Radical Infrastructures For and Through the Humanities

I am happy to announce that last week we submitted a proposal for a six-year research program on the humanities and infrastructure (to a Swedish funding agency).

I am the PI and Pelle Snickars, Umeå University, is the assistant PI. We are humble and delighted to be working with the following scholars in the proposed program: Gargi Bhattacharyya (University of East London), Isabelle Dussauge (Uppsala), David Theo Goldberg (UCHRI), Vendela Grundell (Stockholm/Goldsmiths), Ursula Heise (UCLA), Jacob von Heland (KTH), Natalie Jeremijenko (NYU), Cecilia Lindhé (Gothenburg), Todd Presner (UCLA), Matt Ratto (Toronto), Erica Robles-Anderson (NYU), Linus Salö (KTH) and Sverker Sörlin (KTH).

Here is a brief description of the proposed research program:

Radical Infrastructures For and Through Humanities (RIFTH)

The global challenges– the financial meltdown, climate and environmental change, etc. – create a new impetus for scholarship to address the pressing problems of our time. The challenges are getting increasingly complex and are rooted in social, cultural, and historical conditions, and the humanities are being seen as an untapped source of knowledge. The humanities have responded to some degree through new areas such as environmental humanities. At the same time, we see an expanding general interest in infrastructure, ranging from national road systems and research tools to Google and Facebook. Such infrastructure is technological, but also cultural and social, and closely related to the challenges described above. The humanities, however, have shown limited interest in infrastructure as something that can be changed.

The research program puts infrastructure at the center for the development of the humanities, and suggests that the humanities have the capacity to challenge, resist and reshape infrastructures, both academic and civic, and that this can be part of making new scholarship possible and designing human infrastructure. The program, which brings together 15 researchers from 10 disciplines in four countries, sets out to do so through critiquing infrastructure, making experimental interventions and new scholarship, and imagining what the humanities can be and how humanistic infrastructure building together with others can make the world a better place.

Two sets of infrastructural engagement are central for the RIFTH response. First, infrastructure is what we are embedded in, what we need to study to understand our own knowledge production and ourselves, what needs to be systematically critiqued (both academic and civic infrastructure), and what humanists need to critique as a frame (what are the limits and challenges of infrastructure thinking and making?). Second, infrastructure is also what can be challenged, negotiated and (re-)built, what can be designed to think through and with (epistemic machinery), and what can inspire us to imagine and enact what the humanities can be. For RIFTH, these two sets of engagement are co-dependent and overlapping, and necessary for designing and creating academic and civic infrastructure.

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