Accepted Paper:

Infrastructures in use: fixity, flexibility and flux  

Author:

Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper brings together concepts from social theories of practice, and from STS writing on infrastructures to develop and explore methods of analysing the temporal and spatial patterning of transport, energy and communications infrastructures in use.

Paper long abstract:

Infrastructures - road and rail networks, electricity grids, broadband and communications networks - are typically treated as 'fixed' assets but infrastructures-in-use reflect multiple temporal (diurnal, weekly, seasonal) and spatial (institution, neighbourhood, city, nation etc.) variations. This paper brings together concepts from social theories of practice, and from STS writing on infrastructuresto explore methods of analysing the temporal and spatial patterning of transport, energy and communications infrastructures in use.

I argue that the challenges of understanding and potentially modifying peak loads (for example, around 9am in terms of transport, or 5.30-8pm pm for domestic energy use in the UK) are in essence challenges of understanding relations between multiple complexes of social practice and the ways in which these act in concert, collectively shaping and being shaped by infrastructures, the resources that circulate through them, and related repertoires of devices and artefacts.

The observation that infrastructures enable many practices at once, and that many practices depend on the co-existence of several infrastructural systems (power, internet, etc.), points to the need for ideas and methods capable of distilling and representing forms of obduracy and change within and between multiply hybrid configurations. The paper draws on empirical projects from across the DEMAND (Dynamics of energy, mobility and demand) programme (www.demand.ac.uk) in providing concrete examples of fixity, flexibility and flux, and in illustrating techniques and types of data that enable us to 'see' how infrastructures figure in the preservation and transformation of spatial and temporal rhythms of practice.

Panel T006
Infrastructures in practice and in flux