Code Ethnography and the Materiality of Power in Internet Governance

Rosa, Fernanda
Qualitative Sociology

The purpose of this article is to discuss an ethnography of code, specifically code ethnography, a method for examining code as a socio-technical actor, considering its social, political, and economic dynamics in the context of digital infrastructures. While it can be applied to any code, the article presents the results of code ethnography application in the study of internet interconnection dynamics, having the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) as code and two of the largest internet exchange points (IXPs) in the world as points of data collection, DE-CIX Frankfurt, and São Paulo. The results show inequalities in the flows of information between the global North and the global South and concentration of power at the level of interconnection infrastructure hitherto unknown in the context of the political economy of the internet. Code ethnography is explained in terms of code assemblage, code literacy, and code materiality. It demonstrates the grammar of BGP in context, making its logical and physical dimensions visible in the analysis of the formation of giant internet nodes and infrastructural interdependencies in the circulation information infrastructure of the internet.