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Infrastructures of Social Change

We explore the infrastructural dynamics and the material dimensions of social relations and address the fluidity and elasticity of social life by incorporating material processes into our understanding of organizational or systemic form and social change.

Convenor: Prof Penny Harvey

We are living in a time when infrastructures are being held up as both the causes and the solution to problems of social dislocation, economic stagnation, and national security. Yet evaluations of the impact of infrastructural change often belie the ‘infrastructural’ interplay between technical, material and social relations through which change comes about.

Instead, evaluative methodologies frequently depend on the creation of a neat division between projects of intervention and the contexts which they set out to transform, with the effect that many of the social, political, economic and material transformations that infrastructural projects bring about are rendered undetectable, unrecognised, and unmanageable.

Researchers in this research theme are working to develop approaches that are capable of recovering the extended social transformations that infrastructures participate in bringing into being.

Previously organised under the heading 'Topologies of Social Change' our research analyses processes of social/infrastructural change by paying attention to the way in which change emerges through an interplay between technologies, materials and social imaginaries.

Building on research with a wide range of partners: from engineers, planners, and policy makers who are devising methods of bringing about and accounting for infrastructural change; to activists and artists who are reimagining society through alternative renderings of infrastructural relations, Theme 4 researchers are developing methodological and theoretical approaches that look to extend our understanding of infrastructural relations and their implications for engaging the socially transformative effects of projects of infrastructural change.

Key research questions

Cityscape at night

Exploring the social transformations that infrastructures participate in bringing into being.