Respecifying infrastructures politically and economically

As the British government is getting ready to announce a commitment of £5bn of public funding to a massive investment plan in infrastructures over the next couple of days, I am wondering how infrastructures sometimes are respecified in the redistribution of collective resources. The British government has been cutting back on public sector expenditures in almost all areas, including many types of support that would, I think, be included in sociological notions of infrastructure (like subsidies in transport, communication, education etc.). Now the rationale appears to be that some of that spending has to be redirected in order to attract private investment in infrastructures – while most of the cuts of course have remain as they were (and one immediately suspects more cuts will be forthcoming in order to support the “infrastructure boost”).

This is obviously another demonstration of how the scope of what is deemed a collectively indispensable infrastructure is subject of political spin and generally, I suspect, in any case much narrower than an exploration of instructures in terms of hybrid assemblages (or more broadly in STS terms) would have it. In this case, roads and energy are apparently deemed more essential than the “soft” human infrastructures within the collective, even in a service econony like the UK. Still, there is some discretion taken by policy-makers apparent here in defining the scope of the collectively indispensable more or less broadly. It may be worthwhile in exploring states’ contribution to the maintenance of infrastructures to look specifically at the fringes or gray areas where infrastructure policies are regularly accommodated. Political respecifications are also visible in attempts by interested private actors (investors, entrepreneurs, lobbyists etc.) to accommodate this scope, e.g. in the areas of housing and water mentioned in recent postings, particularly in Kathryn’s Medellín reports.

Conversely, there is also the question of how infrastructures are respecified economically in creating something like an infrastructure sector (as mentioned in the article from the Guardian linked above), i.e. as a type of aggregate market.

What are we to make of such political or economic respecifications (or re-assemblings) of infrastructures? Is it a reasonable strategy of sociological exploration confronting such respecifications be to go for the broadest possible understanding of infrastructures in order to effectively re-frame these more specific remediations? At the moment I feel tempted to say yes – but such a strategy would really beg for at least some kind of respecification that is genuinely sociological – if that can (or should?) indeed be re-assembled.

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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 “Respecifying infrastructures politically and economically

  1. No definite idea yet on the sector bit, I am afraid.Nicholas: I like your intuition about sectors being sort of rallying points drawing in different interests rather than just economic ones which I didn’t consider initially. I thought more in the direction of marketplace and portfolio share but I am not so sure now. Sectorialization should be worth a look, both empirically and conceptually.Kathryn: Yes, I had your last couple of posts in mind. I guess we may as social scientists be somewhat more likely to be sympathetic to broader definitions of infrastructures congenial to the ones of activists who try to include "softer" elements and interests. From an STS perspective though we may possibly be eager to additionally bring in a greater share of usually not included non-human interests as well.

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