The everyday life of infrastructures

Andrew Dawson (University of Melbourne)
Akhil Gupta (UCLA/Univ. of Melbourne)
Napier G04
Start time:
13 December, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Encompassing ethnographic investigations and theoretical reflections on roads, railways, water pipes, sewage systems, electricity grids, telephone lines, mobile phone towers, airports and the like, this panel considers the mediating and constituting roles of infrastructure in society and politics.

Long abstract:

Infrastructure has emerged recently as an important field of study in the human sciences for at least three reasons. First, ageing infrastructure in the global North has been made increasingly visible through damage wrought by environmental and other extreme events. And, the invisibility of infrastructure has been metaphoric as well as literal. Even when infrastructures are not buried in the ground, or hidden behind false ceilings, they have been largely invisible to social researchers. Second, giant new infrastructure projects have been initiated increasingly in newly affluent countries such as China, India, and Brazil. Such projects make infrastructure visible as an index and icon of modernity. Third, especially in the context of climate change, there is an urgent need to understand and modify how people use water, energy, transport and other infrastructures. However, beyond such instrumental concerns lurks a larger and more interesting question, to do with how the relationship between people and infrastructure mediates their relation to other people, to sociality, and to politics. How are family ties, kin relations, senses of belonging, and political subjectivity and participation, etc. mediated by their relation to infrastructure? Indeed, we can go further and ask: How does infrastructure constitute social relationships and political participation? In the case of social media, the constitutive role of infrastructure in social life is quite apparent. But do roads, water pipes, telephone lines, and airports similarly constitute social life, and not just affect it from the outside? This panel, 'the everyday life of infrastructures' addresses such questions.