Call for Papers

Collection no. 005 – Archive

Contrary to traditional conceptions of infrastructure as the physical connective tissue of society, forged from the solidities of iron and concrete, infrastructure is in fact both material and immaterial. Even when going unnoticed, infrastructure is an intimate presence in the working – or non-functioning – of much of what we deal with in our everyday life. Think of the roads we walk along on our way to work in the morning. Or the server farms that store our data. Or the “cloud” in which different drafts of this Call for Papers are located. Infrastructure, social scientists tell us, is both visible and invisible. Social and technical. Political and poetical. It is as concrete as the section of railway that carries the subway car I’m sitting in, and as imaginative as NASA’s plans for a permanent station on Mars. Whether they exist or not, both these types of infrastructure produce tangible outcomes. To better understand all these apparent contradictions, social scientists have generally thought of infrastructure as relational. That is, it resembles more a dynamic socio-material assemblage, rather than merely a durable technical system (cf. Anand, Gupta and Appel 2018; Harvey, Jensen and Morita 2018; Rippa, Murton and Rest 2020).

This future – currently highly immaterial – issue of Roadsides is concerned with one particular relational aspect of infrastructure that so far has scarcely been explored: the links between infrastructure and archive. The point of departure for this issue is an awareness that the history of the infrastructure that now shapes our lives, as well as of infrastructure that has never been built, lies in particular bodies of texts – documents, images, letters, books, videos and so on. These archives are central to the imagining of infrastructure, to its planning as well to its construction. Yet the relations between concrete infrastructure and such bodies of text are seldom addressed.

As pertains to traditional humanities scholarship, archives have typically been state-run institutions holding historical, political, economic and social records from various strands of governance and society. For the purposes of this issue, however, archives are understood in the broadest sense as any collection of documents, stories, reports, notices, banners and placards, photographs, video recordings, sounds, posted bills or rumours – i.e. anything textual (in the term’s widest conception) that represents a writing and a reading of the social worlds created and mediated by infrastructure. Following on from the work of Barry (2013), which analyses official public oil industry documents to reveal their performative and institutional politics, we envision archives as consisting of both formal/official and local/vernacular material production, so as to show the multiple discourses and representations implicit in infrastructural processes.

This understanding of the archive is foregrounded by the work of several scholars who, particularly within anthropology, have recently troubled commonsensical understandings of the archive as a written and solid past (Stoler 2002; Mueggler 2011). This new scholarship addresses archives – and archival research – not just as sites of knowledge retrieval and extractive activity, but as places of engaged critical ethnographic research. As Ann Stoler succinctly puts it, scholars need to move “from archive-as-source to archive-as-subject” (2002: 93).

In bringing together these two approaches, one based on the recent “infrastructure turn” in the social sciences and the other rooted in a critical approach to archives and archival knowledge, the forthcoming issue of Roadsides will address some of the following themes:

    • Infrastructure and the politics of imagination. How are infrastructure projects envisioned and documented before, during and after their construction?
    • Infrastructure projects that exist only within the archive. What does the history of what has not been built – or what Carse and Kneas (2019) term the “shadow history” – tell us about what has been built?
    • The archive as infrastructure. What might we gain by applying some of the infrastructural thinking outlined above to archives and archival research themselves?
    • Methods. The study of infrastructure often presents methodological issues. How does an archival approach help and what might that look like in concrete terms?

We especially encourage submissions that include non-textual forms of art and knowledge, such as renderings, photographs, designs, sketches, and other visual and audio material.

Please send a title, abstract (max. 300 words) and a short biography (max. 200 words) by September 18, 2020. The authors of accepted papers will be notified by September 30, 2020.

Final papers (max. 1500 words) are due on October 31, 2020. Following submission, all papers will undergo a “double-open” peer review. Publication of the issue is scheduled for February 2021.

The issue is edited by Alessandro Rippa (Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich; E-mail:


Anand, Nikhil; Gupta, Akhil; and Hannah Appel (eds.). 2018. The Promise of Infrastructure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Barry, Andrew. 2013. Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline. Malden and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

Carse, Ashley and David Kneas. 2019. “Unbuilt and Unfinished: The Temporalities of Infrastructure.” Environment and Society: Advances in Research 10: 9-28.

Harvey, Penny, Jensen, Casper Bruun, Morita, Atsuro (eds.). 2017. Infrastructure and Social Complexity: A Companion. London and New York: Routledge.

Mueggler, Erik. 2011. The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rippa, Alessandro; Murton, Galen; and Matthäus Rest. 2020. “Building Highland Asia in the 21st Century.” Verge: Studies in Global Asias 6(2): 83-111.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2002. “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance.” Archival Science 2: 87-109.

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