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CCA 2019 – Materials and Media of Infrastructure

Rafico Ruiz and I are co-chairing a double-panel at the Canadian Communication Association this year called Materials and Media of Infrastructure:

Infrastructures are increasingly at the forefront of critical communication studies. Rather than remaining in the operational background that subtends our contemporary digital landscape, these infrastructures establish “the rules governing the space of everyday life” (Easterling 2014), emerging as integral “chokepoints” (see Limn issue 10, 2018) that reveal the varied materials that both make up and travel across them. Whether oil pipelines or the infrastructures of the newsprint industry, examining the materials, materialities, and media of infrastructural arrangements allows for a better understanding of the social, political and cultural configurations that they make possible. Functioning in this way as logistical media (eg. Durham Peters), these visible and invisible infrastructures ultimately shape the movements and mediations of data and information.

This double panel seeks to explore the relationships between materials and logistical politics by examining the ways in which infrastructures enact particular forms of mediation that are enabled and constrained by their varied material properties and affordances. Focused case studies extending across two panels provide examples for thinking the intersection of communication and infrastructure through this material lens. These include cases on Indigenous oral culture in anti-salmon farm activism in British Columbia; extractive zones as problematic sites in global supply chains and software registry; theories of time-based infrastructure, particularly in postcolonial contexts; salt and paper as infrastructural materials; and anticipatory and emergency infrastructures in cases on American emergency broadcast test signals and “paper bullets” during World War II. The panelists will collectively interrogate how infrastructural arrangements, and their logistical politics, emerge through practices of material mediation. This is an essential relationship to address for scholars working across environmental media studies, infrastructure studies, and beyond, as it lays bare both the mediating materials of infrastructure and how infrastructures are in turn media that are open to forms of contest that push against established regimes of use and signification that are often tied to networks of extractive capitalism.

Panelists and papers:

  • Hannah Tollefson, Subsurface logistics: infrastructural mediation in the Golden Triangle
  • Chris Russill, Bunkering Infrastructure: Oil, Extraction, and Politics in the Anthropocene
  • Shirley Roburn, Salmon Songs: Oral culture acting ‘infrastructurally’ in anti-salmon farm activism in the Pacific Northwest
  • Rob Shields, Time Infrastructure: The Lesson of a Covered Bridge, Wakefield, Quebec
  • Ghislain Thibault, Speaking from the Air: Paper Bullets, War and Aerial Media
  • Andy Kelleher Stuhl, Acoustic Infrastructure: The Sounds and Politics of Emergency Radio Tests
  • Liam Cole Young, Salt: Fragments from the History of a Medium
  • Aleksandra Kaminska & Rafico Ruiz, Paper Infrastructure: The Bowater Papers, 1950-58
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