"politics from below" vs. the "politics from the side" in infrastructure studies

For many of us, the “infra” in infrastructure denotes a relatively straightforward image of “something below,” in this case, a structure below, which is usually conceptualized as a supporting or facilitating structure that allows other practices, events, etc. to “happen” or “take place.” Hence, infra equates to below, if sensitized to issues of hiearchy (rather than, say, scale or functionality). I wrote about this here.

The problem is, many of us are, as Hendrik put it, “flat-earthers,” meaning that we have adopted a lateral perspective in our research, mainly, as a matter of principle. Latour is probably one of the most famous proponents of this “view” that challenges hierarchy at every turn, and this argument is made well enough in his 2005 book.Hence, “flat-earthers” reject issues of hierarchy as being in any way hierarchical.

I present these choices as binary, meaning if you elect one you cannot select the other. You must choose either a hiearchical or laternal perspective. To some extent, they are contradictory comments on reality (or perspectives) because “politics from the side” (i.e., assuming a lateral world) rejects any preordained notions of hierarchy, above as well as below (i.e., “politics from below” or assuming a hierarchical world). The only alternative, I posited, “would be a position where one argues that infrastructure is “made to be below” through lateral practices.”

This solution, which I posted moments ago on Hendrik’s post, was that we could turn “politics from below” into the research question for a scholar committed to “politics from the side” and turn hierarchy in to what has to be explained instead of what we assume a priori. This is one way to change the view of “politics from below” vs. the “politics from the side” into “politics from below” as the “politics from the side” in infrastructure studies

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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 “"politics from below" vs. the "politics from the side" in infrastructure studies

  1. Same hmmm here. Perhaps let infrastructure be infrastructure and make a bigger point on why it is designated as below. I am thinking of a post for moving this up-topic.

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