[SIGCIS-Members] critical infrastructures/criticality/critical studies/critical theory

JD Fleming jfleming at sfu.ca
Wed Aug 24 09:54:58 PDT 2016

The gate of semantics: Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate! 

It seems to me that we long since passed the point with "critical" where it stopped meaning very much. The point of no return may have been when Frankfurt-school Critical Theory--which was supposed to designate a specific kind of pragmatic socialist socio-economic analysis--got taken over, but then mostly forogotten, by literary theorists. They then started using, and still use, this phrase just to mean "theory of criticism" or "theory done by critics"--"theory," of course, being its own vague stone in a whole other vat of soup. 

In literary departments (lemme tell ya), it is an article of faith that if you put "critical" in front of anything, you then generate a "studies" which (a) gains its validity from the anything in the question, but (b) lends the literary academic power over the latter--the real-world or "foundationalist" activity which is supposed to have to *listen* to the special insight that the literary perspective, supposedly, lends. Basically, this becomes a game played within literary academia itself. No engineer, I dare say, will ever need to give a dam (sorry about that) for critical infrastructure studies. No university administrator will ever explain its benefits to funding agencies or industry. But literary journals will like it; tenures will be achieved by it; talks will be invited on it; usw. 

JD Fleming 

----- Original Message -----

From: "Sharon Traweek" <traweek at history.ucla.edu> 
To: members at lists.sigcis.org 
Sent: Tuesday, 23 August, 2016 16:55:45 
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] critical infrastructures/criticality/critical studies/critical theory 

Just a reminder: we are using a set of words with different meanings developed by different kinds of experts in different sub/fields, some of whom do not know the other meanings, nor why they developed. At least since the 1930s there also have been multiple kinds of territorial 'boundary maintenance' around/within some of those terms by those aware of the various terms and their histories. Some of the multiple meanings, their histories, and their affiliated communities of expertise intersect in some infrastructure studies. 

Here are a few of the distinctions, as drawn by our colleagues writing essays for wikipedia: 
Criticality https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticality 
Criticality index 
Criticality matrix 
Critical theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory 
"... As a term, critical theory has two meanings. with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and political philosophy , while the second originated in literary studies and literary theory . ... While they can be considered completely independent intellectual pursuits, increasingly scholars are interested in the areas of critique where the two overlap. ..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory 
Note too the differences between/within modernist, postmodern, and current critical theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory#Postmodern_critical_theory 
See also these links, among others, listed as "subfields" at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory 

    * Critical ethnography 
    * Critical legal studies 
    * Critical management studies 
    * Critical pedagogy 
    * Critical philosophy 
    * Critical psychiatry 
    * Critical psychology 
    * Critical race theory 
    * Cultural studies 

From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Alberts, Gerard [G.Alberts at uva.nl] 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 3:27 PM 
To: Thomas Haigh; 'Lori Emerson' 
Cc: members at lists.sigcis.org 
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Call for Ideas! 

Eh, but Tom, aren't getting off on a tangent here? 
I agree with Brian that "critical" in this context is an adjective to infrastructures, not to the study of it -even if we do not have to exclude to possibility of a critical theory of infrastructures. Infrastructures were deemed critical by those who observed that the breakdown of such infrastructures would bring the whole of society to a standstill. I would think, the high voltage power networks were the key example. Whether the expression "critical infrastructure" was brought into the debate by military strategists, political scientists, anthropologists or by those building the networks, I do not know. Interesting historical question. Of equal interest is when and by whom IT-infrastructures were considered so crucially important, that they were called "critical". Gerard 
From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Brian Randell [brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk] 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 3:22 PM 
To: Thomas Haigh 
Cc: members at lists.sigcis.org 
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Call for Ideas! 
Hi Tom: 

In the research communities I inhabit the meaning that would be attached to “critical infrastructure studies” is “studies of critical infrastructure” not “critical studies of infrastructure”. 

Further, “critical infrastructure” typically concerns "critical national infrastructure”, such as the electricity grid - see http://www.cpni.gov.uk/about/cni/ or on your side of the Atlantic - https://www.dhs.gov/what-critical-infrastructure 

As regards the word “infrastructure”, here is a summary explanation that I and my computer science colleagues have used: 

•Infrastructure is by definition reusable by different individuals/organizations for different purposes on different occasions. 
•Not all of these uses are known to, or even the concern of, the designer(s) of the infrastructure who must create something which will respond to and support uses that have not yet been conceived. 
•Infrastructures need to be capacity engineered - so that the amount of resource can be changed to meet current and expected demand. 
•Over-deployment endangers the supplier, under-deployment frustrates the user. 
•One organization’s system often becomes another organization’s infrastructure. 


From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of Thomas Haigh [thomas.haigh at gmail.com] 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 2:42 PM 
To: 'Lori Emerson' 
Cc: members at lists.sigcis.org 
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Call for Ideas! 

I don’t think critical adds a whole lot to “infrastructure studies.” It has some usefulness in formulations like “critical management studies” (a thing in Northern Europe but no so much in the US) as management scholarship is usually uncritical in every sense of the word. So “critical” demarcates a scholarly community deliberately taking a unorthodox approaches to challenge the assumptions of the field. http://www.criticalmanagement.org/content/about-cms 

But science studies, STS, media studies, etc. manage to embrace a variety of socially and culturally informed perspectives without their practitioners needing to add the “critical” in front of them. Adding “critical” might be seen as a challenge to those currently embracing “infrastructure studies” as a scholarly identity. There’s also the question of whether “critical” means critical as in “critical thinking” or as in “critical theory,” and while critical theory certainly has a place among other approaches in the study of infrastructure not everyone would feel comfortable with the suggestion that it should be elevated over approaches grounded in STS, history, sociology, anthropology, etc. 

Best wishes, 


_____________________________ ________________ 

From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Lori Emerson 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 1:39 PM 
To: Paul N. Edwards <pne at umich.edu> 
Cc: Dag Spicer <dspicer at computerhistory.org>; members at lists.sigcis.org 
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Call for Ideas! 

Dear all, I just wanted to thank you for sending in these great resources for infrastructure studies - I came across the term "critical infrastructure studies" a couple months ago and got quite excited about how it seemed more expansive and more useful for describing my projects on labs and the pre-history of the internet than either "media archaeology" or just "media studies." But now I wonder what the extra "critical" denotes since there's a somewhat well established field already of I.S.? Any thoughts? 

yours, Lori 

This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org 

J ames Dougal Fleming 
Associate Professor 
Department of English 
Simon Fraser University 

Burnaby -- British Columbia -- Canada. 

"And what is your destiny, if I may ask?" 
-- Ibsen, The Wild Duck 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20160824/dd17689c/attachment.htm>

More information about the Members mailing list