Intrastructure — before and under?

Do infrastructure studies suffer from a before-and-under bias?

The term infrastucture, per my understandings of the term, but also reflected in the wiki site, takes on two basic meanings.

First, infrastructure gets one of its meanings, which also double as conceptualizations, by being what precedes whatever system it supports, hence, infrastructure comes before the system it facilitates. This might be called “infrastructure as antecedent” (or pre-structure).

Second, infrastructure, perhaps this time in a more etymological sense, is also meant to denote the undergird that holds a system in place, for example, the layers of earth, sand, and rocks which create the bed under which roadways can be built and, hence, the interlinking arteries of transit can be laid. This might be called “infrastructure as support” (like a craddle, or sub-structure).

Of course, the notion of “sub-structure” is not foreign territory for sociologists. In fact, in numerous lines of scholarship far outside of sociology, there is a belief that something “real” or “raw” maybe even primordial can be discovered in the depths or beneath. Likewise, there is precedent in nearly any historical analysis, some being executed better than others on this measure, that that which occurs before a given event in need of explanation is often seen as powerfully influencing its later form. In this sense, infrastructrure almost becomes akin to “pre-structure.”

These are sometimes used in infrastructure studies to justify their reason for being done in the first place; some version of “it came before and powerfully shaped X” or “it is beneath and powerfully supports X”. Sometimes these claims are explicit, but often they are more implicit such that were the author, one would imagine, to get a review who writes “why study this at all?” the author would be almost dumbfounded as if to say “duh.”

Now, infrastructure that comes before the system/material it supports, I suspect, operates according to different dynamics as compared to (a) infrastructure that comes after the system/material it supports (i.e., a system that is imposed on pre-existing materials such as security infrastructure developed in response to and not before serial crimes) or (b) infrastructure that support from above rather than below (i.e., a system that is not under us, but on us, although an obvious infrastructureal equivalent of this illudes me now — imagine the infrastructural equivalent of glasses on a human face, which does not support from below, and instead supports on top of or above the person).

Do infrastructure studies suffer from a before-and-under bias? This might be a nice empirical question.

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

One thought on “Intrastructure — before and under?

  1. Okay, I look forward to the future posts; however, I will stick by the idea that somewhere and perhaps by more people that would care to even assume it, people think of infrastructure as the necessary preconditions for the support of a system. I mean this to be of the world of conceptions and conceptualizations..Still, in a more empirical sense, I can appreciate the idea that, for example, dams do not precede water. In fact, dams are often seen as a way to manage low water flows, hence, dams often precede the relative absence of water..So, until next time…


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