Call for Posts: The Nature of Infrastructure

The concept of infrastructure draws attention to as-yet-unseen synergies between technology, culture, and materiality. What does this concept have to offer environmental anthropology? While we can safely say that infrastructures shape the natural world, they surely do so in ways particular to their times and places. The Engagement blog calls for submissions that can help shed light on the heterogeneity of infrastructures—their forms and effects—as seen through the anthropology of the environment. What might the particularity of infrastructures, including their materials, their scales, or the ecologies in which they work, tell us about the human condition? For a sub-field long interested in the organization of socio-natural systems, from Balinese subaks to the Nuer rangelands, what is new about the infrastructure concept?

Four potential directions include:

  1. Methods: How does one go about seeing and studying environmental infrastructure? What kinds of collaborations between anthropologists and artists, designers, civil engineers, or others might be necessary to understand or represent it?
  2. Poetics: Brian Larkin (2013) alerts us to the poetics of infrastructure. What can infrastructures tell us about culture and ecology? What might an attention to the varied forms or aesthetic qualities of infrastructures across cultures and ecologies offer anthropologies of the environment?
  3. Production: What is the relationship between environments and infrastructures of production? How might infrastructures prevent or enable natural resource extraction? Because infrastructures are open-ended they dovetail with other systems, including ecological ones, as Ashley Carse (2015) has shown. What cultural or political work happens in the contact zones of these systems of production?
  4. Configuration: To what extent do infrastructures organize people’s relationship to the environment? If social relations embedded within infrastructures, how might infrastructures be more-than-human affairs? How might they determine what kinds of relationships between humans and non-humans are possible?

Submissions can take the form of ~1,000-word essays; short photo and video essays; poetry and experimental prose; audio recordings; and other forms in consultation with the editors. Prof. Ashley Carse (Vanderbilt University) and Prof. Bettina Stoetzer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will provide commentaries on the submissions. Please indicate your interest or make inquiries by email to the Engagement co-editors:

Colin Hoag: choag@ucsc.edu
Theresa Miller: millerth@si.edu
Chitra Venkataramani: cvenkataramani@gmail.com


Works cited:
Carse, Ashley. 2015. Beyond the Big Ditch: Politics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Larkin, Brian. 2013. “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure.” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (1): 327–43.

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