Jussi Parikka, “Critically Engineered Wireless Politics”

"Packetbrücke" via Flickr (
The Weise7’s “Packetbrücke” via Flickr

Media studies often assumes a naive attitude toward its objects of study, taking concepts like “communication,” “circulation,” and “access” as ideals. In “Critically Engineered Wireless Politics,” Jussi Parikka challenges this common attitude through an engagement with contemporary media theory and an extended discussion of a 2011 exhibition at the Transmediale by the Berlin-based Weise7 group.

The aim of Parikka’s article is partly to demonstrate an alternative, more critical stance toward media, which he designates with the umbrella term “evil media.” In the same turn, Parikka prefers the particular term “critical engineering” to the more common “hacktivism” due to the former’s resonance with the main concerns of modernity (3). This critical, engineering stance toward evil media requires shifting our attention from “the idealistic discourse of media as communication” to “interruption, hijacking and the engineered parasitical event” (2). In contrast to what might be termed the “benevolent media” of communication studies, evil media designates a field of opacity, “trickery, deception, and manipulation” (ibid.). Significantly, the field of evil media is not exclusively the domain of media theory and written texts, but also encompasses engineering practices, such as writing code, creating devices, and intervening in network services. At one point, Parikka even refers to these practices, just as Brian Holmes might, “as an exercise in the psychogeography of code: it is to do with mapping the architectures in which mind and body control work” (13).

Interestingly, the “wireless politics” under discussion here are framed as a part of the field of “network and platform politics” (4; my emphasis). Conceiving of wireless as a “platform” means taking into account hardware, software, and networking protocols. While the theory of affordances would have it that wireless networks are “for” creating real-time communications, the critical engineering approach to wireless networks would highlight the disjunctures and gaps inherent in establishing these connections. To establish the significance of this alternative approach to wireless networks, Parikka paraphrases Adrian Mackenzie’s work on “wirelessness:” “Despite that [i.e., people’s lack of interest in, or experience of, wireless technology], their sensations of connection, their awareness of service availability, and their sometimes conscious preoccupation with connecting their wireless devices via service agreements or other devices all derive from the handling of conjunctive relations in data streams implemented in wireless signal processing chips” (6-7). Hacking, or “critically engineering,” wireless devices can make these processes more tangible.

Several Weise7 projects focus explicitly on re-engineering wireless technology (e.g., “Packetbrücke,” Vasiliev’s “Netless,” a wireless book, and the group’s “Networkshop”).  In doing so, they attempt to create an experience of imperceptible phenomena, “an imperceptibility that connects to the ontological regime of wireless communication, part of the discourse of wirelessness since the 19th century. Imperceptibility relates to the sphere of secrecy and paranoia” (12-13). Critical engineering “exposes how infrastructure is in most cases less stable than it seems. It also leaks data on many fronts, intervening in negotiations of public and private, also more broadly in wireless infrastructures across cities” (15). A critically engineered wireless politics would expose the invisible operations that inform network infrastructures, just as critical theory exposes the invisible forces of society, history, and ideology that constitute culture.


Parikka, Jussi. “Critically Engineered Wireless Politics.” Culture Machine 14 (2013).


Nicole Starosielski, Braxton Soderman, Cris Cheek, “Network Archaeology”


Despite its fundamental gestures of expansiveness and openness, media archaeology might itself become a restrictive approach, if the “media” under analysis are taken to refer exclusively to artifacts related to the traditionally dominant mass media of film, radio, and television. In their introduction to a special issue of Amodern on “Network Archaeology,” Nicole Starosielski, Braxton Soderman, and Cris Cheek make a plea for expanding the field of media archaeology to include the study of networks and the “history of connection.”

As support for this argument, the editors present five main claims for establishing a field of network archaeology:

  1. Network archaeology can disrupt assumptions about the synchronicity, presentism, or atemporality of networks.
  2. Network archaeology, as opposed to media archaeology, can redirect our attention from artifacts to connections.
  3. Network archaeology can highlight media archaeology’s own reliance on strategies of networking, nomadism, and non-linear practices of mapping.
  4. Network archaeology can create an interdisciplinary field for studies of scholars of media studies, network theory, and the history of telecommunications.
  5. Network archaeology can serve as a reminder of the politics of networks, whether they are used for emancipation and democratization or for containment, surveillance, and control.

“We do not intend to create a new field of study or discipline under the rubric of network archaeology that differs essentially from media archaeology,” the editors admit. Still, expanding media archaeology’s typical focus on objects and artifacts to account for the history of connection is definitely a promising endeavor.


Starosielski, Nicole, Braxton Soderman, and Cris Cheek, eds. “Network Archaeology.” Special Issue, Amodern 2 (2013).


Friedrich Kittler, “The City is a Medium”



It has become a commonplace in media studies to point out the visual similarities between cities and circuit boards. In “The City is a Medium,” Friedrich Kittler highlights a more conceptual link between urban infrastructures and information technologies.

According to Kittler, “a network made up of intersecting networks dissects and connects the city—in particular its fringes, peripheries, and tangents” (718). These networks can be communications infrastructures or energy infrastructures. In either case, they transmit forms of information and require a parallel control network to monitor them.

Kittler also sees networks in the architecture of cities—presumably, the glass, concrete, and stone style office buildings that reveal their contents to passersby. Yet, in a surprising analogy, he underscores the invisibility of infrastructures: to find your way out of a labyrinth, you don’t need to sketch the visible walls, but rather the invisible passages between the path and the doors. In a similar sense, one must extrapolate, you don’t need to sketch the nodes of networks, only the invisible pathways that connect these nodes.

Visualizing a network in this way creates a network “tree.” Operationalizing this process leads to the practice of putting mice into labyrinths, and subsequently, as Claude Shannon did, creating a mechanical mouse to navigate the labyrinth, an experiment that helped him optimize the telephone network in the practice of “routing” packages.

Lastly, networks were incorporated into mathematics (topology and graph theory) as early as 1770. For Kittler, this marks the beginning of modernity in the sense that “Euler’s proof” disregarded concrete topographic data about Königsberg in favor of abstracting to a system of coordinate points and connecting lines.

At several points in the essay, Kittler suggests that there is no “outside” to a network. Just as the content of any medium is another medium, the content of any network is another network, at least “in capitals, networks between cities overlap upon other networks between other cities” (720). This will be a running theme in studies of network infrastructures.