4. Infrastructural Explorations: Embodied encounters with urban infrastructure

Infrastructural Explorations: Embodied encounters with urban infrastructure

W100 | FRIDAY 16 JULY, 14:00-15:30 CEST

Laura Henneke - Goldsmiths, University of London
Louise Rondel - Goldsmiths, University of London

This interactive and participatory session builds on a series of Infrastructural Explorations which we have been co-curating since June 2018.  During these walkshops, we invite participants to consider their embodied and sensorial contact with the infrastructure we encounter in order to cultivate an ‘infrastructural literacy’ (Mattern 2013).  In this, we want to problematise the notion that infrastructure in the global north is hidden until it fails (Graham 2010, Star 1999).  We also want to ask how (and, indeed, if) embodied encounters with infrastructure can engage with questions of power and distributional (in)justice, with the politics of the siting of infrastructure, with its unequal socio-spatial impacts, and with forms of structural violence (Amin 2014, Graham and McFarlane 2015, Latour and Hermant 1998, Star 1999, Tonkiss 2015).

During the Explorations, as we open our sociological imaginations to the city, an emphasis is placed on collective experiences, on unexpected encounters, and on happenstance conversations.  We consider the methodological potential offered by an open-ended, corporeal, multisensory, and collective attention to infrastructure and its impacts on the urban landscape. We also critically interrogate the ethics of the detached ‘explorer’ asking, alongside Mattern (2013), ‘but then what?’.  Having attuned to the visual, aural, olfactory, and haptic effects on the landscape and the human and more-than-human lives lived there, we further reflect on what these bodily engagements may enable.

As we are unable to meet in person, we have devised a participatory and playful online-offline session inviting delegates to join us in exploring the infrastructure on our doorstep. With the bodily, sensory, and socio-spatial impacts of urban infrastructure in mind, we will send you on a multi-sited scavenger hunt.  Working in teams and within your national Covid-19 guidelines, you can explore your neighbourhood, the street outside your window, or your home to find infrastructure, exchanging reflections on its impacts on urban landscapes as well as on the methodological possibilities and limitations offered by such encounters. Finally in your teams, you will curate an online exhibition to share with the rest of the session.



  • Amin, Ash (2014) ‘Lively Infrastructure’. Theory, Culture & Society 31(7–8): 137–61.
  • Graham, Stephen and Colin McFarlane, eds. (2015) Infrastructural Lives: Urban Infrastructure in Context, London: Routledge.
  • Graham, Stephen, ed. (2010) Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails, London: Routledge.
  • Latour, Bruno and Hermant, Emilie (1998) 'Paris: Invisible City'. Available at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/95
  • Mattern, Shannon (2013) ‘Infrastructural Tourism’, Places Journal. Available at: https://placesjournal.org/article/infrastructural-tourism/
  • Star, Susan Leigh (1999) 'The ethnography of infrastructure', American Behavioural Scientist, 43(3): 377-391.
  • Tonkiss, Fran (2015) ‘Afterword: Economies of infrastructure’, City, 19(2-3): 284-391.