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Article

Gail Radford

Public authorities are agencies created by governments to engage directly in the economy for public purposes. They differ from standard agencies in that they operate outside the administrative framework of democratically accountable government. Since they generate their own operating income by charging users for goods and services and borrow for capital expenses based on projections of future revenues, they can avoid the input from voters and the regulations that control public agencies funded by tax revenues. Institutions built on the public authority model exist at all levels of government and in every state. A few of these enterprises, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, are well known. Thousands more toil in relative obscurity, operating toll roads and bridges, airports, transit systems, cargo ports, entertainment venues, sewer and water systems, and even parking garages. Despite their ubiquity, these agencies are not well understood. Many release little information about their internal operations. It is not even possible to say conclusively how many exist, since experts disagree about how to define them, and states do not systematically track them. One thing we do know about public authorities is that, over the course of the 20th century, these institutions have become a major component of American governance. Immediately following the Second World War, they played a minor role in public finance. But by the early 21st century, borrowing by authorities constituted well over half of all public borrowing at the sub-federal level. This change means that increasingly the leaders of these entities, rather than elected officials, make key decisions about where and how to build public infrastructure and steer economic development in the United States

Article

The development of information infrastructures that make ecological research data available has increased in recent years, contributing to fundamental changes in ecological research. Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the subfield of Infrastructure Studies, which aims at informing infrastructures’ design, use, and maintenance from a social science point of view, provide conceptual tools for understanding data infrastructures in ecology. This perspective moves away from the language of engineering, with its discourse on physical structures and systems, to use a lexicon more “social” than “technical” to understand data infrastructures in their informational, sociological, and historical dimensions. It takes a holistic approach that addresses not only the needs of ecological research but also the diversity and dynamics of data, data work, and data management. STS research, having focused for some time on studying scientific practices, digital devices, and information systems, is expanding to investigate new kinds of data infrastructures and their interdependencies across the data landscape. In ecology, data sharing and data infrastructures create new responsibilities that require scientists to engage in opportunities to plan, experiment, learn, and reshape data arrangements. STS and Infrastructure Studies scholars are suggesting that ecologists as well as data specialists and social scientists would benefit from active partnerships to ensure the growth of data infrastructures that effectively support scientific investigative processes in the digital era.

Article

Infrastructure systems—sometimes referred to as critical infrastructure or lifelines—provide services such as energy, water, sanitation, transportation, and communications that are essential for social and economic activities. Moreover, these systems typically serve large populations and comprise geographically extensive networks. They are also highly interdependent, so outages in one system such as electric power or telecommunications often affect other systems. As a consequence, when infrastructure systems are damaged in disasters, the ensuing losses are often substantial and disproportionately large. Collapse of a single major bridge, for example, can disrupt traffic flows over a broad region and impede emergency response, evacuation, commuting, freight movement, and economic recovery. Power outages in storms and other hazard events can affect millions of people, shut down businesses, and even cause fatalities. Infrastructure outages typically last from hours to weeks but can extend for months or even years. Minimizing disruptions to infrastructure services is thus key to enhancing communities’ disaster resilience. Research on infrastructure systems in natural hazards has been growing, especially as major disasters provide new data, insights, and urgency to the problem. Engineering advances have been made in understanding how hazard stresses may damage the physical components of infrastructure systems such as pipes and bridges, as well as how these elements can be designed to better withstand hazards. Modeling studies have assessed how physical damage disrupts the provision of services—for example, by indicating which neighborhoods in an urban area may be without potable water—and how disruption can be reduced through engineering and planning. The topic of infrastructure interdependencies has commanded substantial research interest. Alongside these developments, social science and interdisciplinary research has also been growing on the important topic of how infrastructure disruption in disasters has affected populations and economies. Insights into these impacts derive from a variety of information sources, including surveys, field observations, analysis of secondary data, and computational models. Such research has established the criticality of electric power and water services, for example, and the heightened vulnerability of certain population groups to infrastructure disruption. Omitting the socioeconomic impacts of infrastructure disruptions can lead to underinvestment in disaster mitigation. While the importance of understanding and reducing infrastructure disruption impacts is well-established, many important research gaps remain.

Article

Diane Favro

Triumphal arch is the term generally used for an honorific arch (fornix, arcus; ἁψίς, πύλη), one of the most identifiably Roman of building forms. The descriptor is misleading: while arches frequently commemorated military achievements, not all can be linked with triumphs. These memorials also marked the territorial boundaries of cities and provinces, celebrated infrastructure projects such as roads and harbours, and memorialized the achievements of ambitious individuals. Votive associations with temples have been postulated but generally discounted. Simple in form, with one or more arched openings for passage flanked by sturdy piers and topped with a large attic, the honorific arch offered ample space for reliefs, sculptures, and inscriptions conveying directed messages with many, but not all, tied to military achievements. Honorific arches first appeared at Rome in the form of fornices connected with successful generals. Renamed arcus under Augustus, they were applied to the promotion of state values and military expansion as well as the accomplishments of the imperial family. Civic and private examples proliferated, as did particular architectural features: more openings for pedestrian traffic, more lavish embellishments, and a greater range of sizes. Spreading first through Italy, Gaul, and Spain, the form ultimately appeared in every Roman province. Honorific arches were especially popular in North Africa and the eastern provinces, where they served as gates and enriched the experience of urban streets. Punctuating highways in the countryside and harbour works at the shores, arches both explicitly marked regional boundaries and emphasized the Roman ordering of territory and peoples.

Article

Entrepreneurship is a critical driver of economic health, industrial rejuvenation, social change, and technological progress. In an attempt to determine how to best support such an important component of society, researchers and practitioners alike continue to ask why some countries, regions, and cities have more entrepreneurship than others. Unfortunately, the answer is not clear. This question is addressed by focusing on location-based support or infrastructure for entrepreneurship. A framework based on a social systems perspective guides this examination by concentrating on three main categories of infrastructure: resource endowments, institutional arrangements, and proprietary functions. Work from the knowledge-based perspective of entrepreneurship, systems of innovation, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and resource dependence literatures is integrated into this framework.

Article

Water governance refers to the material and regulatory control of water and waters. It involves questions such as who makes decisions about water and how; at what scale such decisions are made in relation to different waters; and who and which water or ecosystem benefits. Classical work in anthropology considered how irrigation practices may have given rise to the development of state forms, and in response to early-21st-century privatization regimes, anthropologists have considered how different groups have challenged the apparent global dominance of commodity values and water as property. Infrastructures for water distribution in urban areas (such as systems of canals, pipes, and faucets), and considerations of the sociocultural effects of hydrological unit delineation and definition (e.g., groundwater or river “basins”) have become key sites for the ethnographic investigation of water governance, emerging forms of personhood, and societal inequalities. The diversity in anthropologies of water unsettles generalized models in global regimes of water governance. The anthropology of water governance and ownership considers the context and contingencies of water and power. It reveals the global dominance of markets, rights, and technical approaches to water management, such as the case of “private water” in Chile, in which water markets have failed to provide equity and environmental health, but also how certain groups avoided complete privatization of water under this extreme example. Ethnographic studies of the cultural organization of resource scarcity over topographically complex and remote terrain, such as that of irrigators in the Andean cordillera, express the diversity of human innovation at the intersection of politics and ecology. In arid South Eastern Australia, basin plans that treat water as a unit of calculation and economic trade place social and ecological relations in peril. Infrastructures of development provide a narrative of unsettled state and development ideologies, and the problem of groundwater management reveals governance challenges in the face of unstable, unknown, and invisible material. Anthropological studies of water contribute to knowledge of earth’s diverse humanity, knowledge practices, and ecologies. Researchers propose that water governance might engage with human differences articulated at multiple scales, as well as in understanding water’s material agency and waters as dynamic, especially in an ever-changing climate.

Article

Jörg Niewöhner

The notion of infrastructure commonly refers to the networked technical support structures that facilitate the provision of services and the movement of goods, people, and ideas through space. In anthropology, the notion of infrastructure also designates an analytic. As such, infrastructure is sensitive to the constant interweaving of technical objects, social organization, knowledge practices, and moral orders. Three key perspectives have been formative for this analytic: historical materialism, the historical and social construction of technology, and the ethnography of infrastructure. The wealth of current infrastructure research revolves around the discussion of four current topics: technopolitics, poetics and promises, paradoxes, and thinking infrastructures. Infrastructure as a theoretical framework holds potential as a new Anthropocene anthropology through minor and terrestrial infrastructuring.

Article

Space weather is a collective term for different solar or space phenomena that can detrimentally affect technology. However, current understanding of space weather hazards is still relatively embryonic in comparison to terrestrial natural hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. Indeed, certain types of space weather such as large Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are an archetypal example of a low-probability, high-severity hazard. Few major events, short time-series data, and the lack of consensus regarding the potential impacts on critical infrastructure have hampered the economic impact assessment of space weather. Yet, space weather has the potential to disrupt a wide range of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) systems including electricity transmission, satellite communications and positioning, aviation, and rail transportation. In the early 21st century, there has been growing interest in these potential economic and societal impacts. Estimates range from millions of dollars of equipment damage from the Quebec 1989 event, to some analysts asserting that losses will be in the billions of dollars in the wider economy from potential future disaster scenarios. Hence, the origin and development of the socioeconomic evaluation of space weather is tracked, from 1989 to 2017, and future research directions for the field are articulated. Since 1989, many economic analyzes of space weather hazards have often completely overlooked the physical impacts on infrastructure assets and the topology of different infrastructure networks. Moreover, too many studies have relied on qualitative assumptions about the vulnerability of CNI. By modeling both the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and the socioeconomic impacts of failure, the total potential impacts of space weather can be estimated, providing vital information for decision makers in government and industry. Efforts on this subject have historically been relatively piecemeal, which has led to little exploration of model sensitivities, particularly in relation to different assumption sets about infrastructure failure and restoration. Improvements may be expedited in this research area by open-sourcing model code, increasing the existing level of data sharing, and improving multidisciplinary research collaborations between scientists, engineers, and economists.

Article

J. Brian Freeman and Guillermo Guajardo Soto

In his 1950 study, Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread, historian Frank Tannenbaum remarked that “physical geography could not have been better designed to isolate Mexico from the world and Mexicans from one another.” He recognized, like others before him, that the difficulty of travel by foot, water, or wheel across the country’s troublesome landscape was an unavoidable element of its history. Its distinctive topography of endless mountains but few navigable rivers had functioned, in some sense, as a historical actor in the larger story of Mexico. In the mid-19th century, Lucas Alamán had recognized as much when he lamented that nature had denied the country “all means of interior communication,” while three centuries before that, conquistador Hernán Cortés reportedly apprised Emperor Charles V of the geography of his new dominion by presenting him with a crumpled piece of paper. Over the last half-millennium, however, technological innovation, use, and adaptation radically altered how humans moved in and through the Mexican landscape. New modes of movement—from railway travel to human flight—were incorporated into a mosaic of older practices of mobility. Along the way, these material transformations were entangled with changing economic, political, and cultural ideas that left their own imprint on the history of travel and transportation.

Article

The history of transportation is part of a much broader history of mobility on the African continent. Transport history highlights the technologies, infrastructures, and networks that facilitated the circulation and exchange of people, goods, and ideas within local communities, across regions, and within systems of long-distance and global trade. While scholars have often associated transportation with the mechanized technologies of the industrial age, the history of mobility and transportation in Africa embraces a much broader definition of technology, encompassing animal, human, and mechanical transportation dating back to at least the 1st century ce. These long technological and transport histories informed the ways in which Africans shaped the industrial transport cultures and practices of the 19th and 20th centuries. Technologies and infrastructures made mobility possible, but the values and practices of African communities made mobility meaningful, connecting individuals and communities in networks of cultural and economic exchange at local, regional, continental, and global scales. For some, mobility and transportation provided crucial economic opportunities as wage laborers and entrepreneurs. For others, mobility was defined by conditions of servitude. For most, however, mobility and transportation was much more personal, connected to daily habits of work, travel, and trade. As they moved, Africans articulated new understandings of work, created economies of value, and defined individual and collective identities—actions that gave technology and infrastructure meaning as part of a broader mobility-system. This mobility-system—or rather the multiple mobility-systems—that developed and transformed throughout the history of the continent connected global trading systems and local agricultural practice, railroads and carrier paths, motor vehicles and markets.

Article

Richard Allan Tomlinson and Nicholas Purcell

In a Mediterranean climate, correcting the accidents of rainfall distribution through the management of water sources transforms *agriculture by extending the growing season through the dry summer by means of *irrigation, allows agglomerations of population beyond the resources of local springs or wells, eases waterlogging through drainage in the wetter zones, and protects against floods caused by violent winter rainfall. The societies of the semi-arid peripheries had long depended on water strategies such as irrigation drawn from perennial rivers, or the qanat (a tunnel for tapping groundwater resources).Hydraulic engineering was therefore both useful and prestigious. It was quickly adopted by the nascent cities of the Greek world and their leaders: ground-level aqueducts bringing water from extra-mural springs into Greek cities were at least as old as the 6th century bce: notable late Archaic examples are at Athens, using clay piping (see athens, topography), and on *Samos, where the water was channelled by rock-hewn tunnel through the acropolis—a remarkable engineering feat on which Herodotus (3.

Article

Russell Coldicutt

Infrastructure is the artificial foundation on which any form of social life depends. When it works well, infrastructure fades into the background of social interactions as though a feature of the landscape, at once obvious and invisible, that runs on its own. Composed of the technologies and systems responsible for extracting and distributing resources, infrastructure provides human populations with the materials they need in order to make a living and reproduce their way of life. Although it often blends into the natural environment, infrastructure’s technological domination of space facilitates and directs flows of people, objects, and information within this space and, in this sense, completely displaces nature. It does so by choreographing the movement of human actors within the space it governs, limiting what these actors can see, hear, or feel, and often preventing them from sensing how that space controls their movement. So defined, infrastructure refers not only to the roads, conveyances, pipes, and fiber-optic cables that distribute goods, services, information, and pleasure to a population but also to the production of the very categories that identify those units of information as either people or things. As it limits what information a person gathers in the way of experience and how they organize it, infrastructure imposes those same limits on the lives people imagine for themselves as opposed to others. This means that infrastructural control extends well beyond an individual’s personal experience to manage the cultural abstractions and fictional narratives available to that individual not only for making sense of this world but also for imagining alternatives to it. Hence its importance for literary studies. Infrastructure has always shaped the way that literature is produced. In addition to the infrastructures that contribute to a literary work’s production—from the printing presses to the global supply chains that connect readers with books—literary form also provides texts with their own narrative infrastructure. Consider the novel’s dependence on specific formal conventions to unfold a world around a representative human character over time and through space, so that readers will recognize that narrative as a novel. Such a narrative must create an artificial space where characters interact according to the protocols governing any number of modern spaces. This artificial infrastructure space must exercise control over the unfolding of a plot that ensures its (even inverse) homology to the infrastructure that limits the historical time and space in which the novelist writes. Insofar as the Bildungsroman and domestic fiction both divided the 19th-century reader’s world into public and private spheres that could interact dialectically, its narrative infrastructure supported the interrelated routines of production and reproduction. Alternatively, a novel or other literary text will test the reigning infrastructure to expose the means by which it governs human behavior. One witnesses this in novels written during the early 21st century, many of which are intent on showing how a complex layer of technological infrastructure and extranational regulations work in tandem to turn certain locations into powerful zones for the production of capital.

Article

Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or increasingly complex, and notions are triggered of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully. These terms intimate the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity. The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used during the past 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interconnections (including interdependencies) among functions and components highlights key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.

Article

Explicitly considering major critical infrastructure disruptions from the perspective of crisis/crisis management enables policymakers, analysts, and researchers to draw inspiration from an extensive multidisciplinary literature. Furthermore, this approach takes infrastructure failures or disruptions, and provides crucial institutional, economic and social context that is too often ignored when such challenges are treated as exclusively technical problems. The added value from this approach enables analysts and decision makers to understand the complexity of such failures and consider the many levers—technical, economic and social—that might be used to respond to them. Attempts to understand infrastructure failures as crises are not new, but the literature—like the field of practice—is to some extent underdeveloped and continuously evolving (e.g., with regard to the challenges associated with cybersecurity), generating a need for a more comprehensive approach to understanding the leadership tasks associated with the management of such crisis events in dynamic and complex organizational environments.

Article

Juan Llamas-Rodriguez and Viviane Saglier

The postcolonial intellectual tradition has proved crucial to articulating cultural, film, and media formations from the geographical and theoretical perspective of (formerly) colonized people and countries. The object of media studies has expanded significantly beyond the screen in the past decades, including a renewed attention to non-visual media and an emerging attention to the material conditions of possibility for media representations. In this new mediascape, postcolonial theories and concepts potentially repoliticize media theory by questioning Western assumptions about technological progress and innovation. Postcolonial theories of media force a rethink of the tenets of traditional media theories while, at the same time, media theories demonstrate the centrality of media, in all its forms, to understanding the postcolonial condition.

Article

Following independence in the early 19th century Argentina went through decades of internal political and social turmoil. During this time the sciences traversed a dormant period and operated at the amateur level, such as through collectors and hobbyists. Beginning in the 1850s and continuing through the 1860s, many of Argentina’s internal problems eroded. The newly consolidated state undertook a process of extending its influence throughout the nation and fostering a closer and collaborative association with the nation’s interior to foster national unity. Under the banner of ‘civilization, order, and progress’, ruling liberal elites looked for ways to herald social and economic development. The sciences, through practice and institutionalized places, played a critical role for the state. By the beginning of the 20th century, the state had invested in scientific ventures into Patagonia and other areas of the nation to collect and catalogue materials, such as fossils and plants, and had supported the construction of museums to display scientific collections to the public as a means to develop a national identity. Beyond museums and naturalists, the state financed the maturation of the medical sciences to respond to the waves of epidemic diseases that assaulted the nation and the numerous regional endemic diseases that elites presented as evidence of underdevelopment, such as malaria in the northwest and recurrent cholera and smallpox outbreaks throughout the nation. Fields such as meteorology and engineering provided the physical infrastructure to further integrate the nation, through railroads, the standardization of national time, and a space for local Argentine scientific actors to establish national and international careers. With the increased professionalization of numerous scientific fields, the bond between the state and scientists matured. Many used this as a platform to enter into politics, such as Eduardo Wilde, hygienist and Minister of the Interior. Others provided their services to the state to form public policy, as happened for example with the work of psychiatrists, criminologists, engineers, and hygienists. Collectively, these fields demonstrated that the sciences witnessed significant growth into the first quarter of the 20th century.

Article

Urbanization and environmental change have worked in tandem over the course of Mexican history. Hinterland production, the establishment of market economies, and the intensive transformation of nature have fueled urban growth. The concentration of capital and expertise in cities has, in turn, enabled urban elites to rework the urban environment by creating industrial centers, executing technical-heavy infrastructure, building new subdivisions, and regulating hygiene. From the beaches of Cancún and the air and water pollution of Tijuana’s industrial parks to the prolific silver mines of Zacatecas and the henequen monoculture surrounding Mérida, Yucatán, rapid urban growth and profound changes to the environment within and outside cities have depended on and intersected with each other.

Article

The region that today constitutes the United States–Mexico borderland has evolved through various systems of occupation over thousands of years. Beginning in time immemorial, the land was used and inhabited by ancient peoples whose cultures we can only understand through the archeological record and the beliefs of their living descendants. Spain, then Mexico and the United States after it, attempted to control the borderlands but failed when confronted with indigenous power, at least until the late 19th century when American capital and police established firm dominance. Since then, borderland residents have often fiercely contested this supremacy at the local level, but the borderland has also, due to the primacy of business, expressed deep harmonies and cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican federal governments. It is a majority minority zone in the United States, populated largely by Mexican Americans. The border is both a porous membrane across which tremendous wealth passes and a territory of interdiction in which noncitizens and smugglers are subject to unusually concentrated police attention. All of this exists within a particularly harsh ecosystem characterized by extreme heat and scarce water.

Article

Mountain environments, home to about 12% of the global population and covering nearly a quarter of the global land surface, create hazardous conditions for various infrastructures. The economic and ecologic importance of these environments for tourism, transportation, hydropower generation, or natural resource extraction requires that direct and indirect interactions between infrastructures and geohazards be evaluated. Construction of infrastructure in mountain permafrost environments can change the ground thermal regime, affect gravity-driven processes, impact the strength of ice-rich foundations, or result in permafrost aggradation via natural convection. The severity of impact, and whether permafrost will degrade or aggrade in response to the construction, is a function of numerous parameters including climate change, which needs to be considered when evaluating the changes in existing or formation of new geohazards. The main challenge relates to the uncertainties associated with the projections of medium- (decadal) and long-term (century-scale) climate change. A fundamental understanding of the various processes at play and a good knowledge of the foundation conditions is required to ascertain that infrastructure in permafrost environment functions as intended. Many of the tools required for identifying geohazards in the periglacial and appropriate risk management strategies are already available.

Article

Eric Rutkow

The Pan American Highway, a successor project to the unfinished Pan American Railway, originated as an interwar initiative among member nations in the Pan American Union and is generally considered to comprise the longest road in the world. The highway network’s longitudinal through-route—complete save for the sixty-mile “Darien Gap” between Panama and Colombia—crosses eleven countries and, with the inclusion of its unofficial northernmost leg, covers more than 12,500 miles in total, from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to South America’s Tierra del Fuego. Additional spur roads in the pan-American network radiate to the capitals of other South American nations, adding an additional four thousand miles to the system. While the nearly finished Pan American Highway never achieved the hoped-for goal of linking the Americas (and still faces constant maintenance challenges), it stands as a concrete symbol of pan-Americanism and a “trunk line” for the Western Hemisphere, an overland corridor for trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and migration throughout the region.