Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures

By Adrian Mackenzie

An account of the sensations associated with being entangled with wireless technologies that draws on the philosophical techniques of William James's radical empiricism.





An account of the sensations associated with being entangled with wireless technologies that draws on the philosophical techniques of William James's radical empiricism.

How has wirelessness—being connected to objects and infrastructures without knowing exactly how or where—become a key form of contemporary experience? Stretching across routers, smart phones, netbooks, cities, towers, Guangzhou workshops, service agreements, toys, and states, wireless technologies have brought with them sensations of change, proximity, movement, and divergence.

In Wirelessness, Adrian Mackenzie draws on philosophical techniques from a century ago to make sense of this most contemporary postnetwork condition. The radical empiricism associated with the pragmatist philosopher William James, Mackenzie argues, offers fresh ways for matching the disordered flow of wireless networks, meshes, patches, and connections with felt sensations. For Mackenzie, entanglements with things, gadgets, infrastructures, and services—tendencies, fleeting nuances, and peripheral shades of often barely registered feeling that cannot be easily codified, symbolized, or quantified—mark the experience of wirelessness, and this links directly to James's expanded conception of experience.

“Wirelessness” designates a tendency to make network connections in different times and places using these devices and services. Equally, it embodies a sensibility attuned to the proliferation of devices and services that carry information through radio signals. Above all, it means heightened awareness of ongoing change and movement associated with networks, infrastructures, location, and information. The experience of wirelessness spans several strands of media-technological change, and Mackenzie moves from wireless cities through signals, devices, networks, maps, and products, to the global belief in the expansion of wireless worlds.


$36.00 X ISBN: 9780262014649 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 18 figures, 4 tables


  • This book offers more than just a catchy title. In fact, it has something for everyone, regardless of discipline.

    Computing Review


  • Wirelessness is a brilliant and nuanced proposal for a 'radical network empiricism' based on experiments in wireless Internet over the last decade and more. Running through the book is a subtle mesh of new thinking about technology, philosophy, network life, and the possibility of invention. Wirelessness moves with magnificent curiosity and insight from superlative analyses of chipsets and algorithm design to aesthetics, urbanism, the politics of protocols, and the experience of the world.

    Matthew Fuller

    University of London, author of Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture

  • Wirelessness opens a new chapter in network theory. Mackenzie's project is to account for the structure of networks and the experience of them—how they work and how they feel—at the same time and in the same terms, while avoiding both reductive simplification and theoretical overkill. The 'radical empirical' approach he suggests for understanding the intertwining of technology and experience lives up to its name. The book is both theoretically radical and exhaustively empirical—a major contribution to technology studies and cultural theory.

    Brian Massumi

    Department of Communication, University of Montreal

  • Wirelessness remains a work in progress, a mutable technology still mutating. Mackenzie is the best guide we have to its intricacies and effects. Adopting a radical empiricist approach, he shows the way in which wirelessness not only configures but experiences the world differently by concentrating on a range of cases, each of which provides its own particular means of enlightenment. A book that asks different questions and provides different answers from the gloop of network-speak that sometimes threatens to engulf us. Terrific.

    Nigel Thrift

    University of Warwick