SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Traditional Papers III: Histories of Network(s)

Name: Valérie Schafer and Romain Badouard
Institutional Affiliation: French National Research Council (CNRS), Institute for Communication Sciences
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Traditional
Paper Title: Appropriating, Governing and Using the Internet in Europe (1970s-2000s)
Paper Abstract: By observing the Internet as a tool for both internal consolidation, and for affirming the EU on the international stage, we intend to map out the main traits and trends that structure the relationship of the European Union to the “network of networks”. We address the political issues surrounding the Internet in the European Union, using two different angles. In the first, a description of early European projects in data network deployment (EIN, Euronet, OSI, IXI ...) allows us to analyze how the Internet was integrated into an already complex technical and policy context (“Appropriating the Internet”). The second aims to study the role that European institutions played in the international governance of the Internet during the 1990s, and discusses the political challenges of building an information society at the time (“Governing and Using the Internet”).

For the EU, the Internet is a political chip of the first order. It primarily constitutes a domain of international public policy in which its difference and unity can be asserted. Technology takes on a strong political dimension, and the internal struggles to impose particular protocols carry a true vision of the Union's position on the international stage. Consequently, the Internet is also becoming a political tool for the EU to strengthen its internal construction, starting with the Lisbon strategy.

The Internet’s development in Europe, and its accompanying discourses, surpass the sociological approach of innovation or technological history. They invite one to consider the European construction as an in-between technocracy, transnational culture, and the power of infrastructure and socio-technological ideologies. Negotiations, controversies, ruptures and continuities in the Internet regulation field, invite to study the role of technology as a political instrument for governance and government, and as a tool and a crystalliser for the aspirations, successes and failures of European politics, whether coming directly from community frameworks, or groups in the margins, like the engineers who make up EUNet. This history requires a reading of European construction as a dialectically model and a complex co-constructed phenomena.