What is Infrastructure?
A key task of the atelier has been to try and establish a ‘Taxonomy of Infrastructures’, the below outlines our work in progress as we attempt to construct such a taxonomy. Through our initial research and sites visits within Vilnius, we have started to explore what the term ‘Infrastructure’ means, and whats makes an infrastructure? Once you start to look beyond the more obvious manifestations such as roads, pipelines and information networks, it becomes increasingly possible for many different types of interaction, not only the physical, to form an infrastructure.
“Infrastructure exceeds its most obvious forms — the pipes, roadways and rail that often monopolise our imaginaries. Social infrastructures are also built, material, and lasting. Even intimacy is increasingly understood as infrastructural.” Deborah Cohen
To gather our collective thoughts about what makes an infrastructure, we initially worked on a collective mind-map, jotting down different types of infrastructures along with their properties and potentials. From this initial mapping we could start to draw connections between different infrastructures and expand on our own meanings of terms through group discussion.
We have employed a number of different collective and creative methods to explore how this taxonomy will be developed. A number of questions are raised as to how the taxonomy will be structured. Is the taxonomy hierarchical? What takes priority? The ‘Linnaean Taxonomy’, developed by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, formed a pyramidal order used to classify the living species of the world.
Using this approach, the condition of a species is defined by a number of hierarchical categories that either link certain species together or segregate them depending on the properties of the species.
We recognised that to develop our Taxonomy of Infrastructures, we would need to develop a bank of themes or categories that define infrastructures. A number of different terms were extrapolated from our original mind map and then pinned up in a seemingly random order. However, as the process unfolded, it became apparent that we were consciously deciding to group some key themes next to others or separate them out depending on other term locations that had gone before.
Iterative Live Ordering
We continued with this process to try and introduce a hierarchy to the key themes identified. We undertook a series of iterative attempts at pinning up terms one per person, one at a time. This meant that the next person along would react to the themes already in a location and pinned the new theme up re-actively. This developed the idea that some themes were more superior, whilst others were more subordinate.
Taking forward some of the key themes that we deemed to be more inclusive and ‘higher up’ the taxonomic chain, we then addressed the principle of priority. If one was to attempt to classify different types of infrastructure in a similar way to the Linnaean Taxonomy, then forms of infrastructure would need to be organised into taxonomic groups, each group ranked and classified depending on it’s place in the hierarchy.
Scales – A 21st Century Taxonomy
As can be seen in the above example, forcing infrastructures into certain categories becomes quite problematic. There are often cases where different infrastructures or different categories can be seen as more superior to others or lower down the hierarchy and is largely dependent on individual perception or the specific nature of the infrastructure. It is also possible to get further categorising themes that bridge gaps between other headings, such as ethics being linked to both Political and Social Infrastructures.
Due to the almost impossible task of determining whether an infrastructure fits into a certain category or not, we moved away from the traditional taxonomic approach and adopted a more fluid, graded method. It was clear that there were parallels and duality throughout our taxonomy. Where something could be described as fixed, something else was non-fixed. Where something was planned another was spontaneous. It was also possible to argue the severity that an infrastructure belonged to one category or another. Therefore, is a more accurate and comprehensive form of classification to use scales?
Using a set number of dualities, we adopted the scale method. We made conscious decisions to site certain categories on the right hand or left hand of the scale. Here we specified infrastructures and mapped their path through a series of scales from left to right. This allowed an infrastructure to be both ‘fixed’ and equally ‘non-fixed’ with an intermediate zone. Once a number of infrastructures had been mapped, overlaps and intersections started to appear. Could these vertexes and overlays form the new taxonomic groups?
We will continue to develop our Taxonomy of Infrastructures over the coming weeks. Most recently, we are uploading a dictionary that catalogues the key themes and infrastructures we have been exploring as part of our studio work so far. From this, further relationships will be made between infrastructures.
Cowen, D. (2017). Infrastructures of Empire and Resistance. [online] Available at: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3067-infrastructures-of-empire-and-resistance [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].