Saturday, March 4, 2017

infrastructures and networks

I am very pleased to share the news of the recent publication of a wonderful collection of essays on infrastructure, of which I am part of, with an essay on pneumatic tubes.

The book is called Historicizing Infrastructure and is edited by Andreas Marklund and Mogens Ruediger. Andreas and Mogens organised the history of infrastructure conference at the Post and Tele Museum in Copenhagen that I wrote about in July and then October 2014. The presentations were so interesting they felt they had to compile a book.

Here is a short description of the contents of what they produced:
How does one handle a concept like ‘infrastructure’, which seems, simultaneously, so vague and yet heavily technical? In this international research volume, nine historians and cultural researchers from different academic institutions delve into the historical dimensions of infrastructural development. The interplay of infrastructures with society and its dominant political ideas and cultural beliefs is at the core of the analyses. A wide range of topics and historical contexts are covered by the book, from nineteenth-century railroads and territorial identities, and the sonic features of pneumatic tube systems, to privacy and security issues in relation to modern telecommunications, and the materiality of satellite television at the end of the Cold War.
I am so happy to be sharing the pages with these fascinating contributions and contributors! And Andreas and Mogens made working on this such a pleasure. My chapter is called "Sounds like infrastructure: Examining the materiality of pneumatic tube systems through their sonic traces". Here is my abstract for the chapter:
In the last few decades infrastructures have become increasingly visible in the social sciences, following a much longer engagement by historians. Recent anthropological work on infrastructure often adopts a practice-orientated approach, which focuses on the ways in which they are shaped through entangled material and social relations. In this paper I argue that such an approach can be strengthened by attention to the sensory and imaginative dimensions of infrastructure, which helps to articulate the vibrancy and fragility of such sociomaterial assemblages. I do so in order to suggest new methodological directions for the history of infrastructure. In order to illustrate my argument I use the case study of an infrastructure which once existed through large technical systems under city streets, and now is constructed on much smaller scales in buildings such as hospitals; pneumatic tube systems. Pneumatic tube systems highlight the durability of infrastructures over time. They are used nowadays to move materials which cannot be uploaded, scanned or printed; materials which come with traces of the personal, whether this is a piece of human tissue or trash. Following the practices of pneumatic tube systems ethnographically highlights the multisensory nature of infrastructures, which refuse to stay buried and quiet. Focusing particularly on sound, I look at examples of how sounds and listening practices signal infrastructures working smoothly as well as moments of breakdown and blockage. Working with infrastructures entails sonic skills, which becomes part of professional practice. I suggest that as well as making infrastructures more visible in our historical and anthropological engagements, we should also make them more audible. Often we tend to attribute sensory qualities to nature rather than technologies. Attending to the sensory dimensions of infrastructure however helps to understand more about their temporality and affects, which forwards our understanding of the role of infrastructural technologies in the modernization of society. In making this methodological plea, I suggest that sensory methods have as much relevance for historical studies as for the social sciences where they are more commonly used, and that both anthropology and history can learn from working closely alongside each other in their studies of the infrastructural arrangements of social life.
I would highly encourage you to buy the book, but if you are not able to but want to read the chapter, write to me and I can send you a copy of my piece.