Infrastructures, subjects, politics
Location 122
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 4


  • Jane Summerton (VTI/Swedish National Road & Transport Research Institute) email
  • Vasilis Galis (IT University of Copenhagen ) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This session aims to explore the relevance of STS for the study of entanglements of sociotechnical infrastructures - such as transport systems, digital platforms, policing systems, border machineries and so on - with so-called human subjects in infrastructural politics.

Long Abstract

Several strands of research within STS have theoretically and empirically dealt with the ways in which infrastructures often embody controversies, politics, and the constituting/excluding of subjects. One fascinating dimension concerns how (im-)material infrastructures are intertwined with human activity, are imbued with personal narratives, and perform social identities, often in relation to issues of belonging, citizenship and power. This session aims to explore the relevance of STS for the study of entanglements of sociotechnical infrastructures - such as transport systems, digital platforms, policing systems, border machineries and so on - with so-called human subjects in infrastructural politics. We invite papers that critically explore various forms of technopolitical order and/or (digital) resistance to these orders, the enacting of devalued subject positions (i.e. refugees, political activists) in the various sociotechnical assemblages in which they come to be integrated, as well as new spaces of political expression (i.e. social media; temporary autonomous zones) to these practices. We are particularly interested in papers that focus on how conceptualizing sociotechnical assemblages as matters of power and politics reveals the ways in which certain actors/actants/actions are devalued, invisible, or neglected, as well as how various groups (i.e. social movements, ad hoc groups) act to create alternative ontologies, practices and resistance against sociotechnical norms.

SESSIONS: 5/5/4/5

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Border surveillance, counter-surveillance and the 'realm of reconstruction'

Author: Huub Dijstelbloem (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes the expanding European border surveillance infrastructure and the opposition it meets from various activist groups as a form of visual politics, a specific interplay between the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’.

Long Abstract

The intended 'interoperability' of border surveillance systems in Europe has introduced an infrastructure that aims to increase the 'situational awareness' of critical events. However, as Amoore (2009) has argued, homeland security in general and border control in particular is not 'primarily a way of seeing or surveilling the world, but rather a means of dividing, isolating, annexing in order to visualize what is "unknown" '.

According to Rancière, the visual can be understood as a field in which 'the political' takes place by making some parts visible and leaving others invisible. To study this 'politics of visualization' this paper analyzes various forms of opposition border surveillance in Europe has met. Based on research in predominantly the Aegean area the paper analyzes various initiatives of international NGOs, grassroots organizations, artists, academics and activists to open up critical events.

This paper holds this 'experimental activity' to open up critical events is not a forward-looking project aimed at constructing a common future. Instead, it implies a backward-looking political point of view that can be typified as 'the realm of reconstruction'. Whereas the state connects and relates various sorts of information from highly different technologies so as to visualize risks; the 'realm of reconstruction' aims to gather these scattered images together by re-uniting them in different ways so as to reattribute institutional responsibility. It aims to unveil the mediated nature of border surveillance and questions it by articulating the institutional and ethical voids it creates.

Undoing the border: digital and material reconfigurations of routes and spaces for migrants/refugees

Authors: Vasilis Galis (IT University of Copenhagen )  email
Jane Summerton (VTI/Swedish National Road & Transport Research Institute)  email
Aristotle Tympas (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss how migrants and refugees use multiple low- and high-tech assemblages of humans and non-humans to create alternative pathways, practices and resistance against borders. The paper is exploratory and is based on multiple sources such as interviews and net-based materials.

Long Abstract

The flow of migrants and refugees, as well as the material arrangements that support, restrict or control such flows, entail shifting entanglements of humans and non-humans. On the one hand, the politics of delineating borders has always involved the use of policing technologies for identifying and displacing undesired migrant subjects. On the other hand, recent work has also pointed to the ways in which migrants and refugees use multiple technologies to resist and circumvent such bordering practices. Social media, smart telephones with multiple apps, computers, and other technologies provide migrants on the move information regarding navigation, safe passages, and police controls, as well as to create and sustain crucial networks. More low-tech assemblages include specially adjusted crypts in lorries enable clandestine migrants to cross borders. Our paper will discuss how migrants and refugees use multiple low- and high-tech assemblages of humans and non-humans to create alternative pathways, practices and resistance against borders by e.g. configuring new routes and spaces for travel. Following Bey (2011), we will analyze these spaces, routes and zones as temporary autonomous zones. We will show the ways in which alternative technologies, or the alternative use of technologies, are used to create such zones. Based on migration narratives, we will thus investigate how migrants attempt to circumvent national and supranational authorities' control over borders by the effective developing of a temporary infrastructural autonomy. The paper is exploratory and is based on multiple sources such as interviews and net-based materials.

Biometric registration of refugees in Greek borders in times of crisis.

Author: Vasileios Spyridon Vlassis (IT University Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the way biometric registration schemes used in the context of the EU migration policy affects the ontology of border venues with a focus on the Greek borderline.

Long Abstract

Eurodac is a European fingerprinting database for identifying asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. It has been active since 2003, as a technological tool for implementing the Dublin regulation. According to the the Dublin regulation, every asylum seeker may apply for asylum to only one member-state, that state being thus responsible for his/her application.

Eurodac has been a center of controversy since its launch. In June 2015, Eurodac's data became available for forensic use from Interpol and national police forces "only in specific cases, under specific circumstances and under strict conditions"1, only served to amplify the controversies around it. Eurodac as a EU policy tool and biometric registration as a method, shape and enact human subjectivities. This process however, is not a rigid or stable one, but is in turn at constant redefinition in relation to EU law and policy changes as well as international political developments.

This paper examines the way Eurodac's role was altered during the great influx of refugees/ migrants and the partial suspension of the Dublin regulation the last year. More particularly, I will examine the politics embedded in the system and how it interplays with the reality shaped in border and refugees' registration venues.


Contested Counting: The Practice and Politics of Refugee Registration in Lebanon

Author: Samuel Dinger (New York University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing upon interviews and observations conducted with NGO workers, refugee advocates, and state agents, this paper unpacks the political and practical struggles behind the enumeration, documentation, classification, and tracking of refugees in Lebanon.

Long Abstract

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, over 1.5 million migrants fleeing conflict have taken up residence in neighboring Lebanon. In May 2015 the Lebanese government requested that the UNHCR stop registering new arrivals, effectively shutting down the primary apparatus through which migrants could attain formal legal status, political visibility, and access to services. This request coincided with Lebanese state efforts to close heavily trafficked stretches of the border; securitize and surveil spaces populated by refugees; institute labor restrictions and fees for state-granted residency permits; and begin deportations. In this paper, I examine the ongoing contestations over refugee registration—its agents, sites, infrastructures, practices, and legal regulations—in Lebanon. How did this practice of humanitarian management come to be a key site of conflict between NGOs, refugee advocates, and the state? How do these different regimes of documentation enact different visions of crisis management and governance? And what is at stake in this conflict in terms of the visibility and vulnerability of Syrian migrants in Lebanon? Drawing upon interviews and observations conducted with NGO workers, refugee advocates, and state agents, this paper unpacks the political and practical struggles behind the enumeration, documentation, classification, and tracking of refugees in Lebanon. I argue that registration emerges as a key site for a performance of sovereignty by the Lebanese state premised not on the provision of services to Lebanese citizens or Syrian migrants but rather through the calculated production of status uncertainty, political invisibility, and material precarity.

Drones, Borders, Audits: The US-Mexico Border and the Internet of Things

Author: Lauren Kilgour (Cornell University)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation reports results from a two-stage pilot study examining US drone surveillance of the US-Mexico border, and advances critical conversations about the roles that the “internet of things” is playing in contemporary border control procedures between the global north and south.

Long Abstract

How has it become permissible for the US government to surveil the US-Mexico border with unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones), and what are some of the larger social and cultural implications of using such vehicles in this context? I respond to this question through reporting the results from a two-stage study in two parts. Part one shares the results of historical research on the US-Mexico "borderlands," and describes dangers experienced by migrants without documentation attempting to cross into the US from Central and South America in both the past and present. I also describe how the growing turn to remote digital technologies for the work of everyday border patrol builds on older efforts to render the US-Mexico border less porous, but also creates a new "safety dead-zone" in the borderlands by removing human presence in moments of crisis and danger experienced by migrants. Part two shares the results of a discourse analysis of the most recent (2014) Inspector General's audit report of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft system program. Specifically, I trace how the CBP is attempting to retain its use of drone border surveillance by discrediting the auditing procedures. The larger aim of this project is to think about technology, boundaries, and borders in the early days of the "internet of things." The internal debate surrounding drones is unfolding in a manner reminiscent of other technological controversies but also raises new, specific questions about the growing autonomy of vehicles and the shrinking autonomy of (im)migrants.

Digital food activism as ontological experimentation

Authors: Tanja Schneider (University of St. Gallen)  email
Karin Eli (University of Oxford)  email
Javier Lezaun (Oxford University )  email
Stanley Ulijaszek (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers digital platforms used for food activism as infrastructures that give rise to ontological experiments (Jensen and Morita, 2015). Based on three case studies we show how food is ontologically respecified in the entanglements of activists, consumer-citizens and digital platforms.

Long Abstract

This paper considers digital platforms used for food activism as infrastructures that give rise to ontological experiments (Jensen and Morita, 2015). We focus on an exploration of how realities are made, co-constituted or transformed in and through socio-technical assemblages and their interactions with people and things (Gad et al, 2015). Our analysis is based on three case studies exploring different types of digital platforms - a mobile app, a wiki platform and an online-centric activist organization - capturing diverse forms and potentials of what we refer to as 'digital food activism'. We compare the case studies through three core questions: (1) how are activism, expertise, and agency defined on each of the platforms? (2) how do the user actions facilitated on each platform enact activist values and identities? (3) how does platform infrastructure create new spatialities and materialities of political action?

Our comparison reveals the multiplicity and experimental nature of digital food activism and draws attention to how food is ontologically respecified in the entanglements of activists, consumer-citizens and digital platforms. We discuss the implications of this ontological respecification for agency, democracy and economy (cf. Counihan and Siniscalchi, 2014). Our aim is to understand what digital food activism is 'doing', with a particular interest in exploring the potential for interventions in the sense of 'artful contamination' (Zuiderent-Jerak and Jensen, 2007). Ultimately, our paper builds on and contributes to 'the turn to ontology' in STS and more recent theorising that seeks to connect STS' research interests in infrastructures, experiments and ontology.

Good Mourning Baltimore: Activism, Governance, and the Interstate Highway Project

Author: Amanda K Phillips (Virginia Tech)  email

Short Abstract

Freeway Revolts across the United States hindered the construction of the Interstate Highway Project. This paper looks at the influence of local community planning boards on infrastructure development following activist intervention.

Long Abstract

Freeway Revolts across the United States slowed, and in some cases stopped the construction of interstate highway infrastructure. The momentum of these activist interventions encouraged federal regulations that limited the power of technocrats to dictate the placement of new segments of the Interstate. Instead, decision making and planning shifted to local governance boards. This paper looks at the early development of these planning boards in relationship to the activist efforts that led to their creation. How do the voices, projects, and motivations of actors translate as power in techno-political decision making becomes local? What accounts and bodies might be neglected in the wake of this change?

By drawing from the archival records left by Movement Against Destruction (MAD), a Baltimore organization that fought against interstate plans, this paper explores accounts of space, (dis)possession, and citizenship that shaped relationships to the planned highway. These efforts imbued value into homes, parks, and communal spaces by successfully arguing that existing infrastructures were vital to the larger city and community. This resisted the national interstate building effort to decrease automotive congestion, increase security, and promote national unity through technological connectedness. Narratives of resistance framed the eventual shape of the interstate in its current form. These accounts elucidate bodily relationships to contested infrastructural spaces, but also provide a mechanism to analyze the way activism adapts once it is legitimized by the state.

"Mind the Gap, Please": wheelchair users and London public transport

Author: Raquel Velho (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

This research investigates the relationship between wheelchair users and accessibility in public transport in London. It explores 'the Gap(s)' in the infrastructure asking how wheelchair users develop tactics for getting around the city and shaping the network to their needs.

Long Abstract

Public transport in London is an icon. With its renowned red double-decker buses and stern "Mind the Gap" reminders, Transport for London and its predecessors have developed a strong brand recognised throughout the world. In addition, the network is massive, with over 8000 buses in its fleet and over 250 Undeground stations. However, this idealistic image does not represent every Londoner's experience: some user groups face notorious barriers to accessibility.


My research proposes to investigate the relationship between wheelchair users and public transport in London. With only one quarter of Underground stations having step-free access and various other ongoing accessibility debates, these users face diverse barriers in their use of the transport system. Here, I intend to explore 'the Gap(s)', both literal (the space between the train and the platform) and figurative (current priority debates concerning London buses) in nature. Of primary interest is how, despite the various barriers and strains on their journeys, wheelchair users develop tactics for getting around the city and shaping the network to their needs, either momentarily or permanently. The tactics developed span a wide range, from individual toolkits carried in their backpacks to intensive activism and lobbying for the improvement of transport accessibility. 

This study is the result of extensive qualitative research, with over 40 hours of interviews with wheelchair users and policy makers based in London. Working with concepts from the fields of STS and disability studies, this research aims to highlight the impact that excluded users can also have on the shaping of technological systems.

Political engineering: the tangle of infrastructure, security and state authority in contemporary statebuilding interventions

Authors: Peer Schouten (Danish Institute for International Studies)  email
Jan Bachmann (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the technopolitics of statebuilding through a discussion of efforts to engineer better societies in fragile states by intervening in the built environment.

Long Abstract

Can roads literally lead to peace? While perhaps an odd question to ask, contemporary international interventions—collective efforts by the UN, donor countries, and development organizations—increasingly deploy infrastructure in efforts to attain highly contested outcomes, such as security and the extension of state authority, in conflict environments. Electricity, buildings, sewage but particularly roads are tangled into efforts to create peace and rebuild states. While STS has long focused on the social as an almost unintended outcome of the proliferation of large technical systems (LTS), political engineering does the opposite: it explicitly strategizes LTS to rewire the political. In this paper, we build on insights from STS to explore interventions as an instance of what we call political engineering, that is, technopolitical efforts to conjure novel—better—societies by working on the built environment. Focusing on contemporary Western stabilization efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa, we ask, how do such interventions create new publics? How can we conceptualize the attendant assemblages of (always too little) peace, security and state authority emerging around contested—and potentially violent—transnationalized power configurations? How can STS help us tease out what is at stake in infrastructure interventions and their attendant formation of new political spaces?

Little tags, ordered worlds and invisible infrastructures

Authors: Susanne Oechsner (University of Vienna)  email
Ulrike Felt (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The capacity of identifying and tracking objects through small “radio-frequency identification tags” attached to them, the invisible infrastructure of circulation and control which emerges through this, and the ways in which this reorders human and non-human worlds will be the focus of our paper.

Long Abstract

The "Internet of things" has become a powerful future imaginary with Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) being a core enabling-technology. The capacity of identifying and tracking objects through small "RFID tags" attached to them without visible connection, the invisible infrastructure of circulation and control which emerges through this, as well as the ways in which all this reorders "the world of things" and many other spheres along with it will be at the core of our paper.

We will offer a study on how researchers, developers and tag producers imagine the potential of this technology to form a well-functioning infrastructure, how they script the human and non-human actors and how they standardize and classify them. We will trace how the implementation of RFID in specific fields is both imagining as putting in place a specific technological order and with it simultaneously realizing a specific social and moral order. We will show how "the problem to be solved" gets constructed and how this in turn justifies a specific "technological solution"; identify the different values that are mobilised as well as those silenced in staging the problem-solution packages; analyse the human-technology relations that are performed; and finally, reflect on the role classification and standardization plays in all this.

This presentation builds on data from a "RFID & Society" project which is part of the larger FFG-funded project REFlex (Coordinator: Holger Arthaber, TU Vienna) which develops a localization system of passive RFID tags for an intelligent process control system.

"There's no single Arctic": Knowing nature in oil operations

Authors: Elena Parmiggiani (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email
Eric Monteiro (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

We present an ethnographic study of one Scandinavian oil company’s knowledge infrastructure for subsea environmental monitoring in the Arctic. We discuss how the company’s effort to know nature is entrenched in technological and political discourses surrounding oil and gas in the Arctic.

Long Abstract

One fourth of the world's undiscovered petroleum resources are believed to be hidden above the Polar Circle, but our knowledge of the Arctic natural ecosystems is still scarce. To ensure safety and efficiency, oil companies are implementing real-time systems to monitor the health of the marine environment during all operational phases. In the words of a US diplomat, however, "There's no single Arctic": despite the attempted separation between epistemological and political matters, data about the varied Arctic environment are being produced by several actors. Knowledge is thus generated through not only specific configurations of remote access technologies, but also the entanglement of heterogeneous cultural regimes and sociopolitical controversies among different industrial players and with the environmental NGOs.

Based on an ethnographic study of a real-time environmental monitoring initiative by a Scandinavian oil company, we reflect on our effort to unpack the way data about the environment get constructed and become a basis for knowing. We highlight the trajectory of the company's initiative to become not only a consumer, but also a producer of data about the Arctic. We show how, in this process, the Arctic is quantified into multiple facts through the concerted mobilization of an interconnected knowledge infrastructure, comprising arrays of sensing devices and procedures to select, measure, and model selected parameters. We show how these approaches to know the Arctic environment are deeply entrenched in the political economy surrounding the relationship between industrial operations and environmental concerns.

Reshuffling the Government Machine. Digital Infrastructures of Bureaucratic Exclusion

Author: Annalisa Pelizza (University of Twente)  email

Short Abstract

This paper asks how it has happened, that government – a bureaucratic organization built to manage information – has turned to have the least skills in doing so. It provides an STS explanation of how government infrastructures have turned to exclude public servants, while including contractors.

Long Abstract

This paper asks the question: how has it happened, that government - the bureaucratic organization that was built to manage information - has turned to be conceived as having the least skills in information handling, to the point that similar activities have been mainly taking over by non-governmental actors?

Drawing upon the STS concept of "interessement device", this paper focuses on some ways in which government information infrastructures have paradoxically turned to exclude public servants - depicted as digitally illiterate - from their ganglia. On the one hand, it argues that - while being framed as "technical expertise" - with digitization the new skills needed to handle digitally-mediated governmental information have been built in a way that they excluded bureaucratic and legislative knowledge and gave priority to ICT development jargon.

On the other hand, the paper shows how information infrastructures themselves can operate as interessement devices that exclude civil servants while they include private contractors' operators, and vice-versa. It presents as diverse cases as the Netherlands' cadastre and Italy's online platform for business declarations towards the public administration.

Eventually, this new configuration of actors and roles entails a number of concerns about the political legitimation of those operators that can not only access governmental data, but can also take sensitive decisions about how they are categorized, sorted and distributed.

Citizenship by design: Aadhar, NRC and the immigrant

Author: Khetrimayum Monish Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

Taking STS perspectives, this paper will focus on the UID/ Aadhar Project and the NRC (National Register of Citizens) update in Assam (India), and analyze these digital infrastructures and their role in technological categorizations of the subject/ citizen.

Long Abstract

Infrastructures based on the aggregation and categorization of individuals such as the UID/ Aadhar and the NRC (National Register of Citizens) in Assam (India), is what one could call 'technology as politics'. These projects, including e-governance initiatives, rural internet and emphasis on mobile internet services, are ways through which the logic of access and participation now increasingly operates. However, these infrastructures that have emerged on the political landscape are also deeply exclusionary and based on differential treatment; and has created new technological categorizations of the citizen as well as the subject. While digital practices have ruptured the ideas of rights, access, benefits and citizenship, it has also reconsolidated the idea of the subject based on the mobility of the body aggregated through information and data. Subsequently, these interventions also influence complex processes of citizen-making, which are often historical, socio-cultural and demographic specific, as in the case of Assam. Digital infrastructures have normalized and legitimized these technological categorizations, and wired it into various governmental rationalities. Taking STS perspectives, this paper will focus on the UID/ Aadhar Project and the NRC (National Register of Citizens) update in Assam (India), and analyze these digital infrastructures and their role in technological categorizations of the subject/ citizen.

Video surveillance of demonstrations and the police' definatory power

Author: Peter Ullrich (Technische Universität Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

An analysis of video surveillance of protesters in a process perspective as a chain of contingent decisions which are an expression of (sociological) discretion. It ascertains the police’ definatory power, while the results (footage) are labelled ‘objective’ due to their ‘technical’ nature.

Long Abstract

Classic work stressed the sociological discretion police exercises, which ascertains its definatory power in processes of criminalisation and punishment.

The contribution analyses the police' use of video cameras for prevention and law enforcement in demonstrations in Germany as an example of such discretion in a sociotechnical assemblage, in which a technical artefact (the camera) plays a crucial rule for reifying a particularistic version of the surveilled events and respective subject positions.

On the basis of group discussions with officers, interviews with commanders and ethnographies of demonstrations the use of cameras and footage is analysed as a chain of highly contingent decisions and objectivations. It contains - among others - the following steps:

• information gathering and definition threat level

• (not) having cameras present

• (not) showing cameras openly

• symbolic use (or not) for deterrence

• recording (or not)

• selection of focus/lenght

• deletion/storage of (which part of the) footage

• filing of additional information/interpretation

• the use (or not) of footage for charges/law suits

• selection of footage for the court

This 'definatory power chain' ascertains the police' definatory power over contested situations, while the results (footage) are labelled 'objective' due to their manifest and 'technical' nature. In the words of a police officer: "because it gives a certain objectivity in the end". It is evident that this (sociological) descretion is systematically denied by the police, which holds up the fiction of being neutral and completely programmed by law. Instead, the influence on decisions of police knowledge and classifications of protesters becomes apparent.

Infrastructures and Invisibility: the techno-politics of heterogeneous zones

Author: Maximilian Mayer (Tongji University)  email

Short Abstract

Global infrastructures coproduce heterogeneous zones; exploring their invisibility through an STS/IR, this paper asks how we might conceptualize local experiences of domination and resistance, and structural aspects of global order emerging at the nexus of infrastructures and invisibility.

Long Abstract

Global infrastructures require and coproduce heterogeneous zones. What makes zones especially interesting for research at the intersection of STS /International Relations is their hidden character. On the one hand, it is routinely overseen how critical their existence is for exercising technologically mediated power by militaries, corporations, NGOs, and UN agencies. While many zones might be located in remote spots, they are highly connected with centers of calculation and/ or nodal points for the exercise of power through large strategic weapon systems. On the other hand, few if any theoretical approaches have addressed the forms infrastructural domination, which are imposed on inhabitants of zones, as structural feature of transnational affairs. For instance, regardless whether large military bases, island stations for global monitoring systems, (secretly run) air strips, nuclear testing areas, or mineral extraction zones, jurisdictions of exemption guarantee the zone personal to be exempted from laws including environmental, labor, or security regulations valid externally. Based on various empirical examples, and attempting to interweave STS, International Relations and global governance literature, this paper asks the following questions: a) Which strategies of visualization, representation and knowledge production are employed by activist living in zones to resist the both forms of domination and the reproduction of ignorance? b) How are zones reproduced and reified through framings or ignorance within academic discourses and broader public perceptions? c) How can we conceptualize the interaction of local subjectivities and global order emerging from interrogating the nexus of infrastructures and invisibility?

"One wouldn't use ones fists against cold machines"

Author: Lina Rahm (IBL)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation draws on Galis’ and Lee’s ‘vocabulary of treason’ and presents the results of an analysis of computerization as present in documents from the Swedish labour movement. In practice, this provides a tentative genealogy of the emerging Swedish digital citizen.

Long Abstract

Early on, the unions, and their respective study associations, became important actors in passing on knowledge about computers. The 1975 Social Democratic Party congress made a decision to work with the Swedish blue-collar union in order to draw up an action program for computer education. The congress did express a fear in that stakeholders who control capital as well as means of production will safeguard technology to primarily cater to their interests. That is, under the current conservative regime there was a risk that the computer would be used for oppressive purposes (or even become an oppressive "computer force" in itself). As such, the labour movement was described as an important force to counter this fear and to, instead, "democratically" control the use of computers as tools in the service of the people. Through common struggle and education, citizens would become a driving force in the practical design of this potentially liberating technology.

Research has often emphasized the stabilizing of a network and thus obscuring any de-stabilizing processes. As such, a modified ANT vocabulary, for example by introducing antonyms (a "vocabulary of treason") can make room not only for processes of mobilizing alliances and constructing networks, but for more deconstructive aspects as well (Galis & Lee, 2014). Thus, such vocabulary of treason could include processes of dissidence and controversy. This presentation draws on Galis' and Lee's 'vocabulary of treason' and presents the results of an analysis of computerization as present in documents from the Swedish labour movement.


Author: Giorgos Mattes (National & Kapodistrian University of Athens)  email

Short Abstract

Big data, data mining, crime analysis, geographic profiling, crime mapping and predictive analytics: the significance of these practices lies in the way they frame technology; they present technology itself as neutral and unproblematic.

Long Abstract

In industrialized societies, the degree of individual's social conformation is assessed by classification systems and other tools. Who counts as deviant is determined by criminology an in its conventional sense is the outcome of a complex juridical-bureaucratic process; moreover, crime mapping and policing are established in relation to norms both of social functioning and labor market participation.

So, are crime analyzing, crime mapping, predictive analytics parts of just another technological package by which work is accomplished? What does the ANT lens have to offer in examining theoretically and empirically these technologies that analyze "big data" practices and/or involve empirical engagements and experiments, while also reflecting on the consequences of how societies are represented (epistemologies), realised (ontologies) and governed (politics)? Big data, data mining, crime analysis, geographic profiling, crime mapping and predictive analytics: the significance of these practices lies in the way they frame technology; they present technology itself as neutral and unproblematic. And also they stand over the borders lines of a democratic state that seeks to smother the internal combustion fire and transform class disorder to normal running, namely law and order.

Travelling Numbers: Tracing the Transformations of Aadhaar

Author: Ranjit Singh (Cornell University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper traces the imbrication of India's biometrics-based national identity number, Aadhaar, into various information infrastructures of social welfare delivery in India.

Long Abstract

This paper traces the transformations of India's biometrics-based national identity number, Aadhaar, as it travels across other government databases. I will document the historical transformation of discursive justifications for investing in biometrics from socio-technical imaginaries of national security to social security in India. As the socio-technical imaginary of social security became a driving force for implementing the project, the success of Aadhaar in creating a 'clean' identity database of Indian residents has translated into possibilities of renovating the bureaucratic processes of social welfare delivery. Here, 'clean' refers to absence of duplicate entries in a database. The possibilities of bureaucratic renovation include 'seeding' of Aadhaar numbers into other government databases of social welfare beneficiaries in order to 'clean' them. I will focus on the use of Aadhaar in the pilot projects to test the implementation of cash-based subsidies in lieu of in-kind entitlements to renovate the Public Distribution System (PDS) of food grains in India. The imbrication of Aadhaar into modes of Indian governance has formed the foundation for claims around improving the last-mile delivery of government services, curbing widespread corruption in social welfare delivery, and removing street-level intermediaries in the interaction between the Indian state and its citizens. The paper will draw on primary ethnographic material from six months of fieldwork in India and secondary sources to unpack these claims. It will illustrate the uneven bureaucratic imbrication of Aadhaar and the mundane challenges it presents for citizens in certifying that they are who they say they are.

Infrastructures/Governing/Queerness: How Health IT Infrastructures "Program Queer Health"

Author: Stephen Molldrem (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

In a historical and ethnographic case study, I show how health IT infrastructures and their data “program health” for different classes of queer men in Atlanta and the US. Documents and interviews with experts reveal these systems as key vectors of governmentality and subjectification for queer men.

Long Abstract

I present a case study of layered health IT infrastructures that target gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) - collectively "queer men." I focus on nationwide infrastructures overseen by the U.S. federal government and their local implementation in Atlanta. Data come from document-based research and interviews with administrators. The study discusses Electronic Health Record (EHR) technologies and their implementation, surveillance systems operated by CDC, and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. My approach is grounded in infrastructure studies, the sociology of health, and LGBTQ studies.

Health IT infrastructures generate knowledge about queer men on terms that are variously identitarian (eg. gay) and/or behavioral (eg. MSM). This produces a range of epidemiological, clinical, and healthcare priorities that different classes of queer men and their doctors are expected to internalize. These networks and the data they generate therefore collectively "program health" for different classes of queer men, generating "programmes" for them to implement and sustain their wellbeing. However, to do this, the infrastructures must be literally "programmed" and managed by a range of IT personnel, medical experts, and administrators.

Ultimately, health IT infrastructures are revealed as key vectors of governmentality and subjectification for queer men. They stage contested relations between (1) biomedical and technical experts, (2) large public, private, and semi-public institutions, (3) varied collectivities of queer men, and (4) individuals charged with making "personal health choices" based on their epidemiological profile and their perceived duties as a citizen or member of a particular community.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.