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The Struggle for (Internet) Autonomy: A/I and the Italian Autonomous Infrastructure Network

Emiliano Treré
Scuola Normale Superiore
Deleted UserAccount
Open Panel

Abstract

Research on social movements and internet technologies has often looked at how the Internet has facilitated offline collective action in terms of organisation, mobilisation and transnationalisation creating new modes of political protest. In this framework, social movements’ scholars have focused less on the problem of the creation of autonomous infrastructure networks, their consolidation, their lived experience and their implications for internet politics. Yet this problem is at the very centre of the reflections and of the daily struggles not only of grass-roots tech groups and hacktivists, but also of social movements’ actors. This paper will argue that, in a context where social relations and activism are more and more encapsulated in digital enclosures - such as commercial social network platforms - raising problems of privacy, accountability, exploitation and surveillance, it is important to focus on the creation of autonomous infrastructure networks to gain further understanding on the struggles between power and counter-power in the network society. Drawing from the context of Autistici/Inventati (A/I), an Italian radical tech group that provides a platform for free internet services for activist groups in Italy, aimed at defending the autonomy and privacy of their online communication, we argue that the notion of internet autonomy - although historically central in the analysis of the relationship between social movements and the internet - is gaining a new fundamental importance in the study of online politics calling for new methodological and theoretical reflections.