Dismantling Media Infrastructure
In 2022 I was awarded the prestigious 5-year research fellowship ProFutura Scientia that supports promising early-career scholars in the humanities and social sciences to pursue cutting-edge, curiosity-driven research. The programme is set up by the Swedish Collegium and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. My project is titled “When Communication Networks Come to Die: Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Infrastructural Dismantling” and it is about the politics and experiences that arise at the (un)timely end of life of media infrastructure. It will begin in summer 2023 and continue until summer 2028.
Large scale communication infrastructures, such as roads, railways, telephone, satellite, and fibre optic cable networks have had a central role in shaping understandings of modern living, connectivity, and power. But as analogue networks have switched to digital, and new digital communication infrastructures continue to be rolled out, many ‘older’ networks have been pushed into a state of devaluation, irrelevance, dismantling or decay. These processes are historically not new and can be traced back at least to the abandoned roads and aqueducts of the Roman empire. Yet, their societal and cultural significance remains surprisingly neglected and undertheorized.
This project studies the politics, socio-material practices and lived experiences that arise when communication networks are dismantled, with empirical focus on the ongoing decomissioning of the landline telephone network in Sweden. Opening a new direction in studies of media infrastructures, the project asks, how are social relations sustained by and imbued in infrastructures being torn apart and reconfigured in dismantling? How do these processes refigure understandings of citizenship and of the role of ‘old’ communication networks, in everyday life? How do different actors, such as infrastructural professionals, institutions, and citizens, negotiate and enact communication networks’ dismantling, in practice? What conflicts, controversies and tensions arise in the process? How are the dismantling processes experienced and negotiated by different publics, and in everyday life? What forms of waste does dismantling generate and what are their social afterlives? How do infrastructural residuals inform everyday life and traverse diverse economies of value?
This project builds on my research on the social afterlives of media production software , data infrastructure dismantling with focus on the end of life of data centers, the ruins and afterlives of “the cloud”, and other media infrastructure.
Related to this project, Marisa Cohn and I are convening a conference panel titled (Un)timely Endings: Negotiating Sociotechnical relations in their unmaking at the Nordic STS Conference in Oslo in June 2023.