Infrastructure, Im/mobility and the Environment

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Course Description: 

What is infrastructure? We often imagine infrastructures to belong to the technical and material domain, however they are made and used by people and are therefore inherently social, political and cultural. 

This course delves into some of the recent social scientific approaches to infrastructure. Through grounded studies from across the globe, the course pays particular attention to how infrastructural projects shape and are shaped by global inequalities, and how they intersect with mobility and the environment.

The course is divided into three parts. The first part asks what infrastructure is, and looks at some of the key contributions to this topic within the social sciences. The second part focuses on the infrastructure of mobility and immobility, looking at how roads, ports, canals, railways, power grids and borders shape the movement of people, goods, money and information. The third part focuses on the relationship between infrastructure and the environment, as many infrastructural projects, such as dams, water networks, oil pipes and wind farms, sit at the uneasy intersection of the natural and the built environment. 

Learning Outcomes: 

At the end of this course, you should have developed a deeper understanding of “infrastructure” as a concept, and how it intersects with questions of mobility/immobility and the environment. You will be familiar with the current debates around infrastructure in the social sciences, especially in anthropology, and you will be able to critically analyze these debates, identify key arguments, and make connections to public debates and the world around you. You should be able to analyze how infrastructural projects shape and are shaped by global inequalities, and how they intersect with mobility and the environment, as well as with categories such as culture, ethnicity, race, gender and class. Finally, you should be able to discuss, write and communicate effectively about these topics in a thoughtful and critical manner.


Course Requirements

Participation 15 %

This is a discussion seminar and it is designed to be a collaborative learning environment where we learn together and from each other. You are expected to read all texts carefully and to participate actively in the discussions in an enthusiastic and respectful manner. In order to make for an engaging and active learning experience, you are encouraged to bring ideas and material from outside the class with you to the seminars, or post them online in Moodle. This could be in the form of additional readings, including news items or other media such as photographs, films or podcasts, as well as any personal stories and experiences you would like to share with the class. The participation grade will be evaluated on a combination of regular class attendance as well as active involvement in class discussions. Please note that participation is not just about talking, but also about listening and sharing thoughts with other participants.

Leading Class Discussion 25 %

Twice during the quarter, alone or together with a colleague, you will lead the discussion during the Thursday seminar. For this occasion, you will read a bit “deeper” than you normally would. This could mean, for example, that you follow some of the literature that the authors are in conversation with, and trace them back to the sources. You can think of this as a kind of “mapping” exercise, where you trace connections and conversations between texts. It could also be interesting to do the opposite and think of it as an exercise/critique of representational practices. What kinds of other voices are NOT included or cited? What is the geographical focus, and what other perspectives are we perhaps missing as a consequence? Present this in-depth, reading and analysis of the texts to your classmates and bring a number of questions with you for the class to discuss. I encourage you to bring questions that open up for your colleagues to think about how the readings relate to the world around us.

Weekly Reflection Papers and Annotated Bibliography 25 %

It is my hope that this seminar will be useful for you in your own projects, and in writing your proposals, and later on, also your theses and dissertations. I ask you to submit a weekly reflection paper, anywhere between 250-500 words, based on the readings for that week. We will start with this in week 2, for a total of ten papers. This is to encourage you to read actively, and to build up a literature base on which you can draw when you write up your research proposals and final projects. These reflections will then form the basis of your annotated bibliography, which you will then be able to use for your final paper.

Final Paper 35 %

For your final paper, you will use the annotated bibliography you have created throughout the semester to write a short final paper of approximately 3500 words. You should be able to draw on the readings, their concepts and methodologies, and use them as a basis for writing a research paper on a topic of personal interest to you. This would most likely be related to the topic of your MA or PhD project, or, in case you do not yet know what this project is, you may choose a topic of importance to you in your everyday life and write the paper in an auto-ethnographical manner.