September 4: Ecologies of Information: Entangled Infrastructures

Network Map, via Esquire

IN-CLASS ACTIVITY: We’ll break into groups to create forensic diagrams of an information ecology; we’ll map its actors, connections, and relations. I’ll bring the craft supplies!


What models and metaphors have we used to describe the structures and functions of our knowledge systems?:

  • Infrastructure: Susan Leigh Star, “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” American Behavioral Scientist 43:3 (1999): 377-91.
  • Stack: Benjamin Bratton, “The Black Stack,” e-flux 53 (March 2014).
  • Commons: 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 systems? Ecologies, nets, rhizomes, clouds…?

Aestheticizing Information Ecologies (which is what we’ll be practicing in class today):

Forensic Research:

  • In last week’s class we’ll have chosen a case study – a single complex information system – for today’s diagramming activity.  [8/28 Update! We’ve decided collectively to focus on two cases: the Alt-Right Web and the Internet Archive, and each of you committed to focus on one or the other.] To prepare for this activity, we’ll all need to do some background research on our chosen case: do a super-quick skim through some academic articles and books, review recent news, peruse the tech press, etc. We’re not all going to read the same materials – and that’s kind-of the point; we want to distribute our labor and cover a vast terrain. Please keep track of what you review, and bring a source list to class.Try to get a sense of the human, institutional, and non-human actors, hardware, software, protocols, and other entangled infrastructures that compose this information system, and the cultures and ecologies that supply and sustain it. Yeah, that’s a lot of mixed metaphors.

Mark Lombardi, via Pierogi


Digital Equity Laboratory, Take It Or Leave It: How NYC Residents Are Forced to Sacrifice Online Privacy for Internet Service (The New School, March 19, 2018); Adam Greenfield, “Commoning Systems: Organize, Don’t Jargonize,” Speedbird (January 9, 2016); Shannon Mattern, “A City Is Not a Computer,” Places Journal (February 2017); Zack Lischer-Katz, “Studying the Materiality of Media Archives in the Age of Digitization: Forensics, Infrastructures, and Ecologies,” First Monday 22:1/2 (January 2017); Shannon Mattern, “Stacks, Platforms + Interfaces: A Field Guide to Information Spaces” Pratt Institute, New York, ACRL Conference, Baltimore, Yale School of Architecture, New Haven, March 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.

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