September 5: Ecologies of Information | Entangled Infrastructures

Network Map, via Esquire

IN-CLASS ACTIVITY: We’ll break into groups to create forensic diagrams of some of the case studies below; we’ll map the myriad actors and connections within their information ecologies. Please bring a laptop, if you have one! I’ll bring the craft supplies!


Models and Metaphors:

  • Benjamin Bratton, “The Black Stack,” e-flux 53 (March 2014).
  • Excerpts from Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, “Introduction: An Overview of the Knowledge Commons” in Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, eds. Hess and Ostrom (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007): 3-14 [stop at “The Knowledge Ecosystem…”]
  • Consider: what other spatial or conceptual models do we commonly use to make sense of our information “ecologies”? Nets, rhizomes, clouds….

Aestheticizing Information Ecologies:

Case Studies: Choose two one to read about before class; think about the human, institutional, and non-human actors, hardware, software, protocols, sites of practice, flows, and other entangled infrastructures that compose them, and the cultures and ecologies that supply and sustain them:[1]

What other “epistemic communities” or “belief networks” might lend themselves to network mapping? Various conspiracy circles? Supply chains?

Consider also historical information ecologies, like those that Alejandra Dubcovsky describes in the early colonial American South, where, in the days before postal systems and printing presses, oral networks – composed of spies, scouts, traders, missionaries, couriers, hunting parties, shipwrecked sailors, captured soldiers, fugitive slaves – linked together Native American, African, and European communities (Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

A bit too complicated to map in class, but worth thinking about: USGS Earth Explorer (database of declassified US government satellite imagery, aerial photos, and LANDSAT imagery), the Smithsonian/Museum of Natural History Field Book Project (gathering and digitizing field books in various institutions’ collections), and Palantir (secretive data company with interests in counter-terrorism, predictive policing, espionage-monitoring, etc.).

Mark Lombardi, via PIerogi


Adam Greenfield, “Commoning Systems: Organize, Don’t Jargonize,” Speedbird (January 9, 2016); Shannon Mattern, “A City Is Not a Computer,” Places Journal (February 2017); Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess, “A Framework for Analyzing the Knowledge Commons” in Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, eds. Hess and Ostrom (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007): 41-81.

Thanks to Twitter friends who helped me identify case studies for this exercise!

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