The Infrastructure Toolbox

Photo by Victor Garcia.

Why an infrastructure toolbox? Infrastructure has long been a central conceptual tool—a productive metaphor—for critical theory and the analysis of social life more broadly. We speak of making concrete arguments, those (like infrastructure) that seem to offer tangible evidence of their claims. But what happens when infrastructure is no longer a metaphor? What happens to theory-making and ethnographic practice when roads and water pipes, bridges and fiber-optic cables themselves are our objects of engagement? In part, we need new tools—tools that allow us to think infrastructure’s metaphorical capacities with its material forms, and to think those material forms along with their capacities to generate aspiration and expectation, deferral and abandonment.

Posts in This Series

Introduction: The Infrastructure Toolbox

Introduction: The Infrastructure Toolbox

Why an infrastructure toolbox? Infrastructure has long been a central conceptual tool—a productive metaphor—for critical theory and the analysis of social life ... More

Accretion

Accretion

Infrastructures accrete. They gather and crumble incrementally and slowly, over time, through labor that is at once ideological and material. Infrastructures ar... More

Data

Data

In 2014, the Evening Standard newspaper listed Demis Hassabis as London’s third most influential person. After completing his PhD in neuroscience, Hassabis, a f... More

Emplacement

Emplacement

When approached as a thing that facilitates relations between other things, an infrastructure need not be limited to the roads, rails, wires, and pipes typicall... More

Ends

Ends

Infrastructures, as Brian Larkin (2013) has recently suggested, work at numerous registers simultaneously. They are functional in that they enable, constrain, a... More

Finance

Finance

Less a tool in a toolbox than a placeholder for a needed tool, this essay asks after the relationship between infrastructure, finance, and economic growth. We w... More

Form

Form

How can we think about the form of infrastructure? In recent years, the material turn has tended to prefer unformed synonyms: matter, material, objects, or thin... More

Materials

Materials

Materials are integral to any infrastructural assemblage, carrying their own promise, transformative potential, aesthetic effect, and affective force. Infrastru... More

Repair

Repair

The contributors to this series have raised core questions around the problems and possibilities of infrastructure. But what does it mean to fix it? As anyone f... More

Sense

Sense

“What does China smell like?” the British tabloid Daily Mail asked in a story on the installation of a “scent globe” in Heathrow Airport. The device sprays a mi... More

Suspension

Suspension

On March 5, 2015, the new government of Sri Lanka headed by President Maithripala Sirisena announced that it had suspended a controversial $1.5 billion project ... More

Temporality

Temporality

Why is an infrastructure like an ontology? Why is an infrastructure like a shaggy dog? These are two fairly simple questions, but the immediate response might b... More

Discussion: Infrastructural Times

Discussion: Infrastructural Times

In an interview, Michel Foucault (1986, 244) once observed that the École des Ponts et Chausées had “capital importance in political rationality in France.” It ... More