Anna Harris, Postdoctoral Researcher, Technology and Society Studies Department, Maastricht University

Invisible moving matter: A fantastical anthropology of pneuma-tic infrastructure

Pneumatic tubes: George Jetson used them to get to work, Antoine Doinel to send a love letter, and the Ministry of Truth to deliver history needing rewriting. These hidden labyrinths of pipes which transport matter by compressed air or vacuum not only exist in the dreams of cartoonists, filmmakers and science fiction writers, but also engineers of the technological past, present and future. Once traversing the undergrounds of cities for postal delivery or depositing orders on the stock exchange, pneumatic tube networks are nowadays ever increasingly built into the walls, ceilings and basements of hospitals, banks and supermarkets. For despite digitisation, objects still need to be moved from one place to another. In fact, counter-intuitively, pneumatic tubes are more relevant today than ever before. In this seminar I will discuss my ethnographic work to date on this hidden yet ubiquitous infrastructure involved in the movement of matter. I will explore questions driving my research about this technology such as: Why do we still have pneumatic tubes? What are the practices that keep them alive? How do imaginary and actual tubes relate?

All seminars in the series.