‘inverse infrastructures’ is very imaginative. As demonstrated in this book, there are several empirical examples that support the view that the governance of some infrastructures1 is evolving from centralized planning towards self-organization. Egyedi et al. (2007) characterize these different approaches as a ‘design vision’ and an ‘inverse vision’, respectively. In the ‘design vision’ infrastructures are subject to intentional and purposeful planning and are supported by some central – traditionally often governmental – authority in order to serve certain public interest goals. Examples include the development of electricity and drinking water infrastructures, railroads and waterways. In contrast, the ‘inverse vision’ is characterized by an evolutionary, spontaneous and non-planned development of infrastructures. A more recent example is the development of Wi-Fi networks. Most of these networks are for private use or are driven by commercial parties like airports, hotels and telecom providers. But there are also inverse, citizen-driven initiatives to interconnect Wi-Fi networks to allow Internet access across a wider area (Lemstra and Hayes 2009). According to the dominant view, most infrastructures would seem to fit the typical design vision of planned, large-scale systems that deliver standardized products and are very much regulated and monitored by government institutions with an increasing role for commercial activities. Inverse infrastructures typically emerge bottom-up, are user-driven, sometimes intended for smallscale use and with products that meet specific consumer needs. Notably, their governance very much relies on self-organization. Although the distinction between the design and inverse vision points to a number...

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