Collection no. 004 – Architecture and/as Infrastructure

Architecture, the process of designing, constructing, and inhabiting buildings and public spaces, relies on infrastructure. And infrastructure, the material components and social connections that provide foundational services for citizens, depends on architecture. Conceptualizing architecture without thinking about infrastructure is, this themed issue argues, out of the question.

Architecture and infrastructure are continuously evolving in relation to one another, constituting the basic fabric of contemporary cities. Architects as designers are becoming more integrated into decision-making processes that produce infrastructure, showing that buildings and public places are embedded in and generate living environments. A combination of design ideas and techniques, construction materials, building standards, and skilled labor confer distinct character to schools, apartment houses, libraries, promenades, and community centers. But architecture also surpasses that which is planned and constructed. Architecture operates as social practice, taking into consideration technologies, aesthetics, and acoustics. How can we utilize an architectural approach to infrastructure that emphasizes the social, material, and economic connections of urban landscapes? In what ways do built environments create racial, ethnic and class divisions as well as other boundaries? And how do buildings and public spaces produce, reproduce, and contest relationships of power and authority?

Drawing on emerging conversations between architects, urban planners, geographers, and anthropologists, we call for a perspective on contemporary cities that interrogates how architecture and urban design function as and with infrastructure. Architecture and infrastructure come together through social practices and material networks: pipes leading from and to buildings provide water and sewage solutions; the installation of solar and energy storage systems power electricity grids; wires and fiber optic cables enable heating and cooling facilities, sustainable lighting, and high-speed internet; and integrated mobility systems connect houses and recreation areas to underground car parks, vehicle sharing services, metro networks, railways, and other public modes of transportation. In all such cases, repair and maintenance are essential to avoid failure and keep modern forms of living alive. Looking beyond the discrete infrastructural systems that underlie cities, this issue examines the social and political practices that shape urban architecture.

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.

Coming soon…

Edited by Nadine Plachta and Madlen Kobi

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Collection no. 003 – Infrastructure on/off Earth

This edited collection aims to bring into conversation two fields of the social sciences: the emerging social sciences of outer space (Dunnett et al. 2017, Praet and Salazar 2018, Klinger 2019), and recent social science research on infrastructure (Larkin 2013, Harvey 2015, Hetherington 2018, Anand, Gupta and Appel 2018). It seeks to explore how insights from the “infrastructural turn” in the social sciences can advance scholarship of outer space, and vice versa. Existing research in geography, anthropology and sociology repeatedly stressed the importance of understanding Earth and outer space in relational terms and mutually constitutive politically (Sage 2016), psychologically (Ormrod 2017), philosophically (Praet and Salazar 2017), methodologically (Valentine 2016) and ethically (Kearns and van Dooren 2017).

While infrastructure is a pervasive theme in much social science research on spacefaring and outer space, so far it does not figure as an analytical category in these works. The proposition of this collection is that an analytical focus on infrastructure to explore spacefaring advances our understanding of the relationality of outer space. Spacefaring is a highly material- and technology-intensive activity. Most of outer space can only be sensed through technology as a mediator, including radio telescopes, rover and satellite cameras (Vertesi 2015, Helmreich 2016). To escape Earth’s gravity, humans or non-humans require engineered vessels and strong propulsion produced by launching facilities (Valentine 2017). Once in space, they are fully dependent on a highly elaborate built environment, which creates the necessary conditions for survival under extreme conditions (Höhler 2010, Damjanov and Crouch 2018). Hence, this edited collection seeks to address the following question: How does the conceptual and empirical focus on infrastructure advance our understanding of the cultural, political and economic relationality of outer space?

Edited by Christine Bichsel

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Introduction: Infrastructure on/off Earth

Christine Bichsel invites the readers to explore the relationships between the states of “on Earth” and “off Earth” by bringing into conversation two fields of the social sciences: the emerging social studies of outer space and recent social science research on infrastructure.

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Mooring a Space Station: Media Infrastructure and the Inhuman Environment

Katarina Damjanov and David Crouch invite us to consider the International Space Station as a media infrastructure intimately linked to Earth through material and signal traffic.

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A Sky to Work With: Astronomers, Media, Infrastructures

Götz Hoeppe reflects on how astronomers, by observing and re-observing celestial objects, use the sky as an infrastructural resource and as a means to build novel epistemic communities.

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Lunar Landers and Space Elk: The Imaginary as Spaceflight Infrastructure

Joseph Popper invites us to consider imaginaries of private and commercial space exploration as infrastructure that stabilizes aspirations for human expansion into outer space.

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Space Infrastructure Resilience: Reflections on Recovered Launch Debris

Narrating her story around images of rocket debris by Sascha Mikloweit, Regina Peldszus discusses infrastructural resilience and the complex system-of-systems that is space infrastructure, of which human actors can only grasp – and act upon – a microscopic section.

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Stairway to Heaven? Geographies of the Space Elevator in Science Fiction

Oliver Dunnett explores the space elevator as imaginary infrastructure in science fiction literature and reveals how this literature anticipates the geographical, cultural and political ramifications of fast access from Earth to outer space.

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Out of the Past: The Space-Time of Infrastructure

Christine Bichsel sheds light on how the former Soviet space station Mir is a representational object closely interwoven with the political turmoil of the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991.

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Alternatives to GPS: Space Infrastructure in China and Japan

Christine Luk and Subodhana Wijeyeratne examine the Chinese and Japanese global positioning systems and elaborate on how competing satellite systems are a means for and expression of claims to global control over terrestrial navigation.

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Space Weather as a Threat to Critical Infrastructure

A. R. E. Taylor invites us to reconceptualize what counts as space infrastructure, as new attentiveness to cosmic weather conditions among security actors brings ground-based critical infrastructures into circulation with the electromagnetic energies of the Solar System.

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Placing the Cosmic Background: The Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory as an Ambient Infrastructure

James Merron’s essay reveals how the production of astronomical knowledge about the Universe bears the inscriptions of contemporary terrestrial life and local contestations from the surrounding environment.

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View or download the complete Collection no. 003 here (52 MB):


Collection no. 002 – August 2019 – Labor

This second collection of Roadsides employs artistically rendered depictions of labor to show how infrastructures become political and material things through social relations of work. Aesthetically creative and methodologically experimental, the articles utilize photographs, paintings, cartoons, and videos to examine and reveal the impacts and experiences of technological intervention that sometimes escape the frame of textual analysis. Taking up the challenge of labor across a range of scales and places, the collection moves from Nepal and India’s Himalayan borderlands to the Paraguayan Chaco, downtown London to the deserts of Sudan, and urban Sri Lanka to Afghanistan’s Wakhan highlands to illustrate many of the inevitable cracks in the dreams of infrastructural pasts and futures.

Edited by Galen Murton

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Galen Murton invites readers to explore Roadsides collection no. 002 and to discover how the lenses of multiple artistic media illuminate the intricacies of infrastructural work and the layered politics of road development in aesthetically and conceptually innovative ways. 

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The Penstocks

Stacy Pigg uses imagery and vignettes from the graphic novel to illustrate how the complicated delivery of penstock equipment to a major hydropower project in Nepal reflects both a uniquely local but nearly universal story of anticipation, disruption, and delay of infrastructural intervention.

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Arrested Infrastructure: Roadwork, Rights, Racialized Geographies

Joel Correia develops a photoessay about a ‘road to nowhere’ in the Paraguayan Chaco to show how state-led development to Indigenous communities is routinely characterized not by the fulfillment of mobility promises but rather by an arrest of infrastructures which itself resembles the state’s long suspension of Indigenous human rights.

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Labor Geographies: Uneven Infrastructures in Nepal’s Rana Period

Nadine Plachta and Subas Tamang use a series of etching aquatint paintings of labor and (im)mobility in Nepal to provide an historical view of state power that was maintained specifically by not building roads alongside exploitative practices of resource extraction enabled by corvee labor and codifed caste hierarchy.

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Stories from a Jaffna Auto Stand

daniel dillon uses photography and autoethnography to capture the aspirations and frustrations of rickshaw drivers at a bus stand in Jaffna, Sri Lanka and shares their philosophical and physical stories about making the best of everyday challenges posed by gendered positionalities.

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Sudanese Industrial Sound: Sonic Labour in a Truck Workshop

Valerie Hänsch employs audio-visual documentary to present the dynamics of ‘sonic labor’ in mechanic workshops of the Sudan, showing how the practice of metalsmithing is played to the percussive beat of motivational sound for the transformation of British Bedford lorries into trans-desert cargo vessels.

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Picturing Diversions: The Work/Play of Walking on London Pavements

Jan van Duppen goes on a walk through the streets of London and utilizes a point-and-shoot camera to illustrate and reflect how incessant infrastructural improvements and the waste they generate are rarely made in the interests of pedestrian but rather according to concerns of more rapid flows of capital.

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Ora et Labora: Buddhist Nuns as Road Builders in Zanskar

Marta Normington takes the artist’s lens to a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Zanskar India to autoethnographically discover the ways in which spiritual attainment and material progress are not mutually exclusive things but rather two hands of complimentary labor that build rural roads together.

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Affective Labor: Afghanistan’s Road to China

Tobias Marschall and Till Mostowlansky bring into view the affective experiences of labor in the harshest of conditions in Afghanistan’s Wakhan region to photographically show how dreams and work intersect across scales from the personal to the national at the crossroads of China.  

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Expeditions Along the Precipice: Circulations that construct India’s Border Roads

Anu Sabhlok and Noor Sharma paint a picture of hope and heroism experienced as geographical imaginaries far from home by labor migrants in India who travel annually from the plains of Jharkhand to the mountains of Ladakh in order to build roads for the state and national interests.

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Labouring for Connectivity in Arunachal Pradesh

Edward Boyle and Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman travel to the disputed state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India to examine the tensions between border roads developed to mobilize military defenses against China and the predominantly Nepali labor migrants who are employed and exploited to advance state security interests.

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View or download the complete Collection no. 002 here (92 MB):


Collection no. 001 – February 2019 – Infrastructural Times

The first curated collection of Roadsides advances an argument that infrastructure is inherently lively and fragile because it is always a complex web of multiple temporalities. The texts in this collection show a few examples of the variety of temporalities that make and unmake infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic, in Tajikistan, in India, at the eastern borders of the European Union, in Switzerland and in England. Focusing explicitly on those temporalities should provide food for thought in terms of rethinking infrastructure as an asynchronic timescape (Adam 1998).

Edited by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

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Julie Chu, Tina Harris, Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, Madlen Kobi, Galen Murton, Nadine Plachta, Matthäus Rest, Alessandro Rippa, Martin Saxer, Christina Schwenkel, and Max Woodworth

We are delighted to present the initial collection of Roadsides entitled “Infrastructural Times”, curated by Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi.

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Introduction: Infrastructure as an Asynchronic Timescape

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi encourages us to think infrastructures such as roads, pipelines or dams as places in which specific social relations intersect and accumulate over time, forming unique social-material-political terrain.

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Making Time in Maintenance Work

Ignaz Strebel, Moritz F. Fürst, and Alain Bovet demonstrate how time is perceived by maintenance workers in Switzerland as highly intersubjective, with a functioning water infrastructure being “a collective endeavour over time.”

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The Infrastructural Side Effects of Geopolitics: Fortuitous Socio-Biological Modifications to Three European Borders

Francisco Martínez and Tarmo Pikner take us to three borders: between Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia, and Estonia and Russia – to observe how geopolitics translates onto highly unstable infrastructural forms that affect the cycles of agricultural work, fishing and commuting.

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Back to the Future: The Aftermath of Soviet Modernity in Tajikistan’s Pamirs

Carolin Maertens analyses the visit of Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon to the Wakhan Valley in the Pamirs as a “temporal event” that reveals how the future-oriented vision of the president collides with the local feeling that modernity has already happened in the past.

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Geological Surprises: State Rationality and Himalayan Hydropower in India

Mabel D. Gergan discusses the entangled temporalities of geological science and infrastructure construction in India, focusing in particular on “geological surprises”, that is, the ways in which the “young” Himalayan terrain interferes in state plans of dam construction.

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Midnight Blues in the Melting Arctic

Mia M. Bennett walks us through the suspended reality of the polar day and ponders how things thought of as permanent, such as permafrost, have turned out to be much less than that in the Canadian Arctic.

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Tailbacks in Time, East Anglia

Richard D.G. Irvine focuses on the time-depth of the terrain beneath the A14, a major road in east England. Superimposed on a Roman road and skirting the subsiding Fens, recent construction also uncovered the 100,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammoth, revealing very different environmental past.

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View or download the complete Collection no. 001 here (38 MB):