This panel explores infrastructures as generative sites of ethnographic inquiry in relation to their potential to motivate imagination, including: environmental consciousness, fashioning of futures, utopias in film & literature, obsolescence and cybernetic urban identities.
Electricity networks, bridges, dams, roads, sewer systems, oil pipelines, and ever-increasingly, the multiple-platform computerization of space and the body (Dourish & Bell 2007), are being recognized as materialized articulations of human imagination, ideology and social life. This panel is an opportunity to explore infrastructures as zones of material, practical and conceptual convergence (Anand 2012) and, to consider what kinds of ethnographic inquiry they make possible. The panel aims to table several options based on the production and, maintenance, of political authority; how people imagine and ascribe meanings in their world; how infrastructures both construct and illustrate possible futures (Jameson 2005); create utopian frames for both the city with its promises of ordered urban life-styles and the hypothetical catastrophes that will result when they fail (Clark 2006). We wish to explore a variety of themes, including: how large and small scale infrastructures become embodied through everyday practices, stretching and compressing, processes of self-mapping, creativity in over-coming deficiencies and, negotiated surrenders. Second, 'reversals' when infrastructures are intentionally destroyed in war, industrial subterfuge or social revolutions; 'obsolescence' caused by refitting and adoption of new measures or standards -from oil refineries, frequency spectrums and packaging. Third, the psychoanalytic terms and topographies of disabused and abject (Kristeva 1982, Agamben 1998) infrastructures existing alongside those embodying functional efficacy (Lacan's 'symbolic'). Finally, to take science fiction literature and film seriously, to more fully understand the underlying materiality of architectures, hinges, handles and pins that form the infrastructural bridges into fantasy worlds and 'coherently' free the imagination.