Symposium “Promise and failure of infrastructure: technologies in everyday life” – COCA2022

We invite you to participate in the Symposium “Promise and failure of infrastructure: technologies in everyday life at the 2nd Catalan Anthropology Congress, which will take place on January 27, 28 and 29, 2022 in Girona.

In the traditional approaches in the study of infrastructures these have been presented from a condition of obviousness, articulated in their material dimension, which causes them not to think of themselves as entities with agency to build networks of significance. This symposium points out that addressing the infrastructures themselves unravels the associations that shape the technopolitical processes that are built, relate and condition the one traditionally called “social reality”. We suggest that this perspective is innovative within the Anthropology in Catalonia and is an exploratory field that allows opening spaces for dialogue to theoretical and methodological questions. From our proposal, infrastructures and technologies operate as devices of extensive significance and resembled by a great plurality of actors and entities. Therefore, we want to account for the many opportunities offered by the study of infrastructures and technopolitics in relation to their multidimensional condition. This perspective allows, in the first place, to break with the classical and dichotomous approximations of social processes. And secondly, to demonstrate the political processes, the construction of knowledge and demands around infrastructures. Finally, show the constant implications and relationships that infrastructures and technologies have in everyday life.


Since its inception, anthropology has been interested in the relationships of infrastructures with the environment, everyday life and political processes (Anand, Appel, Gupta, 2018). Finisecularment, infrastructures become the object of study with their own entity (Bowker & Star, 2000; Star & Ruhleder, 1996; Star, 1999). In view of this, it is based on the definition of Brian Larkin (2013:328) who understands infrastructures as “built networks that facilitate the flow of goods, people or ideas and allow their exchange through space.” The condition of obvious infrastructures, articulated in their material dimension, often means that they are not addressed from a critical perspective. Moreover, they do not think of themselves as an entity from which politics translates from a rationality to a practice, in all its social, material and political complexity (Humphrey, 2005). However, denoting its multidimensional character allows us to reflect on the social experience associated with the different materialities. These, configured around the actors, institutions, legal regimes, policies and practices of knowledge in constant formation immersed in the various spaialitats and temporalities (Harvey, 2018; Larkin, 2013). This proposal seeks to open up an exploratory and debated field within the Anthropology in Catalonia that allows us to analyse these “social realities” where infrastructure plays a central role. From the working group Urban Periphery of the Catalan Institute of Anthropology (ICA) we propose the symposium “Promise and failure of infrastructure: technologies of everyday life”; Title that refers to the wishes, hopes and aspirations of societies towards infrastructure, as well as their limits and emergencies.

We propose this meeting point, to invite people interested in infrastructure studies in a broad sense. Some approaches from which infrastructure has been addressed have addressed areas such as development planning (Hetherington, 2014); Larkin, 2013; Mitchell, 2002), through mobility and transport systems (Harvey, 2018; Harvey & Knox, 2015) and urban transformation processes (Blok & Farias, 2016; Cowen, 2010; McFarlane, 2010); Government infrastructures (Ferguson 2012; Von Schnitzler, 2016), educational and health equipment (Harris, Keil, 2010; Marvin & Meed, 2010) or service production and distribution centres – water, light, gas, energy, telecommunications – (Luke 2010, Sansi, 2018; Schwenkel, 2018), as well as economic infrastructures (Harvey, 2017), agro-industrial production, mining and land exploitation (Appel, 2012), cultural and artistic production infrastructures (Farias & Wilkie, 2016; Larkin, 2008), up to studies focusing on waste treatment infrastructures (Frederick, 2018). The will of our proposal remains by establishing a debate from those voices that may be interested in these issues. It is vital to think of infrastructures beyond a static and immutable materiality. The study of infrastructures and the technical construction of human environments is an invitation to rethink our reality and to return to the original spirit of anthropology, inviting us to question our place to the world through the associations that societies establish with infrastructures. That is why we raise a central question: What can infrastructure tell us when we stop ignoring it?

The idea of the promise and failure of the infrastructure reflects how they produce in social groups a sense of belonging, demand, success or loss; Which assumes that the infrastructure operates by creating, recognising and subjecting entities from the configuration of publics (von Schnitzler, 2016). Some relevant issues that emerge from here and which we want to explore at the symposium are: How is technology, technology and politics related? What is the role of infrastructure within power hierarchies? What are the social discourses and demands associated with the new and old infrastructures? What are the contradictions that emerge within these processes? What social demands and inequalities are generated from and through infrastructure? Following these questions, we propose the complexification of the study of social realities and everyday life based on the questioning of the absolutist and universalist positions, which it faces today, exist in the social sciences. Promoting, after all, a space for dialogue where various positions can meet, question and build knowledge. In summary, we invite those people who have research proposals, are developing research in the social sciences or who have developed field, ethnographic or filmographic work, framed in the critical study of infrastructures.


Anand, N., Gupta, A., & Appel, H. (Eds.). (2018). The promise of infrastructure. Duke University

Appel, H. (2012). Walls and white elephants: Oil extraction, responsibility, and infrastructural violence in Equatorial Guinea. Ethnography, 13(4), 439-465.

Appel, H. (2018). Infrastructural Time. In N. Anand, H. Appel, & A. Gupta (Eds.), The promise of Infrastructure (pp. 41-61). Duke: Duke University Press.

Blok, A., & Farías, I. (Edits.). (2016). Urban Cosmopolitics Agencements, assemblies, atmospheres. Londond and New York: Routledge.

Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (2000). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. MIT press.

Cowen, D. (2010). Containing Insecurity: Logistic Space, U.S. Port Cities, and the “War on Terror”. En S. Graham (Ed.), Disrupted Cities. Durham: Routledge.

Farías, I., & Wilkie, A. (Edits.). (2016). Studio Studies Operation, topologies and displacements. London and New York: Routledge.

Ferguson, J. (2012). Structures of responsibility. Ethnography, 13(4), 558-562.

Fredericks, R. (2018). Garbage Citizenship Vital Infrastructures of Labor in Dakar, Senegal.  Duke University

Harris Ali, S.. & Keil, Roger.(2010).Securitizing Networked Flows: Infectious Diseases and Airports. En S. Graham (Ed.), Disrupted Cities. Durham: Routledge.

Harvey, P.. (2018). Infrastructures in and out of Time: The promise of Roads in Contemporary Peru. Infrastructural Time. In N. Anand, H. Appel, & A. Gupta (Eds.), The promise of Infrastructure (pp. 41-61). Duke: Duke University Press.

Harvey, P., Jensen, C., & Morita, A. (Eds.). (2017). Infraestructures and Social Complexity A companion. London and New York: Routledge.

Harvey.P. & Knox, H. (2015) Roads: An Anthropology of  Infrastructures.  Cornell University Press.  

Hetherington, K. (2014). Waiting for the Surveyor: development, Promises and the Temporality of Infrastructure. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 195-211.

Humphrey, C. (2005). Ideology in infrastructure: architecture and Soviet imagination. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11(1), 39-58.

Larkin, B. (2008). Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. Duke University.

Larkin, B. (2013). The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure. The Annual Review of Anthropology, 326-343.

Luke, T. (2010). Power Loss or Blackout: The Electricity Network Collapse of August 2003 in North America . En S. Graham (Ed.), Disrupted Cities. Durham: Routledge.

Marvin.S. & Meed, Will. (2010). Clogged Cities: Sclerotic Infrastructure. En S. Graham (Ed.), Disrupted Cities. Durham: Routledge.

McFarlane, C.(2010).Infrastructure, Interruption, and Inequality: Urban Life in the Global South. En S. Graham (Ed.), Disrupted Cities. Durham: Routledge.

Mitchell, T. (2002). Rule Of Experts Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkley: University of California Press.

Sánchez-Criado, T. (2008). Introducción: en torno a la génesis técnica de las ecologías humanas. En T. Sánchez-Criado (Ed.), Tecnogénesis la construcción técnica de las ecologías humanas (Vol. 1, págs. 1-40). Madrid: Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red (AIBR).

Sansi, R. (2018). El Rec Comtal: Infraestructures i imaginari de l’aigua a Barcelona. Recerques, 235-246.

Star, S. L. (1999). The ethnography of infrastructure. American behavioral scientist, 43(3), 377-391.

Star, S. L. & Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: Design and access for large information spaces. Information systems research, 7(1), 111-134.

Schwenkel, C. (2018). The Current Never Stops: Intimacies of Energy Infrastructure in Vietnam. In The promise of infrastructure (pp. 102-130). Duke University Press

Von Schnitzler, A. (2016). Democracy’s infrastructure: Techno-politics and protest after apartheid. Princeton University Press.


Link for presenting communications

Deadline: August 31, 2021

Communications format:
1. Title of the communication

2. Brief summary of 300 words 

3. Name, surname, affiliation and email address of the authors