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Hardcover | $36.00 Short | £29.95 | 264 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 18 figures, 4 tables | October 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014649
eBook | $25.00 Short | October 2010 | ISBN: 9780262289917
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Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures


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.

About the Author

Adrian Mackenzie is Professor of Technological Cultures in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University and the author of Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures (MIT Press).

Table of Contents

  • Wirelessness
  • Wirelessness
  • Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures
  • Adrian Mackenzie
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please e-mail special_sales@
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited.
  • Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Mackenzie, Adrian, 1962–
  • Wirelessness : radical empiricism in network cultures / Adrian Mackenzie.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01464-9 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. Wireless communication systems—Social aspects. 2. Wireless communication systems—Philosophy. 3. Information society. 4. Empiricism. I. Title.
  • HM851.M3326 2011
  • 303.48′33—dc22
  • 2010005428
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • 1 Introduction 1
  • 2 Substitutions
  • Directions and Termini in Wireless Cities 31
  • 3 Wireless Chips
  • Digital Signal Processing as Conjunctive Envelope 59
  • 4 Devices and Their Boundaries
  • Inventing Wireless as “Vast Space” 87
  • 5 Acting Wirelessly
  • From Antenna to Node Database 117
  • 6 Sorting Inner and Outer
  • Wirelessness as Product, Wirelessness as Affectional 145
  • 7 Overconnected Worlds
  • Development Projects as Verification for the Future 171
  • 8 Live, Forced, Momentous Options and Belief in Wirelessness 197
  • Notes 215
  • References 229
  • Index 251


“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