digital activism, technology activism and hacktivism
open source cultures
Internet and new media futures
new media governance
qualitative methods in and for policy research
I am a Lecturer at the Department of Media & Communications. Before arriving at the LSE in 2010, I was an SSHRC postdoctoral research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, where I studied grassroots technology development and digital advocacy and their impact on new media technologies and policies. I have a PhD from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada (2008), where I conducted research on community wireless networks as forms of technical activism that created new mediated communities and publics. One of the case studies from this thesis won the American Sociological Association's Communication Technology section's Best Student paper prize in 2008. The PhD was fully funded by an SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship. I have an MA degree in Communications and Culture from York University in Toronto, Canada (2006), which was supported by the Government of Ontario and the Ted and Loretta Rogers Foundation. For this degree, I conducted an online and offline ethnography of an internet cafe. My Bachelor of Arts and Science (2000) is from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada and was awarded summa cum laude. For a brief period in the early 2000s, I worked in television and new media production.
My research examines the history and future of 'openness' within new media. Broadly, I am interested in how openness in architecture and policy are negotiated by a range of actors including amateurs and 'contributors'. Specifically, I study open-source cultures including community wireless networks, free software advocates and people interested in open sourcing knowledge including hardware design.
I am interested in the ways that non-commercial production of communications technology construct alternatives that engage with the different material and symbolic affordances of media. These affordances are also often embedded in political economic structures that highlight the tension between control and freedom. For example, compared with the 'open' internet, mobile devices employ more 'closed' design features. And as the internet becomes more ubiquitous, decisions about its function are often more difficult for citizens and activists to influence. Some questions that animate my work include: How do the capacities afforded by new technologies change the way we imagine the relationships between emergent organizations and established institutions? How do normative values like freedom and openness get negotiated in new media contexts? How do activists contribute to media policy and governance decisions? What might our mediated futures look like?
To investigate these questions, I focus on two strands: one concerns the way that opening the participation in design of and deliberation about new technologies can change how policy and governance decisions are made. A second strand concentrates more closely on the political economy of 'open' movements, including the ways that new media are 'opened' and 'enclosed in different ways. Beginning in December 2011 I am conducting work on open-source movements and the future of Internet governance as part of a European Framework 7 research project, the European Network of Excellence on Internet Science.
Policy Research and Impact
Both my academic and policy research have had broad applications. In my work I have examined internet governance and media issues including barriers to internet access, best (and worst) practices of community wireless networks, the social and economic implications of these networks, Net Neutrality decision-making in the US and the UK and funding models for internet access in rural and remote areas. My research has directly contributed to decisions made by the United States Federal Communication Commission, the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and numerous recommendations made by organizations such as the New America Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Open Rights Group. I am a member of the Open Rights Group advisory council and a member of the Open Spectrum Alliance, an organization that researches and advocates on public access to radio spectrum.
I blog at http://www.alisonpowell.ca and contribute occasional thoughts on Internet freedom and openness to the LSE Media Policy Project blog. Outside of academia I occasionally collaborate on new media art projects.