Atlas of Places
Airport Portraits II
Nevertheless, the fact is that mature technological systems — cars, roads, municipal water supplies, sewers, telephones, railroads, weather forecasting, buildings, even computers in the majority of their uses — reside in a naturalized background, as ordinary and unremarkable to us as trees, daylight, and dirt. Our civilizations fundamentally depend on them, yet we notice them mainly when they fail, which they rarely do. They are the connective tissues and the circulatory systems of modernity. In short, these systems have become infrastructures.
The argument of this paper is that infrastructures simultaneously shape and are shaped by — in other words, co-construct — the condition of modernity. By linking macro, meso, and micro scales of time, space, and social organization, they form the stable foundation of modern social worlds.
To be modern is to live within and by means of infrastructures, and therefore to inhabit, uneasily, the intersection of these multiple scales. But empirical studies of infrastructures also reveal deep tensions surrounding what Latour recently named the “modernist settlement”: the social contract to hold nature, society, and technology separate, as if each were ontologically independent of each other (Latour 1999). Close study of these multi-scalar linkages reveals not only co-con struction, but code construction of supposedly dominant modernist ideologies.