Detailed information about the course

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Infrastructure and Life


June 15-17


Zarina Urmanbetova, UNIFR

Björn Reichhardt, UNIFR

Prof. Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, UNIFR


Prof. Tina Harris, University of Amsterdam



Although roads, dams, power lines, airports, server farms and other infrastructures are ubiquitous, until recently they have existed only on the margins of anthropological enquiry. This has changed in the past decade, as the anthropology of infrastructure has become a burgeoning debate within our discipline.


Anthropologists study infrastructure to understand how humans (and also non-humans) engage with technology and the material world around them, and how our lives change in course of the material transformations of our environment. We study how infrastructures inscribe themselves onto and transform the existing power relations, identity politics, and ethnic, 'racial', gender, and economic inequalities. Every infrastructure is a conglomerate of investment capital, the locally- and globally-circulating labourers, knowledges, materials and resources. Anthropologists use infrastructure projects are prisms to study such discourses, regimes and relationships. Mobile and immobile transport infrastructures – roads, airports, planes, oceanic ships – are major pollutants and as such at the center of environmental debates. Also the currently burgeoning 'cloud'-infrastructures, which require the support of huge server farms with their high energy consumption are equally ambiguous in environmental terms.


Though infrastructures are typically thought of as facilitators, some do the opposite. Walls, barbed wires, surveillance cameras are there to trace and block the undesired subjects: refugees, unregistered migrants, political opposition. In the pandemic, the role of transport infrastructure as facilitators of global travels of viruses and other invisible forms of life has become highly visible. On the other hand, the pandemic shone the light on hospitals and schools as critical societal infrastructures. Reflecting on infrastructures in academia can be fruitful too: how is knowledge organized? what kind of publishing infrastructures are there? what do they enable and what do they prohibit us from doing? The time when infrastructure was simplistically considered the tool of "development" and "progress" is definitely over. It has been interestingly theorized and social scientists have been very successful in demonstrating its complexity and ambiguity.


This module should be of interest to doctoral researchers who focus on the questions of (im)mobility, migration, human-environmental relations, the Anthropocene, multispecies or human-animal relations, the built environment, technology, and anthropological methodology, among others. It is expected that 6-8 workshop participants will present papers based on their research. Key literature on recent developments in infrastructure studies will be provided well ahead to facilitate the collective reflection on the papers. The peers, the team of the research project 'ROADWORK: An Anthropology of Infrastructure at China's Inner Asian Borders' ( and two invited guests (Prof. Tina Harris, University of Amsterdam and Prof. Ashley Carse, Vanderbilt University) will provide feedback on the papers and discuss their own research. A visit at the hydro-power plant at Lago di Lei or another infrastructure project in Graubünden will round up the workshop.


Readings will be communicated in mid-May 2022.


Juf (Graubünden)



Deadline for registration 01.06.2022
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