Self-updating Prophecies: An Inquiry into Imagining and Building Decentralized Sensor Networks

New online first article in Science, Technology and Human Values


Recent years have seen remarkable efforts to decentralize the deployment of infrastructure for sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) applications using emerging low-power protocols. These arrangements are predicated as bottom-up, decentralized, democratic, and participatory while still driven by the corporate logics of lock-in and scaling-up. Reporting on a multisite ethnographic study of a global decentralized IoT initiative, this article explores how a diversity of geographically dispersed contributors reckoned with and negotiated conflicting future visions of globality, locality, and growth. From a socio-material perspective, it argues that the imaginaries and actualizations of decentralization were strategically altered over time to balance unevenness of pace, expectations, and material commitments between different actors. The article offers a new critical perspective to think about infrastructure decentralization as more than the flip side of centralization but as a contingent and mobilizing concept and locates this case in discussions about the future of the Internet.

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