Infrastructural relics and ruins, or: is durability a good thing?

Since the old times of “inscription research” or maybe even longer one of the main frameworks for analyzing the social and cultural shaping of technology, infrastructure and socio-technical arrangements is build on the idea that material enactments of ideological or normative patterns are at least adding one specific (mostly valuable, sometimes problematic) feature to these otherwise quite instable phenomena: Technology is society made durable (Latour 1991). This “Durabilty Bias” has made its way straight from Winners “Moses´ Bridges” to Latours´ “Sleeping Policeman” 


When I walked the streets of Athens last summer and especially the modern ruins of the 2004 Olympic Games stadium complex I started thinking about an interesting issue of that durability bias that emerges once you turn the problem upside down. All these massive and nearly unused buildings, the immense work of finding (valuable?) ways of reusing this wasteland of steel and concrete – it appeared to me that it is not a case of creative appropriation, but that the sheer stability of this infrastructural setting localized in a greek suburb is creating the need for keeping it maintained and used (and if only in trivial ways). The backside of infrastructural stability seems to be that relics and ruins of abandoned infrastructure are just not going away, their stability is a problem, not a sollution.


What if that is far more common issue? We all know about some similar effects: technological pathways for example or technological and institutional lock-ins. But the issues we decribe with that concepts have one thing in common: The are still with us (like the QWERTY keyboard) and we want to explain why other arrangements are not accepted. But if we start searching for lefovers, ruins and abandonded technologies and infrastructures…what could we learn from them? Are we living in a world littered with of institutional waste?

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About Jan

Jan studied Sociology, Political Sciences and Computer Science. As a Research Group Leader at the MCTS in Munich he connects Sociological Theory and Science and Technology Studies by working on problems of social structure and infrastructures, human and non-human agency and discourse and material culture.

2 thoughts on “Infrastructural relics and ruins, or: is durability a good thing?

  1. Pingback: Infrastructuring the City (and its Leftovers) | Installing (Social) Order

  2. I am actually kind of in-love with the idea of derelict Olympic stadiums. There is some interesting literature. I’m going to post it in a new comment, but here is the jist: .Mega-events like the Olympics make sense because they increase foreign trade; however, we’re more interested in the buildings and their durability, which makes the short-term trade increases, but long-term civil engineering problems.


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