Experimental Infrastructures

Infrastructure is an encompassing term that can refer to anything from railroad ties to social media to ecosystems, and one which has been enjoying a renaissance in planning and public discourse. We are inundated by rhetoric about green infrastructure, social infrastructure, global infrastructure, and so on. Yet, as is evident in recent promises about fixing the nation’s infrastructure, infrastructural work can often in practice seem to be as much about reinforcing the status quo as about building new connections or enabling new ways of living.  

This seminar will explore infrastructures as cultural objects and culminate in the design of “experimental infrastructures” that can interject new narratives into society through the built environment. The class will start with a survey of critical infrastructure studies, an interdisciplinary approach that questions how infrastructure has been designed, built, and maintained in ways that reinforce (often problematic) social structures. “Infrastructure” is a term with a specific history, though it has come to encompass a wide range of networks, systems, and tools, and we will use this critical infrastructure approach to map out the political life of the term and its subsequent expansion. After building a theoretical framework around the argument that “infrastructure is social structure” as our foundational premise, we will then attempt to reimagine infrastructure as a tool for radical social change. What, for example, might an explicitly feminist infrastructure look like? A queer infrastructure? A decolonizing infrastructure? An infrastructure of degrowth? To engage in this rethinking, it will be necessary to confront the complicity of infrastructure within historical projects of global economic growth, nationalism, urbanization, natural resource extraction, and other world-ordering projects positioned as necessary public goods, but which have in practice led to gross injustices and inequalities around the world.  Class assignments will ask students to consider infrastructural work and infrastructural subjectivity at different scales, from the individual to the global, and will culminate in a final project focused on designing and/or researching a critical anti-hegemonic infrastructure and imagining its implementation.