The Promise of Infrastructure

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 16 illustrations Published: August 2018

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Science and Technology Studies

From U.S.-Mexico border walls to Flint's poisoned pipes, there is a new urgency to the politics of infrastructure. Roads, electricity lines, water pipes, and oil installations promise to distribute the resources necessary for everyday life. Yet an attention to their ongoing processes also reveals how infrastructures are made with fragile and often violent relations among people, materials, and institutions. While infrastructures promise modernity and development, their breakdowns and absences reveal the underbelly of progress, liberal equality, and economic growth. This tension, between aspiration and failure, makes infrastructure a productive location for social theory. Contributing to the everyday lives of infrastructure across four continents, some of the leading anthropologists of infrastructure demonstrate in The Promise of Infrastructure how these more-than-human assemblages made over more-than-human lifetimes offer new opportunities to theorize time, politics, and promise in the contemporary moment.

A School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar

Contributors. Nikhil Anand, Hannah Appel, Geoffrey C. Bowker, Dominic Boyer, Akhil Gupta, Penny Harvey, Brian Larkin, Christina Schwenkel, Antina von Schnitzler


"The Promise of Infrastructure offers a provocative reflection on the current academic, social, and political moment that we find ourselves in. . . . While The Promise of Infrastructure as a whole offers a surprisingly comprehensive condemnation of the 'radically human-centered thinking' that has produced the Anthropocene challenge that we now face, it also suggests the tools we will need to map out possible futures. Appropriately, these are not prescriptions promising a better future. Rather they are openings for possibility, for action, and for wonder." — Tim Oakes, Technology and Culture

"The volume offers a highly valuable contribution to the study of human/non-human relations. Taking up Brian Larkin’s call against a premature separation of the material from the discursive, the editors argue that infrastructural matter becomes political only in relation to human ideologies, aesthetics or histories." — Laura Kemmer, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Infrastructure holds promise for those sociologists, and social scientists, interested in the making and reproduction of inequality, power and difference, both contemporarily and historically. . . . This volume advances such a research agenda, challenging prevalent notions of temporality, political change, identity formation and the making of the future." — Julio Alejandro De Coss Corzo, British Journal of Sociology

"The Promise of Infrastructure is a timely and compelling account of the myriad ways in which infrastructures can be theorized and the limits and potentials of the same." — Siddharth Menon, AAG Review of Books

"The Promise of Infrastructure is a stellar collection of essays by anthropologists and social scientists who explore roads, buildings, bridges, water meters, pipelines, power stations, and other structures which we encounter on a daily basis but whose contribution to the production of difference we frequently overlook."  — Natalia Kovalyova, Anthropology Book Forum

"This book presents a combination of insightful theorisations and an engaging ethnography." — Sudha Vasan, Economic & Political Weekly

"The Promise of Infrastructure is essential reading for scholars and students who wish to more fully understand the ethical and social role of the 'Ideal Infrastructure,' its history, its criticisms and its (uncertain) future destiny." — Marco Spada, Environment and History

“The collection covers much ground in its nine chapters and does more than merely ‘gesture to all the work still to be done’ on the topic [of infrastructure]; it also propels readers to ask new questions about infrastructure and equips them well for the task.”

— Rebecca Warne Peters, PoLAR

“In relation to the field of urban studies, the book offers a sophisticated framework for deeper consideration of a number of critical foci, such as the urban ‘governance of matter’ but also ‘the matter of governance’, a rhetorical conceit that emphasizes the political aspirations inherent within technical-material systems, as well as how matter embeds and enacts political rationalities and sociospatial dynamics of inequality…. It offers much to urban scholars working to conceptualise the mutually reinforcing relations between socioecological dynamics, sociotechnical change and processes of urbanisation through the lens of infrastructure, and how these relations shape and are shaped by urban governance and the multiple modalities of infrastructural politics.” — Cynthia Browne, Urban Studies

“The edited collection by Anand, Gupta, and Appel highlights infrastructures as a promising site for ethnographic research.... [It] reveal[s] the potential of infrastructural ethnography to make visible power inequalities and exclusionary practices and expose infrastructures as powerful sites for redefining governance and belonging.” — Daivi Rodima-Taylor, American Anthropologist

“Everyday infrastructures are very good to think with. They are materially, socially, and symbolically dense; they are often banal, everyday, and taken for granted; yet they are the bearers of modernity, promising progress, development, democracy, an easier life, safety, security, and much else. The Promise of Infrastructure makes all of this brilliantly clear and vivid, at once capacious in its reach and theoretically innovative in its disposition. This book shows powerfully how infrastructures are not simply rich ethnographic objects but apparatuses of neoliberal rule. A must-read." — Michael Watts, Class of ’63 Professor, University of California, Berkeley


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nikhil Anand is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Akhil Gupta is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Hannah Appel is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction: Temporality, Politics, and the Promise of Infrastructure / Hannah Appel, Nikhil Anand, and Akhil Gupta  1
Part I. Time
1. Infrastructural Time / Hannah Appel  41
2. The Future in Ruins: Thoughts on the Temporality of Infrastructure / Akhil Gupta  62
3. Infrastructures in and out of Time: The Promise of Roads in Contemporary Peru / Penny Harvey  80
4. The Current Never Stops: Intimacies of Energy Infrastructure in Vietnam / Christina Schwenkel  102
Part II. Politics
5. Infrastructure, Apartheid Technopolitics, and Temporalities of "Transition" / Antina von Schnitzler  133
6. A Public Matter: Water, Hydraulics, Biopolitics / Nikhil Anand  155
Part III.
7. Promising Forms: The Political Aesthetics of Infrastructure / Brian Larkin  175
8. Sustainable Knowledge Infrastructures / Geoffrey C. Bowker  203
9. Infrastructure, Potential Energy, Revolution / Dominic Boyer  223
Contributors  245
Index  249
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0018-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0003-7
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