The Internet as Infrastructure in post-socialist Lithuania

Today’s public debates seem to revolve more around the assumed universality of the Internet impact than on situated production and maintenance practices of its physical infrastructure.

With my research, I explore the Internet production and maintenance in post-socialist Lithuania through multi-sited fieldwork. I thus perceive the Internet not only as a media technology that produces global democratic, manipulative or other type of effects, but also as a situated phenomenon that needs constant maintenance. Inspired by infrastructural inversion (Susan Leigh Star, Geoffrey Bowker), media ethnography (Lisa Parks), but also telecom geopolitics (Wayne Winseck), I am interested in the ramification of infrastructuring practices that constitute and maintain the Internet in Lithuania by exploring them through open-ended and reflexive fieldwork with the focus on telecom industry.

Lithuania was reestablished as an independent state in March 11, 1990. Here, the emergence of the new nation state coincided with the development of its first Internet connection. It was both symbolic and useful, because new network connectivity allowed from Moscow-independent communication with the world. On the 1st of January 1992 the biggest telecommunication company “Lietuvos Telekomas” was established as a state enterprise, with more than 200 000 people waiting for a telephone line. Fast forward to 2017, and 75% of the households in Lithuania had access to the Internet. Currently, the Internet in Lithuania is of exceptional quality, and its public Wi-Fi is one of the fastest in the world.

How is the Internet maintained in the telecom industry in Lithuania nowadays? What kind of everyday geopolitics do current local telecom industry stakeholders practice by prescribing particular roles to both foreign and local telecom industry participants that have maintained the industry since the 1990s? What everyday remembrances and material legacies emerge in the telecom field during fieldwork that help situate and shift established historical narratives about industry’s development in the country?

Although with this research I situate the Internet production in Lithuania, situating is not a goal in itself. Instead, I hope to contribute to the field of media research by showing how “the Internet” is a complex material infrastructure both universal and particular that emerges through practice. Researching media technologies for me thus means analyzing it from different practice layers: political, historical, cultural and labor.


Miglė Bareikytė