The anthropology of infrastructure: ordering people, places, and imaginaries
Bruce O'Neill (Saint Louis University)
Liviu Chelcea (University of Bucharest)
Start time:
3 August, 2014 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel takes up infrastructure to explore ethnographically the ordering of people, places, and imaginaries. Papers will tack between infrastructure's concrete form and its (in)tangible affects to make fresh insights into the politics of poverty and belonging in an increasingly unequal world.

Long abstract:

Anthropologists, in recent years, have shown increasing interest in infrastructure as an ethnographic object. From the extraction and circulation of geological substances to the mundane construction of roads, pipes, and cables, anthropologists are turning to infrastructure as a critical site for making sense of the connections, disconnections, and impasses that frame people's unequal experience of modernity. How, and to what effect, does infrastructure bridge far reaching points in the world while simultaneously leaving adjacent spaces worlds apart? How does infrastructure organize not just physical spaces but also senses of belonging to a wider global community? What kinds of affective states and cultural imaginaries does infrastructure bring about through its (in)ability to facilitate the movement of people, images, and ideas? What kinds of unplanned and "illicit" orders does infrastructure make possible? And how might we imagine effective "structures of responsibility" capable of regulating infrastructural grids that crisscross not just cities and states but continents and oceans? Inspired by a thickening literature in anthropology, geography, ecology, and science and technology studies, this panel approaches infrastructure as a dynamic social, material, and affective form that offers clear insight into the politics of inclusion and exclusion within a world too easily framed as "interconnected." This panel's aim, ultimately, is to tack between the concrete and the abstract in order to make productive insights into a modern world marked by increasing levels of inequality.