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Geopolitics in the infrastructural ideology of 5G

Reference Type: 

Journal Article

Maxigas, and Niels ten Oever. 2023. “Geopolitics in the Infrastructural Ideology of 5G.” Global Media and China 8 (3): 271–88.

This paper explores how infrastructural ideologies function as tools in geopolitical struggles for dependence and independence between world powers. Meese et al. (2020) suggest that controversies around 5G stem from infrastructural anxieties best examined in the framework of geopolitics. We build on this work by analysing the emerging infrastructural ideology and sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim, 2015) of 5G in light of the changing global division of labour. Sociotechnical imaginaries refer to the vision of technologies themselves, while ideologies refer to the totality of social relations, translating the objective reality of material conditions to subjective lived experience (Bory, 2020). The Western imaginaries around 5G infrastructures reflect, deflect, translate and sublimate the infrastructural anxieties tied to the development and deployment of new network paradigms by China as an emerging hegemon. The controversial nature, contradictory content and fragmented presentation of 5G is a necessary part of living through the trauma of lost historical agency on the part of Western superpowers. We engaged in code ethnography (Rosa, 2022) of GSM, internet and 5G technologies, as well as participant observation in the main standard-development organisations of the internet and 5G. Our methodological assumption, taken from world systems theory (Wallerstein, 2004), is that the character and content of imaginaries and their underpinning ideologies creatively translate the position of actors in the global division of labour. This paper contributes to the understanding of the role of media infrastructures in geopolitical power tussles and straddles the fields of materialist media studies, science and technology studies and international relations.

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