University of Konstanz with view to Mainau Island
University of Konstanz with view to Mainau Island

Research Programme

Transforming Infrastructure

Human life and culture build and depend on infrastructure. However, as numerous crises – for instance recent pandemics, armed conflicts, or severe weather events triggered by accelerating climate change – have shown, technical, economic, and social infrastructures depend on relatively stable political, social, and environmental conditions to endure.

These crises reveal that infrastructures are much more than the nuts and bolts of their material manifestations: among many other things, infrastructures also entail the skills of those operating them and the aspirations of those using (or subverting) them; the burdens of the past and visions of the future inscribed within them; the (in)justices of infrastructural inclusion/exclusion and the ethical issues these raise; and the conditions for the possibility of social and cultural life.

In asking how infrastructures impact our daily lives and how they may be transformed to improve living conditions, the initiative’s members are particularly interested in understanding the transformational dynamics between the often-separated realms of infrastructure and culture. Namely,

  1. how do infrastructures emerge and change over time and space,
  2. how do infrastructures alter their environment, and
  3. how do humans modify infrastructures to meet the demands of the future?

Cultural Perspectives

International and interdisciplinary in scope, the initiative draws on recent theoretical, empirical and critical scholarship on infrastructure to interrogate and complicate the general understanding of the term “infrastructure” as something simply material, technological, and structural, but to instead consider infrastructure as undergirding human sociality itself.

By focusing on infrastructure as both an object and an agent of socio-cultural stability and change, the research initiative offers cultural perspectives as an important supplement to existing infrastructure research in the technical and natural sciences. Moreover, it aims to stimulate disciplines within the humanities and social sciences to reconsider foundational phenomena such as order, governance, materialization, and technology from the perspective of infrastructural approaches. In combining and orienting historiographical, theoretical, empirical, and practical approaches toward a common research goal, the initiative articulates infrastructure as a matter of critical socio-political relevance and public concern. Fostering collaboration within and beyond the humanities, the initiative aims to reconceptualise infrastructure as an innovative tool of analysis and to advance the field of cultural infrastructure studies, with the goal of ultimately deepening the analytical discernment of the humanities as a whole regarding global transformation.