Starter Kits

rev. 26 March 2022 “starter kits” consist of readings, exhibits, and other materials (plus supporting bibliography) designed to seed research and teaching about infrastructure studies in specific fields or on particular topics. The initial starter kits were developed at U. California, Santa Barbara, by graduate students of Alan Liu on the model of the starter kit on Romantic-era infrastructure studies he developed for a conference event. welcomes contributions by others of starter kits. Starter kits should be focused on some area or topic; can include bibliographies, exhibits of multimedia, and other materials; and should introduce or structure such resources to provide an introductory guide.

  • Rebecca Baker (English, U. California, Santa Barbara)  Broken Infrastructures, Invisible Subjects
    A starter set of resources and a gallery for thinking about how infrastructures are broken, or designed to be broken, for “invisible” people such as the undocumented, homeless, and others. “Thinking of infrastructure as a complex assemblage of technology, I theorize survival itself is a form of techne, a way of “lifehacking” the mainframe of one’s world.”
  • Su Burtner (Geography, U. California, Santa Barbara)  Daylighting Islais Creek through Maps
    A starter kit in the form of a layered GIS map showing how geographical methods can be used to study the “daylighting” phenomenon of resurfacing urban water bodies that have been covered over or redirected. “This Starter Kit is a geographic information science (a mapping) approach to critical infrastructure, and tries to separate out the infrastructural components of a city at the urban-water nexus. The urban-water nexus describes the geographic areas at which humans and water interact. Central to this approach is the consideration of climate change….”
  • Qiaoyu Cai (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) Transpacific Circulation of Cyberpolitical Discourse and the Formation of the ‘Pacific Paradox
    “How might we understand the high-stake bilateral relationship between the United States and China, the world’s two foremost cyberinfrastructure providers and implementors, with their forefront battlefield in AI, 5g infrastructure share, and the Internet of Things, from the perspective of the transpacific circulation, coevolution, and convergence of the cyberpolitical thinking in the last four decades? How might we explain the escalating political, ideational, military tensions in tandem with the deepened socioeconomic and cultural integration between the two countries, the “Pacific Paradox” as Biao Xiang calls it, from the perspective of a “neostatism” that is essentially a Cloud-cum-state thinking, which transforms the representational content of the state?”
  • Carmen Chan (Communication, U. California, Santa Barbara) Social Media as a Social Infrastructure
    A starter kit in the form of a slide deck that analogizes the social “stack” of social media to Benjamin Bratton’s exposition of six levels of the infrastructural — and environmental and sociopolitical — stack of the the internet-age world.
  • Nathan Cox (Film & Media Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) Disney Parks Infrastructure Field Guide
    A starter kit on infrastructural design, media, and enthnographical methods for studying theme parks in the form of a “field guide” to the infrastructure of Disneyland and Disney World. “To begin understanding how infrastructure functions in (and on, and through, and is functioned on by…) the Disney parks, we really need to start at the level of human observation. The relationships between objects, processes, systems and the people that interact with and through them are central to any understanding of how the parks operate both physically and intellectually….”
  • Maria Job (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) Post-colonial Urban Public Transport Infrastructure as Sites of Repair and Resistance
    “This starter kit will be useful to anyone who wants to think about theories of repair/maintenance/care/innovation alongside objects/things that undergo infrastructural/cultural transformation in the postcolonial setting…. I begin by wondering about the broad question: What happened to the machines that were instrumental to colonisation? This question leads me to think specifically about the WWII Willys MB jeeps and its transformation into the Filipino Jeepney.”
  • Surojit Kayal (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) Multispecies Infrastructures
    This starter kit brings two emergent fields into conversation: multispecies studies and critical infrastructure studies. What can they gain from each other? The two fields are natural allies in that they share the same agenda of decentering human exceptionalism…. This starter kit takes seriously the infrastructural question: For whom? It asks: what are the creative and critical zones where the vital and the material meet each other? What happens in those zones? How can we leverage these fluid ontologies to coax into being more just futures?”
  • Ryan Leach (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) Hacking Virtual Worlds: Video Games and Critical Infrastructure Studies
    “How might we re-think game studies in relation to the emergent field of critical infrastructure studies, and vice versa? Further, how might games themselves teach us new ways of understanding, developing, reconfiguring, and even ‘hacking’ infrastructure?… In addition to putting CIS [critical infrastructure studies]] in conversation with game studies, this starter kit assembles what we might loosely categorize as a ‘critical hacking’ genre, in which the user interacts with computational infrastructures that blur the divisions between content and medium, representation and real.”
  • Alan Liu (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) Romanticism and Critical Infrastructure Studies
    “What can a critical infrastructural studies approach to romanticism—one that takes the perspective of materials, structures, systems, and their human and labor impact—allow us to see and think that other methods of reading cannot? If infrastructure, by one common definition, is that which is the ‘invisible’ support of life and death, freedom and constraint, knowledge and work, information and art, and many other facets of modern existence, how can such invisible structures serve as an instrument for making new or other dimensions of romanticism visible?”
  • Yan Liu (East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) The Rise and Fall of Japanese Folk Song Protest Movement: From an Infrastructural Perspective
    “This starter kit zeroes in on two salient moments during the Japanese folk song protest movement: the Folk Guerrillas’ rally at the Shinjuku West Exit Underground Plaza in 1969, and the emergence of the yojōhan music around the early 1970s. In unveiling the infrastructural support such as media technologies, public squares, and traditional Japanese architecture, this project attempts to examine the rise and fall of Japanese folk song protest movementfrom the unique angle offered by critical infrastructure studies.”
  • Yiming Ma (East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) Infrastructure and China Studies
    “There is in fact a wide range of visibility for infrastructure, from invisibility to the spectacle. The pronounced visibility of infrastructure has been an integral part to the modern states whose legitimacy lies in their ability to proffer basic infrastructure for collective living…. In the socialist China, infrastructure is everything all at once: the bright future, the benevolence of the state, the achievement in self-reliance, and the utopian human connectivity hitherto withheld from the workers and peasants. In short, the state’s call for people to become masters of their own lives materializes in its picturing of infrastructure…. However, the tensions between top-down initiative and bottom-up agency persisted throughout the Socialist period of China (1949-1979). The agency infused in infrastructure for a progressive history, ironically, takes the people as its own infrastructure.”
  • Cynthia McLeod (Communication, U. California, Santa Barbara) The “Social Life” of Algorithms
    “Developing an infrastructural approach to critical algorithm studies will encourage scholars to look past the ‘broken things.’ Through the lens of infrastructure, we develop an understanding of the fluctuating nature of visibility and invisibility inherent within the algorithm as well as its inherent opacity. A concentration on the mundane, and not solely the phenomena of brokenness, can guide us toward questions that acknowledge human agency and discredit technological inevitability. With this knowledge, we can begin to ask questions such as: Is the thing itself truly broken? Or rather, have algorithms simply ‘sunk into’ the systems of discrimination that their creators emerge out of?”
  • Kelsey Moore (Film & Media Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) The Japanese American Incarceration & Critical Infrastructure Studies
    “This starter kit introduces … the infrastructural underpinnings of the Japanese Incarceration camp by way of its construction, daily operations, and eventual preservation. Included texts introduce the historical and discursive ties between various New Deal agencies, racialized detention, and infrastructural labor implemented as a means of ‘democratization’ and surveillance…. [In] conjunction with representations of planning, construction, and maintenance performed under detainment, these texts encourage users to (re)consider the operative logics of both bureaucratic process and infrastructure itself.”
  • Daniel Oshiro (Ethnolomusicology/Music, U. California, Santa Barbara) Voicing Critical Infrastructures
    “[A]n infrastructural approach that examines the contours of whose voice moves from ‘noise’ to ‘speech’ reveals the ways that things, not yet objects, might produce or hamper processes of subjectivity. How do microphones, analog to digital converters, audio processing technologies, and platforms contribute to cataloging some voices, but not others? Who are the subjects these infrastructures seek to archive? How do archives of sound become a site for the thingification of subject’s voices? How can networks of power be rendered visible through the invisibility, or inaudibility, of the voice? This starter kit seeks to provoke questions about how infrastructures of voicing and listening render legible the subject, distinct from things or objects.”
  • Megan Reilly (Film & Media Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) Infrastructural Approaches to Streaming Media Cultures
    “This starter kit considers what can be gleaned by adopting an infrastructural approach to streaming media cultures, thinking across streaming industries to engage with the uneven maps of streaming infrastructures created by corporations and researchers. Focusing on streaming video and streaming music, this starter kit concentrates in particular on case studies of Netflix and Spotify… [The texts and representations of streaming infrastructure included in this kit] begin to sketch an approach that cuts across industrial and disciplinary boundaries, and which could prove fruitful in relation to other streaming cultures, including livestreaming, online multi-player gaming, Esports, and user-generated media distribution.”
  • Miguel Penabella (Film & Media Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) Circulating Cinema(goers): Philippine Cinema and Critical Infrastructure Studies
    “Beyond simply thinking of the narrative and thematic content of individual films, how does an infrastructural approach to film and media studies allow us to see cinema differently, and how such media is distributed, received, and consumed? Taking the idea that infrastructure becomes interesting and visible upon its breakdown and collapse, how can film scholars rethink the historical development of Philippine cinema not in terms of its cinematic output, but as it’s shaped by its broken, crumbling, and haunted cinematic infrastructures?”
  • Christina Roberts (History, U. California, Santa Barbara) Knowledge Infrastructures
    “I use the theory of Knowledge Infrastructures to help organize and describe my historical research project about the National Aerospace and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) traveling science education program, the Spacemobile, c. 1961-2015…. To date, I have identified at least four layers of networked interest groups involved in the history of NASA’s Spacemobile program.”
  • Leila Stegemoeller (English, U. California, Santa Barbara) The Ambient Infrastructure of George Eliot’s Middlemarch
    “This starter kit seeks to not only illuminate areas where infrastructural elements enter the narrative imagination of Middlemarch, but to explore the ways in which critical infrastructure methodology can expand the literary critic’s conception of Victorian realist fiction…. The idea invoked in the title — that infrastructure can be ambient in a novel, which I use instead of Eagleton’s marginal, derives largely from John M. Picker’s observation that the central metaphor of Middlemarch, the ‘roar on the other side of silence,’ is symptomatic of a cultural shift towards close listening which arose with infrastructural changes of the time.”
  • Amaru Tejeda (Film & Media Studies, U. California, Santa Barbara) Mediating Infrastructures
    “This starter kit introduces users to some of the concerns within critical media infrastructure studies, particularly in terms of what Rahul Mukheerjee describes as a mediating infrastructures approach. This kit is designed to provide users with a set of conceptual tools that can be used to analyze new and underexamined infrastructural case studies.”