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 9: Argument-by-technology: how technical activism contributes to internet governance

Alison Powell


Who influences the future of the internet, and how? Internet governance literature has focused on discussing multistakeholderism, rulemaking, and sometimes design, but has difficulty considering the impact of technical activism that claims disruption of systems as part of its strategy. This chapter critically examines how and whether technical activism can contribute to internet governance. Drawing on Christopher Kelty’s (2005) observation that persuasive arguments can be made both through language and by technology, it examines how existing definitions of governance, which are often focused on rule-making, engage with this broader set of ‘arguments-by-technology’. The concept of ‘argument-by-technology’ originally focused on the way that creating and debating the code that underpinned the internet (and hence, the platform on which code could be created and debated) created legitimacy through simple functionality. In other words, ‘running code is rough consensus’. This legitimacy stemmed from the ability of participants to create the platforms upon which they engaged. More broadly, decision-making about the nature of the internet based on particular technical features of networks has remained a feature of the internet’s history and kind of de facto ‘governance by design’.

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