Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization

Tim Berners-Lee demonstrates the World Wide Web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas [CERN-IT-9112021-01]
Tim Berners-Lee demonstrates the World Wide Web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas [CERN-IT-9112021-01]

Based on historical case studies focused on media and data practices, the project reconstructs the co-operative creation of networked media since 1989. From a media-historical perspective, it aims to provide a contribution to the European and transatlantic history of the Internet and the World Wide Web. From a media-theoretical perspective, the project aims to develop and specify a concept of digitality that takes into account its cooperative emergence, its infrastructural maintenance, universalization, and its specific publics. 

We thereby focus on the constitutive role of a) interchangeability of representations and the growth of digital systems, b) cooperative production of interoperability and modularity, and c) elementary practices of reading, writing and algorithmic control. The three work packages of the project explore

  1. the constitution of the World Wide Web via its situated work constitution (Gießmann, Schüttpelz, Taha, Volmar),
  2. the development of intranets using the example of German corporate networks (Taha) and
  3. the emergence and spread of IP-based real-time communication via instant messaging (Volmar).

We assume that the establishment of the Internet and especially the World Wide Web as a public general-purpose infrastructure has lead to a remediation of cooperative practices of local working contexts. The project therefore therefore reconstructs the emergence and proliferation of web applications as a software- and data-oriented infrastructural history of cooperative media. We focus on the mutual production of cooperative conditions from collective, locally limited as well as translocally distributed work contexts and the corresponding situated data practices and arrangements (such as format usage, user administration, file sharing, collaborative processing of files, programming, error correction, patenting, standardization, etc.). 

We are particularly interested in the interactions between work practices and the specific requirements for cooperation they produce, and in the materializations and affordances of digital micro-practices, through which cooperative conditions are ultimately realized in the form of digitally networked applications. We analyze these dynamics before the background of a longue durée of bureaucratic and administrative processes. These form the underlying socio-technical conditions that determine the materiality of cooperative computing, networking and data processing.

This research project is a part of the Collaborative Research Center „Media of Cooperation“ at Siegen University. Feel free to contact us anytime! Up to date publications can be found at our Media of Cooperation homepage.

Principal Investigators: Dr. Sebastian Gießmann | Prof. Dr. Erhard Schüttpelz
Researchers: Dipl. Medienwirtin Nadine Taha | Dr. Axel Volmar
Comenius Visiting Professor: Thomas Haigh
Mercator Fellow: Valérie Schafer

Why the Internet Is Not an Internet

Cover Internet Myths

Myth: The Internet is a ‘network of networks’. It connects heterogeneous elements, not just technically, but also socially and economically. The ‘network of networks’ idea has influenced peer-to-peer networking, ideals of scientific and democratic values, and Internet Governance. Basically, it promises universal connectivity and interoperability.

Busted: Yet the Internet we have is not an internetwork of heterogeneous networks, as counterintuitive as it might seem. Network protocols are infrastructure, and infrastructure is boring, bureaucratic and usually taken for granted. Yet developers and administrators of network protocols know about the social and relational character of digital infrastructure, and what is at stake politically in the design of network protocols. In a 2006 interview, computer scientist David Reed made some 1980s political choices of protocol developers transparent: “In fact, the idea of pursuing a thing called ‘the Internet’ (an ur-network-of-networks) was a political choice – that universal interoperability was achievable and desirable. It’s parallel to ‘One Europe’ or ‘World Government’, though not the same. The engineers involved were not ignorant of the potential implications at the political level of that choice” (Reed in Gillespie 2006, 452). Reed’s argument is somewhat typical for the values that influenced the design of Internet protocols and its end-to-end architecture. It is also missing one important historical point.

‘Universal interoperability’ depends on standardisation, and network protocols form the de facto standards of digital mediation. TCP/IP, the Transmission Control Program and Internet Protocol has been imposed as a standard by the US Department of Defense on January 1, 1983. US universities followed that directive and gladly adopted TCP/IP. What did that transition within the ARPANET achieve? Computer scientist John Day argues that within that infrastructural shift the internetworking layer actually got lost. Picture Day’s central argument not in all its subtlety, but in its consequences when he asks “How in the heck do you loose a layer?” (Day 2011). He stresses that the split of TCP and IP “contributed to being an Internet in name only” (Day 2013, 22). Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) and other internetworking approaches took into account that interconnected networks could be based on completely different technologies and addressing schemes. But the Internet Protocol created only one address space for all connected networks; and today’s Domain Name System has been built along that path dependency. You can still hook up any other network with obscure protocols to the Internet as long as it uses the ruling IP addressing system. The 1990s slogan “IP on everything” did not create an ur-network-of-networks. It rather reinforced the loss of what would have been an internetworking layer in a scientifically sound and technically interoperable network architecture (Day 2008). Currently, we need to live with that flaw. The Internet is not doing the heterogeneous networking of heterogeneity that so many people still expect it to do: “OSI had an Internet Architecture and the Internet has a Network Architecture” (Day 2012, 15; cf. Russell 2014).

Truth: Ever since the internetworking layer got lost in 1983, the Internet’s architecture depends on a homogeneous system of naming and addressing. The domain name system DNS does exactly that, creating one seamless space for IP addresses that needs to be centrally administered, even if domain registration procedures are decentralised. The current Internet does not interconnect completely heterogeneous networks, but remains just one single network on the level of naming and addressing. So when will we have a real internetwork?

This is a slightly modified version of a text which is appearing in Busted! The Truth About the 50 Most Common Internet Myths, edited by Matthias C. Kettemann and Stephan Dreyer, Hamburg: Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut, 2019. The book is going to be launched at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin.


John Day, Patterns in Network Architecture: A Return to Fundamentals (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2008.

John Day, How in the Heck Do You Lose a Layer!? (International Conference on the Network of the Future, Paris, 2011), 135-143. doi: 10.1109/NOF.2011.6126673.

John Day, How in the Heck Do You Lose a Layer!? (Future Network Architectures Workshop University of Kaiserslautern, 2012).

John Day, Surviving Networking’s Dark Ages or
 How in the Hell Do You Lose a Layer!? (IRATI RINA Workshop, Barcelona, 2013).

Tarleton Gillespie, Engineering a Principle: “End-to-End” in the Design of the Internet, Social Studies of Science 36 (3) (2006), 427-457. Russell, Andrew L. (2014), Open Standards and the Digital Age. History, Ideology, and Networks (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Happy Birthday, ARPANET!

Am 29. Oktober 2019 feiert das Arpanet seinen 50. Geburtstag. Mein Geburtstagsständchen zu dieser zweiten Mondlandung des Jahres 1969 ist in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung erschienen (23. Oktober, S. N4).

Alexander McKenzie (Bolt, Beranek and Newman): ARPANET-Topologie im Dezember 1969. Kreise verzeichnen die Interface Message Processors an UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UCSB und der University of Utah. Rechtecke bezeichnen die angeschlossenen Computer XDS Sigma-7, XDS 940, IBM 360/75 und DEC PDP-10. Zeichnung, undatiert.

McLuhan: Media as Art Forms

“The use of the term ‘mass media’ has been unfortunate. All media, especially languages, are mass media so far at least as their range in space and time is concerned. If by ‘mass media’ is meant a mechanized mode of a previous communication channel, then printing is the first of the mass media. Press, telegraph, wireless, gramophone, movie, radio, TV, are mutations of the mechanization of writing, speech, gesture. Insofar as mechanization introduces the ‘mass’ dimension, it may refer to a collective effort in the use of the medium, to larger audiences or to instantaneity of reception. Again, all of these factors may create difficulty of ‘feedback’ or lack of rapport between ‘speaker’ and audience. There has been very little discussion of any of these questions, thanks to the gratuitous assumption that communication is a matter of transmission of information, message or idea. This assumption blinds people to the aspect of communication as participation in a common situation. And it leads to ignoring the form of communication as the basic art situation which is more significant than the information or idea ‘transmitted’.”

McLuhan, Marshall. 1954. ‘Notes on the Media as Art Forms’. Explorations. Studies in Culture and Communication 2 (August): 6–13, 6. Edited by Edmund S. Carpenter.

(This is still one of my favourite McLuhan quotes. I makes a blast, and resets our intuitions. Mass mediation is just an effect of mechanization taking command – now go insert ‘cooperation’ instead of 1950s ‘communication‘!)

Materialität der Kooperation

Cover Materialität der Kooperation

Die Autorinnen der „Materialität der Kooperation“ fragen nach materiellen Bedingungen und Medienpraktiken der Kooperation – vor, während und über Situationen hinaus. Kooperation wird als ein wechselseitiges Zusammenwirken verstanden, das mit oder ohne Konsens, mit oder ohne Kopräsenz der beteiligten Akteure in verteilten Situationen vonstattengehen kann. Materielle Bedingung von Kooperation sind Medien als Artefakte, Körper, Texte, Bilder und Infrastrukturen. Sie ermöglichen, bedingen und figurieren wechselseitige Verfertigungen – und entstehen selbst durch Medienpraktiken in kooperativen Situationen.


Materialität der Kooperation zur Einleitung
Sebastian Gießmann, Tobias Röhl


„Harmony, not discord“. Kooperation im Büro der Larkin Company um 1900
Christine Schnaithmann

Schnittstelle Laderampe. Zur Infrastruktur des Schlachthofs
Christian Kassung

Version Control. Zur softwarebasierten Koordination von Ko-Laboration
Marcus Burkhardt


Über das Denken in Ko-Operationsketten. Arbeiten am Luftlagebild
Christoph Borbach, Tristan Thielmann

„Ein weiteres gemeinsames Medium zur Banken-Kooperation“. Der Fall der Eurocard
Sebastian Gießmann

Routinen des Kooperierens in der Kreativarbeit
Hannes Krämer

Schlussfolgern durch Skizzieren. „Kooperative“ Materialien des zeichnerischen Denkens
Sabine Ammon

Körper/Technik in Standby. Zur Bedeutung kooperativen Wartens für digitale Arbeit
Ronja Trischler

Strapping und Stacking. Eine Ethnografie der Suche nach einem neuen Medium
Götz Bachmann


Transsituativität herstellen. Flugreisen und ihre Medien
Larissa Schindler

Spielarten der Trans-Sequentialität. Zur Gegenwartsdiagnostik gesellschaftlicher Problembearbeitungskapazitäten entwickelt aus Ethnografien staatlicher Verfahren
Thomas Scheffer

Ökologien medialer Praktiken
Petra Löffler


Sozio-materielle Praktiken in irritierenden Situationen
Jörg Potthast

Die Irreduzibilität des technischen Könnens
Erhard Schüttpelz

Net Neutrality: Anatomy of a Controversy

There is no neutrality when it comes to net neutrality. Set up in the trenches between digital infrastructure and new media publics, net neutrality has become one of the defining controversies of internet governance, concerning fundamental questions regarding access, digital civil rights and the net’s affordances. A definition of net neutrality partly conceals its contested character, but as an artefact of an ongoing controversy, the Wikipedia entry provides some orientation:

“Net neutrality is the principle that governments should mandate Internet service providers to treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.” (Wikipedia 2018a)

Net Neutrality: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), 1 June 2014.; screenshot taken on 22 February 2018.
Net Neutrality: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), 1 June 2014.; screenshot taken on 22 February 2018.

By now, net neutrality is almost inseparable from other widely discussed trajectories of digitally networked media such as mass surveillance and censorship. Ever since it became an issue in itself, net neutrality is constantly under repair, flickering in and out with political changes and activist engagement.

Unlike policy-related papers, this article takes a different approach to the formation of net neutrality as a contested issue, with specific reference to US media publics. Along with Susan Leigh Star, I propose to understand it as a boundary object that has developed into a global “ideal type” (Star 1989, p. 49; Star and Griesemer 1989, p. 410). Boundary objects mediate between the informational requirements of heterogeneous social worlds (or publics). They aggregate different and even opposing viewpoints in a controversy without necessarily reconciling them. More specifically, as an “ideal-type” boundary object, net neutrality retains its interpretative flexibility for heterogeneous stake- holders from different social worlds (Pinch and Bijker 1987). It allows for different imaginations of how all data and “content” circulation should work on the internet. While an ideal-type boundary object “does not accurately describe the [technical, SG] details”, for example of non-discriminatory data package transmission and internet architecture, it is in fact “fairly vague” (Star and Griesemer 1989, p. 410).

Precisely because of its contested definition, net neutrality seems to be adaptable by all stakeholders for their purposes. This adaptability and interpretative flexibility is key to local appropriation and to the similar, yet not identical formations of net neutrality as an issue of public concern. Although there is no neutrality of stakeholders’ interests when it comes to net neutrality, even the most adversarial proponents will agree that the controversy deals with the question of how the internet should work as a global, yet techno-legally localised infrastructure. Obviously, there is no standardisation of related protocols that could ever deliver ‘real’ network neutrality. In producing an administrative and legal ideal type that is actually rather vague, the controversy is creating an abstraction from historical and actual infrastructural practice.

Want to know more? The whole text has been published within the book Infrastructuring Publics. Check out the SpringerLink PDF (and excuse the paywall), have a look at the preprint or drop me a line.

Circulating Indexicality, Cyberspace and the Early Web

logo the web that was

Looking back at 1990s representations of cyberspace always makes one feel alienated, a bit dislocated, and amazed at the same time. Did the American and Western European grasp of the World Wide Web really mix it with imaginations of cyberspace, all of the time? How could the mundane interfaces, modems, and slowly loading websites give rise to such an enthusiastic mapping of online spatiality, creating an unique visual culture of new cyberspaces? Some explanations for this are easier to give: Cyberpunk, Gaming Cultures and Media Arts had been engaged with online spatiality before the Web grew exponentially in a short time. Interlinking public, and especially urban space with representations of digital cities and information landscapes also did not start with the Web, as Kirsten Wagner has shown as early as 2006 (Wagner 2006). Yet some of the Web’s practices became quickly engaged with a translation of urbanity into cyber-urbanity, and affording a new situationist dérive while surfing. John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of Independence” attempted to remove the cyberspace from the realm of old statehood and legality, while addressing its representatives at the highly localized 1996 World Economic Forum in Davos.

A lot of this resonates in and with Martin Dodge’s and Rob Kitchin’s seminal work of “Mapping Cyberspace” (2000), which we want to revisit here. For them, the “Web has become such a powerful interface and interaction paradigm that is the mode of cyberspace, particularly for the mass of users who only came online since the mid-1990s.” (Dodge/Kitchin 2000, p. 3). Along with Dodge and Kitchin, a slightly more systematic explanation can be made about the dynamics between locating the Internet, and the Web, topographically while at the same time accounting for its feelingly new information spaces and attaching a topological spatiality to them. Relations between topography and topology are, as I would like to argue, always shifting and relational, thereby relying on the evaluations of what kind of indexicality a mapping wants to achieve. So neither is topography bound to mimetic mappings of actual geographic space, nor is topology something only to be found in the realm of abstract diagrammatics and mathematics that refrain from any geo-indexicality. Methodologically, Dodge and Kitchin appropriated the whole range of digital cartographic options at hand, including a multitude of distributed mappings of geographers at universities and telco companies. Geo-indexicality thus almost always remained topical, even if it was absent in representations of, let us say, a hyperlink topology between websites like Ben Fry’s Valence (1999). “[G]eography continues to matter, despite recent rhetoric claiming the ‘death of distance’.” (Dodge/Kitchin 2000, p. x.)

„Circulating Indexicality, Cyberspace and the Early Web“ weiterlesen

Stadt als Meer – Antonia von Schönings „Die Administration der Dinge“

Cover "Administration der Dinge", Antonia von Schöning

Antonia von Schöning hat ein elegantes Buch geschrieben. »Die Administration der Dinge« verflechtet geschickt Imaginations-, Verwaltungs- und Mediengeschichte, um sich der Hauptstadt des 19. Jahrhunderts erneut zu nähern. Mit ihrer Neuerkundung der Pariser Kanalisation des 19. Jahrhunderts betritt von Schöning ein Souterrain, das schon seit Langem kein »anderer Ort« mehr ist. Zwar lassen sich die Touristen und Touristinnen, die das Pariser Kanalisationsmuseum (Musée des Égouts) verlassen, immer noch leicht daran erkennen, dass sie beim Verlassen erleichtert wieder aufatmen. Aber die imaginären Überschüsse, von denen dieses Buch handelt, sind heutzutage eher Erkundungen infrastruktureller Praxis gewichen, wie sie etwa Bruno Latour und Émilie Hermant mit »Paris, ville invisible« in Gestalt eines Fotoessays vorgelegt haben. An Erzählungen, die etwa der Kanalisationspoetik in Victor Hugos »Les Misérables« gleichkämen, mangelt es jedoch der Jetztzeit genauso wie an Kartenwerken, die Eugène de Fourcys monumentalen »Atlas souterrain de la ville de Paris« von 1859 das Wasser reichen könnten.

Von Schönings hier besprochenes Buch, das als Dissertationsschrift im Weimarer Graduiertenkolleg »Mediale Historiographien« entstanden ist, betont die Untrennbarkeit von medialen Darstellungsverfahren, administrativen Techniken, imaginativen Praktiken und Umgestaltungen des urbanen Raums. Es handelt sich um eine genuin medienkulturwissenschaftliche Studie, zu deren Anlage eine umfassende Durchsicht der Traktat- und Administrationsliteratur zur Pariser Kanalisation gehört – mitsamt ihrer neu entwickelten statistischen und kartografischen Verfahren.

„Stadt als Meer – Antonia von Schönings „Die Administration der Dinge““ weiterlesen

Lehrveranstaltungen im Sommersemester 2019

Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen

Im Sommersemester 2019 biete ich folgende Lehrveranstaltungen in der Siegener Medienwissenschaft an:

Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie und Akteur-Medien-Theorie
Unisono | Moodle

Werkstatt Praxistheorie
Unisono | Homepage/Plakat

Worum geht es in den Seminaren? Hier die Beschreibungen:

Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie und Akteur-Medien-Theorie
Die Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie hat sich in den letzten zehn Jahren in der Medienwissenschaft fest etabliert – zu einem Zeitpunkt, als die meisten ihrer Protagonistinnen und Protagonisten die ANT weitgehend hinter sich gelassen hatten. Die klassischen Texte der Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie, die wir uns in diesem Seminar gemeinsam erschließen werden, stammen jedoch v.a. aus den 1980er und 1990er Jahren. War ihre verspätete und zunächst auf Bruno Latour fixierte Rezeption in der Medienwissenschaft ein – glücklicher – wissenschaftshistorischer Zufall oder folgt sie einer eigenen Logik? Was lernen wir aus der verspäteten und verschobenen Aneignung, und wie muss Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie unter digitalen Bedingungen neu gedacht werden? Welche Potenziale bietet sie für medienhistorisches, medienanalytisches und medientheoretisches Arbeiten?

Werkstatt Praxistheorie
Die Werkstatt Praxistheorie widmet sich im Sommersemester 2019 Daten- und Medienpraktiken des Registrierens/Identifizierens, und Aktualisierens. Im Vordergrund steht die Diskussion mit den Gästen der Abendvorträge (Penny Harvey, Arjun Appadurai, Asko Lehmuskallio, Tanja Bogusz). Der voraussichtliche Termin für einen gemeinsamen, ganztägigen Workshop der Werkstatt ist der 9. Mai 2019, 10-18 Uhr.

Die Aktenförmigkeit von Koordination und Delegation wirft Fragen nach den Modi der Registrierung, Identifizierung und Nachverfolgbarkeit von Handlungen auf. Medienpraktiken der Registrierung und Identifizierung beginnen ebenfalls in wechselseitiger Interaktion, z. B. in sprachlichen und gestischen Praktiken des indexikalischen Verweisens und Verdeutlichens. Durch den Gebrauch registrierender und identifizierender Medien wird die Interaktionssituation transformiert, skaliert und modifiziert. Dies betrifft nicht nur die klassischen Verdatungstechniken staatlicher Registrierung und Identifizierung, darunter polizeiliche Erkennungsdienste, optische und akustische Überwachung, Staatstabellen, Statistik, Big Data. Vielmehr beinhalten Registrieren und Identifizieren ebenso alltägliche logistische Medienpraktiken: Adressierung, Einschätzen, Auffinden, Tracking und die Lieferung einer Nachricht, eines Objekts oder einer Person. Registrierungs- und Identifizierungstechniken ermöglichen die Referenz auf singularisierte Personen und Objekte, aber auch auf lokalisierte und datierte Verschickungsvorgänge.

So lassen sich Formen des registrierend-identifizierenden Mediengebrauchs in den Blick nehmen, mit denen Praktiken, Personen, Zeichen/Daten, Güter und Dienstleistungen „zurechnungsfähig“ gemacht werden, z.B. in der Nachverfolgbarkeit von literarischer Autorschaft, Produktion und Piraterie, der Kreditwürdigkeit einer Person, erwünschter/unerwünschter Beobachtung und Kontrolle, Bewegungsverfolgung, der statistischen Erhebung von Gleichheit, der Verwaltung und Adressierung in einem digitalen Telefonnetz und Nutzungspraktiken digitaler Plattformen. Leitende Fragen sind dabei: Wie verhalten sich die großen politisch-ökonomischen Registratur- und Bürokratisierungswellen seit dem 19. Jh. zur Entstehung massenmedialer Öffentlichkeiten, die von einem generalisierten, anonym adressierbaren Publikum ausgehen, dieses aber postwendend erforschen und durchleuchten wollen? Auf welche Art und Weise entstehen aus kooperativen Praktiken generalisierte Techniken und „Rechen(schafts)zentren“ (R. Rottenburg) zur Registrierung und Identifizierung? Wie integrieren sie Instrumente, und wie vollziehen Akteure die Mobilisierung mittels welcher Inskriptionen bzw. Daten? Mit welchen Wechselwirkungen zwischen ästhetischer bzw. populärkultureller und bürokratischer Registrierung und Identifizierung ist zu rechnen, d.h. wie organisieren Öffentlichkeiten die Zurechnung und Nachverfolgbarkeit von Personen, Zeichen, Dingen, Dienstleistungen?