Special Issue on Infrastructural Politics

Call for Papers:

Special Issue of Cultural Studies on Infrastructural Politics

Issue Editors:

Blake Hallinan
Department of Communication
University of Colorado Boulder

James N. Gilmore
Department of Communication
Clemson University

John Durham Peters’ 2015 book The Marvelous Cloudsdevelops the concept infrastructuralism to describe a fascination “for the basic, the boring, the mundane, and all the mischievous work done behind the scenes” that contributes to a sense of the unremarkable (p. 34). Classic studies explored electric power (Hughes, 1988)and transportation systems (Innis, 1950), while more recent academic work has explored the unremarkable systems that have been architected to help sustain and form information technologies, including Nicole Starosielski’s history of undersea cables (2015), Eden Medina’s history of cybernetic systems in Allende’s Chile (2011), and Benjamin Peters’ history of the Soviet Internet(2017). Relatedly, there have been a growing number of calls to recognize the centrality of data for forming subjectivities and organizations of the (Striphas, 2011; van Dijck, 2013; Andrejevic, Hearn and Kennedy, 2015; Pasquale, 2015; Beer, 2016; O’Neil, 2016; Cheney-Lippold, 2017; Tufekci, 2017; Vaidhyanathan, 2018; Bowker, 2018; Noble, 2018; Plantin et al., 2018). These and other studies demonstrate that significant attention needs to be paid to the design and implementation of material and immaterial data infrastructures, infrastructures that help make possible the production, dissemination, and circulation of culture.

Infrastructure is never simply a neutral conduit or platform; it always has a politics, shaping the arrangements of power and authority in human associations and the activities within those arrangements (Winner, 1986). Generally, the point of infrastructure is to be constructive and supportive, but what exactly is being constructed and supported is not always so readily apparent. As work on socio-technical systems has shown, understanding the significance of technology requires attention to the technology itself but also to the ways technology enrolls people, places, systems, and interests. This broader understanding of the politics of platforms has been adopted by academic researchers (Gillespie, 2010, 2017), while simultaneously animating the aspirations of many leading technology companies—consider Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of creating a global community atop the foundation of Facebook as a prominent example (Zuckerberg, 2017; Swisher, 2018). Understanding, for instance, the construction of social networking sites alongside communities connects arrangements of data to arrangements of power and draws attention to related issues of ownership, access, transparency, accountability, accuracy, justice, and control, and how these arrangements shift over time and across contexts (Bowker and Star, 1999; Couldry and van Dijck, 2015; Pasquale, 2015; Peters, 2015, p. 2; van Doorn, 2017).

We seek contributions for a special issue of Cultural Studies exploring the relationships between data, infrastructure, and politics, and how those relationships affect the study of culture. Cultural Studies can significantly address and engage the growing challenges of such a “constructive politics of infrastructures.” Cultural Studies’ investment in the articulation of politics, culture, and “everything that is not culture” (Thompson, 1961)provides an important—and, to date, underutilized—framework for analyzing the degree to which data, technologies, and infrastructures are rearticulating configurations of power and affecting lived experience.

Potential contributors to this volume should submit a 500-word abstract outlining their object(s) of study, their research approach, and how their potential article draws on and extends the traditions, approaches, and projects of Cultural Studies.

When submitting a proposal, please include name, affiliation, and contact information in the document, and send submissions as a PDF to co-editors Blake Hallinan (blake.hallinan@colorado.edu) and James N. Gilmore (jngilmo@clemson.edu).

Submissions should be received by November 15, 2018 for review. Authors will be notified if proposals are accepted within a month of the deadline. If accepted, full articles will be provisionally due to the special issue editors by July 15, 2019. In order to be deemed publishable in the special issue, all articles will undergo both editorial and blind peer review. All articles must adhere to the formatting requirementsof Cultural Studies to avoid rejection.

Please direct all queries or concerns ahead of submission to both special issue editors.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Infrastructuralism as a way of thinking, distinct from structuralism, post-structuralism, and other relevant intellectual movements
  • Infrastructure’s implications for state politics, elections, protest movements, and other modes of political activism
  • How marginalized groups utilize infrastructure to mobilize resistive politics .
  • How data-based digital technologies challenge the epistemology of media and cultural studies
  • The relationship between network infrastructures and colonization projects around the globe
  • Media ecological studies that position cultural politics alongside environmental issues
  • The infrastructures of emergent surveillance systems, such as Amazon’s facial recognition program
  • How the mundanity of infrastructure relates to larger operations of power and authority


Andrejevic, M., Hearn, A. and Kennedy, H. (2015) ‘Cultural Studies of Data Mining: Introduction’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4–5), pp. 379–394. doi: 10.1177/1367549415577395.

Beer, D. (2016) Metric Power. doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-55649-3.

Bowker, G. C. (2018) How the West was Won by Data. Boulder.

Bowker, G. C. and Star, S. L. (1999) Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Conseqeunces. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2017) We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves. New York: New York Univeristy Press.

Couldry, N. and van Dijck, J. (2015) ‘Researching Social Media as if the Social Mattered’, Social Media + Society, 1(2), p. 205630511560417. doi: 10.1177/2056305115604174.

van Dijck, J. (2013) The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford University Press.

van Doorn, N. (2017) ‘Platform labor: on the gendered and racialized exploitation of low-income service work in the “on-demand” economy’, Information Communication and Society. Taylor & Francis, 20(6), pp. 898–914. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1294194.

Gillespie, T. (2010) ‘The politics of “platforms”’, New Media and Society, 12(3), pp. 347–364. doi: 10.1177/1461444809342738.

Gillespie, T. (2017) ‘Governance of and by platforms’, forthcoming in Sage Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burges, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick.

Hughes, T. P. (1988) Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Innis, H. (1950) Empire and Communications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Medina, E. (2011) Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics In Allende’s Chile. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Noble, S. U. (2018) Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racims. New York: New York Univeristy Press.

O’Neil, C. (2016) Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown Publishers.

Pasquale, F. (2015) ‘The Black Box Society’. doi: 10.4159/harvard.9780674736061.

Peters, B. (2017) How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviety Internet. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Peters, J. D. (2015) The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Plantin, J. C. et al.(2018) ‘Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook’, New Media and Society, 20(1), pp. 293–310. doi: 10.1177/1461444816661553.

Starosielski, N. (2015) The Undersea Network. Durham: Duke University Press.

Striphas, T. (2011) The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. New York: Columbia University Press.

Swisher, K. (2018) ‘Zuckerberg: The Recode interview’, Recode, 18 July.

Thompson, E. P. (1961) ‘The Long Revolution – Review’, New Left Review, May-June(9).

Tufekci, Z. (2017) Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2018) Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winner, L. (1986) The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Zuckerberg, M. (2017) Bulding Global Community, Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/building-global-community/10154544292806634/ (Accessed: 12 April 2018).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s