Peter Schweitzer, Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Universität Wien

The Affordances of Infrastructure: Examples from Transportation Projects in the Arctic and Other Remote Regions

Transportation infrastructures in remote regions are built rarely to satisfy needs of local residents. On the contrary, these infrastructural developments are often implemented over and against local and regional interests. However, once infrastructure projects have been set into motion, they start displaying significant social and material agency, whether it is through rumors about things to come or through brick and mortar constructions. Thus, among other things, infrastructures overcome and create remoteness.

The affordances of infrastructure in remote regions are often unintended consequences of far-away economic or political considerations. Affordance theory recognizes that what environments or objects offer to humans depends as much on the perceiver of these affordances as on the giver. For infrastructure studies, this means that we need to pay particular attention to how specific groups of people perceive and engage with infrastructure objects and with infrastructure as a process.

This presentation will focus on Arctic case studies because of the author’s regional expertise and because of their “remote” quality. Soviet and post-Soviet examples are particularly relevant in this context, as the Russian North has been defined by a mixture of state-driven development projects and the local necessity to make things work in the absence of assistance from the center for at least the last hundred years.

All seminars in the series.