Does "infrastructure" automatically imply multiplicity?

No doubt, Annamarie Mol’sThe Body Multiple (Duke University Press, 2002) helped me to fully comprehend the implications of ontological “multiplicity” (as an alternative to singular epistemological truth), more so, by far, than even Latour’s early (dare I say, seminal) work on what multiplicity would mean for research and theory in science and technology studies.

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Two of her key insights:

1. On the concept of entitivity (which she does not really develop, but it is so central to her argument that we see the term “entity” twice in the opening paragraph of the preface), she writes:

This means that the book comes to talk about a series of different practices. These are practices in which some entitity is being slided, colored, probed, talked about, measured, counted, cut out, countered by walking, or prevented. Which entity? A slightly different one each time. Attending to enactment rather than knowledge has an important effect: what we think of as a single object may appear to be more than one (vii).

2. On how entitivity matters for “ontological politics”, she writes:

If the objects of medicine are enacted in a variety of ways, truthfulness is no longer good enough … [thus] I contributed to theorizing medicine’s ontological politics: a politics that has to do with the way in which problems are framed, bodies are shaped, and lives are pushed and pulled into one shape or another (viii).

These two points, I contend, cannot be applied to infrastructure so simply, and here is why: “the body”, as a concept or a colloquial phrase, grammatically implies a one-ness or singularity. Therefore, when we see a title like “The Body Multiple” we note (as Mol, of course, details) a singular noun with a pluralizing adjective. Can the same be so easily said about other objects? “The <FILL IN THE BLANK>  Multiple”? I am not certain that a “The Infrastructure Multiple” really works as a sensitizing concept for infrastructure studies, despite the vast utility of multiplicity to aid us in rethinking infrastructure. After all, infrastructure is already a singular noun used to describe multiple things/objects.

According to a fast/dirty Google search:

Capture

So, the multiplicity of infrastructure is at once already a part of infrastructure, and yet the vast and multiplicitous network structure of infrastructure occasionally punctuated into a seeming singularity is an idea worth mining.

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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 “Does "infrastructure" automatically imply multiplicity?

  1. I’ll take option one as well, but reject the idea that entitivity is now irrelevant. In fact, I would say it renews my interest in the notion. Why? If we assume relational ontology, then suddenly the seeming entitivity of one thing/object obviously "sourced" from a vast network becomes THE new question to explain rather than the old assumption from yesteryear (which was formerly something to assume rather than justify). After all, some things like bodies or states or organizations appear to be punctuated singularities during particular moment in comparative historical relief … and to understand that, we cannot just say "we,as scholars, simply know better than average people who are so stupid as to think they are observing a body or an organization". My experience observing these issues indicated that individuals oscillate often seamlessly between talking about things as singular and as groupings — the question might be then when and why does one description get deployed, for example, by historians, bloggers, or politicians?

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