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Pass the Packet, Please?

by Sanchia de Souza last modified Sep 30, 2011 08:40 AM
Talk by Ashwin Jacob Mathew

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Jul 17, 2009
from 12:00 PM to 01:30 PM


Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore

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If we view the Internet as built environment, rather than an abstract "cloud", then it becomes critical to consider what the politics of this artifact might be, to understand the politics of the technical systems that enable these flows.

In my work, I investigate one particular perspective on this problem space, the social organisation of network administrators that keep the Internet afloat. I analyse their interactions with one another in relation to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which is used to maintain connections across the "borders" of the thousands of networks that make up the Internet. Although BGP was created to allow different network domains (typically separate commercial entities) to coexist and interconnect with one another, it paradoxically embeds a notion of trust. This makes the inter-domain routing system enabled by BGP an interesting area for investigation, since network administrators must coordinate amongst themselves to compensate for routing failures that result from the trusting nature of BGP.

The Internet has an additional property that makes it unique amongst many technical systems: those involved with the Internet, especially in the early days, were simultaneously users, researchers and developers. As such, the practice of inter-domain routing evolved BGP over a period of several years. At the same time, network administrators learned to work with BGP, and with one another, to coordinate the distributed management of the Internet. It is this co-evolution of social form and technical construct that I will focus on in this presentation.


Ashwin Jacob Mathew is a Ph.D. student at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Before returning to academia, he spent a decade in the software industry in India, working in senior technical roles in companies like Aztec Software and Adobe. At Berkeley, he blends his technical background with theory and methods drawn from the social sciences to investigate the infrastructure of the Internet.

Time and Date

Friday, 17 July, 2009; 5.30-7.00 pm


Centre for Internet and Society, No. D2, 3rd Floor, Sheriff Chambers (Wockhardt Hospital building), 14, Cunningham Road, Bangalore - 560052


For a map, please click here.


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