Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Anthropology


Sociology and Anthropology

First Advisor

Kate Centellas

Second Advisor

Ross Haenfler

Third Advisor

Robbie Ethridge

Relational Format



I seek to demonstrate that innovative, socially circumscribed use of networking technology is changing the possibilities and practices of grassroots political movements, and conversely, that a politics of resistance aimed against real and perceived sociopolitical circumstances is shaping the use of technology. I examine the Project Meshnet community’s endeavor to create a decentralized alternative to the current, global Internet infrastructure as residing both in the context of decentralized but still institutionally-guided technology production and in the context of recent social movements characterized by de- centralized, non-hierarchical power structures, mutual aid, and other features. I conducted this research using the participant-observation method along with in-depth, one-on-one interviews. I present most of my findings in the tradition of “thick description’, detailing Project Meshnet and its broader, technical and social contexts. While Project Meshnet’s official focus remains on the scientific pursuit of building a more secure and stable computer network, participants often provide a political impetus for their participation in terms of rectifying uneven political and economic power distributions. This appears as participants seek to use their technology to subvert centralized control over network access (i.e., by Internet Service Providers) and as they frame their model of decentralized, non-hierarchical participation as a possible template for other kinds of political action, in the vein of prefigurative strategies employed by social movements. As a kind of free software project mixed with overtly political ideals of technological and social decentralization, Project Meshnet embodies its politics within its scientific practice while that practice enables a means for subtle, decentralizing political action, even as participants reflexively shape their public image, broaden their scientific aims, and work.



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