Research Handbook on Governance of the Internet
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Research Handbook on Governance of the Internet

Edited by Ian Brown

The internet is now a key part of everyday life across the developed world, and growing rapidly across developing countries. This Handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the latest research on internet governance, written by the leading scholars in the field.
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Chapter 1: A prehistory of internet governance

Malte Ziewitz and Ian Brown


What social, technical, economic and political developments played a role in constituting a field, in which the idea of ‘Internet Governance’ could thrive? What are the events, stories and ideas that preceded and made possible today’s discussions about governance on, of and through the internet? In this chapter, we take a closer look at the prehistory of internet governance—the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s before the internet became the mass phenomenon it is today. As with every account that claims to give a comprehensive overview of the past, it is easy to foreclose analysis by hindsight rationalisations that make an initially complex set of uncoordinated interactions seem more planned and targeted than they actually were. This is especially salient in the field of internet governance, which is not only very young by ‘historical’ standards, but also a highly contested area of policy and practice. Not surprisingly, historical accounts are often invoked to back up arguments or make laws or principles seem ‘natural’ or ‘given’. We have tried to resist this temptation and maintain a working scepticism to such grandiose claims. Our goal is therefore not to give a definitive account of internet history, but to provide some background on the most common narratives that have informed debates about internet governance.

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