Infrastructure supports, connects, separates, constrains, frees, transforms, communicates, and stores who we are. It reinforces and reshapes the stresses between dwelling and work, center and margin, high and low, and local and global that make a society. Yet it is normally mute. Until something breaks, decays, or, as in heritage infrastructure, needs to be remembered or recapitalized. Then it speaks. Especially at moments of ruin or risk, infrastructure speaks eloquently about those who otherwise leave little textual evidence behind but instead a dreadful or artful material history — tracks at a border wall, inscriptions on the walls of the Angel Island immigrant cells, or graffiti on a bridge. Infrastructure is the literature of those whose identities are made by being acted on by the medium of infrastructure, even as they make themselves by acting in, and against, infrastructure. People on the “right” side of the wall, the cell, the tracks, and so on are also subjects of infrastructure — for example, each time they get in a car and just drive, or boot their computer and just browse. . . .
Ultimately, the session hypothesizes that in late modernity the experience of infrastructure is increasingly the operational experience of culture itself. That is, the word “infrastructure” may now give us the same kind of critical purchase on the complexity of social experience that Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, and others sought when they reached for their all purpose word “culture.”
This course explores the hypothesis that critical infrastructure studies is one of today’s renewed forms of cultural criticism and media theory. Looking at the world from the point of view of infrastructure — and of the people (and creatures) who at once shape and are shaped by infrastructure — allows us to ask different questions than those posed in the frame of “culture” or “media.” We’ll think broadly about the things, platforms, passageways, containers, and gates — material, mediated, and symbolic — that structure who we are in relation to the world and each other.
“The technosphere as defined here comprises our complex social structures together with the physical infrastructure and technological artefacts supporting energy, information and material flows that enable the system to work, including entities as diverse as power stations, transmission lines, roads and buildings, farms, plastics, tools, airplanes, ballpoint pens and transistors.” (Zalasiewicz et al. 10-12)
“On the one hand, then, the thing baldly encountered. On the other, something not quite apprehended.” (Brown 5)
See also from Brown:
“But the very semantic reducibility of things to objects, coupled with the semantic irreducibility of things to objects, would seem to mark one way of recognizing how, although objects typically arrest a poet’s attention, and although the object was what was asked to join the dance in philosophy, things may still lurk in the shadows of the ballroom and continue to lurk there after the subject and object have done their thing, long after the party is over.” (Brown 3)
“As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture—above all, what they disclose about us), but we only catch a glimpse of things.” (Brown 4)
“A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily.” (Brown 4)
Also from Brown: “The question is less about “what things are for a given society than about what claims on your attention and on your action are made on behalf of things. If society seems to impose itself on the “corporeal imagination,” when and how does that imagination struggle against the imposition, and what role do things, physically or conceptually, play in the struggle? How does the effort to rethink things become an effort to reinstitute society?” (Brown 9-10)
“New media-perspectival painting, printing, telegraphy—each in its way newly mediates the relation between people and objects, each precipitates distance and proximity.” (Brown 16)