This Is Not a Fish: On the Scale and Politics of Infrastructure Design Studies
Interconnected workplace information technologies (information infrastructures) are distributed across user and system types, agendas, locales, and temporal rhythms. The term infrastructuring describes the design of information infrastructure not as a bounded phase but as a continuous collaborative and inherently political process. From the perspective of ethnographers, however, this conceptualization presents the practical challenge of dealing with the political work involved in infrastructuring and in its study. In this paper, I discuss the challenges of infrastructuring activities for ethnographic research. Based on a self-revealing account of my three-year ethnographic study of an oil company’s project to design a platform for subsea environmental monitoring in the Arctic region, I discuss how my framing of infrastructuring was the result of my process of constructing the ethnographic field in my research. I combined four mechanisms to scale my ethnographic method to investigate infrastructuring across heterogeneous dimensions. Drawing on my practical experience, I discuss how my process of constructing the field let me discover richer possibilities for understanding the politics involved in the study of infrastructuring.