Anthropology of infrastructures

Last year (2020) I was invited to write a chapter on infrastructure for the International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. The totality of this burgeoning field stretches well beyond the scope of my awareness, and I have surely left out several important gems, as well as the most recent research. In this piece I pull together a few of the approaches, themes, and questions that I find most exciting, while simultaneously cover some degree of variety in anthropological and STS approaches. The chapter also includes a fairly long bibliography for those seeking recommendations on further reading. Read the text in its entirety here or send me a message if you’re unable to access it (unfortunately, the text is behind a paywall). The abstract goes as follows:

“Having initially figured in social theory as a metaphor to theorize capitalism, infrastructures have become increasingly central to the study of more long-running anthropological interests in politics and the mundane. Situated within or below, they are the conditions of possibility of other things, not least ethnographic practice itself. As such, infrastructures offer a number of possibilities for inquiry. We may ask about their constitutive relations, on the one hand, or their generative and structuring effects, on the other hand. In both cases, we encounter myriad ways in which infrastructures are far from fixed but susceptible to surprise. They enfold things that might not intuitively be deemed infrastructural, thus upsetting any clear-cut distinction between themselves and their environments. What their structuring effects in turn become is therefore never immediately evident. As material assemblage and metaphor alike, infrastructures may fold over and into themselves and thus exceed political and analytical intentions.”

infrastructure