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Infrastructure readings>>

People and Practices Research (Intel Labs), the Networking Knowledge Workshop (UC Humanities Research Institute and UC Irvine) and the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (UC Irvine) are collaborating to host a workshop to examine issues like the following:

  • Social rank vs. ubiquitous access. What happens when individualistic conceptions of universal infrastructural access and consumption run up against cultural norms and imaginings of class, entitlement, and rank? What are modern-day sumptuary laws and what produces them?
  • Consumer-making vs. citizen-making. What happens as the global grids of consumption expand and overlay localist, nationalist, and transnationalist movements to produce new kinds of citizens and citizenship? How do processes of citizen-making and consumer-making oppose or reinforce one another?
  • Public-private partnership vs. public-private rivalry. What new forms of public-private partnership are being produced and why, in domains such as financial innovation, technology proliferation, and new media.
  • New relations between the “global south” and the “global north”. What does it mean to turn the “development” lens away from “those people over there” to “our people right here”? How are ideas and practices from the “global south” flowing into the “global north”?

The purpose of this collaboration is to consider the tension between the historical monopoly of the state over infrastructure provision and the proliferation of private infrastructures, from mobile networks to water services to payment intermediation. In information and communication technology (ICT), the arrival of open, social, and mobile platforms raises the possibility of creating infrastructures that would allow people to “personalize” their relationships to infrastructures and larger systems. Researchers, techno-utopians and various other provocateurs raise the possibility that this personal-ization may represent a kind of democratization, a repurposing or even hacking of these systems. What if infrastructures made themselves visible to and manipulable by their users? What would this do to the relationships between and distinctions among the state, the market and citizens/consumers?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) infrastructure financing is reopening the debate about public-private partnerships in infrastructure development, tapping into longstanding concerns over the ability of infrastructure projects to cement citizens’ commitment to the polity even while creating new distinctions and exclusions. Publicly provided infrastructures, never innocent of such exclusions, have long been accused of creating new haves and have-nots. Meanwhile, the ongoing rollback of the welfare state and the concomitant “responsibilization” of citizens called upon to fend for themselves exists alongside and feeds into a new American populism that oscillates unevenly between anti-corporate and anti-government sentiment. Ironically, those who feel most at the margins may be the same people who will benefit from new infrastructure projects.

By reflecting on infrastructures, institutions and individualization, this collaboration seeks to identify factors that can shed light on the unfolding dynamics between citizens/consumers and new infrastructures being built today. Following the workshop, graduate student researchers with support from Intel Labs will head off to conduct fieldwork expanding and developing these themes.

To RSVP, email Jenny Fan at by Friday, June 11.

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