A day of questions, conversations, and creative interventions

On June 6th, an interdisciplinary group of early career researchers and doctoral students were invited to join a one-day symposium at 68 Middle Street in Brighton.

The event focused on questions of how to research infrastructures in troubled times. After some informal introductions, Derek McCormack, University of Oxford, started us off with his keynote. He used the materiality and metaphor of balloon release to explore less visible, affective dimensions of infrastructures and how these acts transform lifeworlds, foregrounding the role of collective experiences of grief, and asking “what it means to let go of that which might not be able to be held”. Afterwards, discussant Leila Dawney from the University of Brighton encouraged us to take some questions with us through the day, such as:

  • What does it mean to “think infrastructurally”, to “expand the concept of infrastructure” beyond visible material manifestations?
  • Is there a “residual humanism” in our focus on infrastructures?
  • How can we intermesh affective and socio-technical ways of understanding infrastructures?
  • What is meant by troubled times? troubled for whom?

Participants carried these questions with them in the world café sessions and workshops that followed.

“The opportunity to engage with people and really talk about the issues raised throughout the day facilitated a greater level of interest and reflection than conventional conferences.”

The idea to run this symposium as a world café was our attempt to move away and deconstruct the infrastructure of typical conference formats to allow creativity and to build connections across disciplines. Throughout the day, we explored forms of thinking about infrastructures beyond the socio-technical perspective, looking at infrastructures from different perspectives such as gaming, imagination, materialities, ways of knowing, power and everyday practices, labour and livelihoods, and the state (see the full programme for more details).

Some questions coming out of the final plenary discussion included: how far do we want to expand the concept of infrastructure while still keeping its meaning? How can we ensure we connect the way we conceptualise and visualise/represent/perform infrastructures? Are infrastructures always violent?

We also discussed the need for feminist and decolonial readings of infrastructure, and for experimental research practices, where we (researchers and scholars) not only attend to ways of conceptualising infrastructures, but also to the kinds of infrastructures we make use of and get intertwined with when communicating ideas and research findings.

To get a feel of the event dip into the symposium podcast which brings together the main ideas and discussions of the day, including more detail from the keynote, world café sessions and discussion.

With thanks to the organisers Judith Römhild-Raviart, Lorenza Ippolito, Elona Hoover, Kate Monson, and Shai Kassirer, and to the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics and Brighton Responsible Futures research initiative for hosting the event.

The podcast was produced by Charanpreet Khaira, Amna Usman and the event organisers.