Vicissitudes of Infrastructure

Infrastructures are not neutral, do not simply support the structures "on top" of them. Infrastructures structure structures; structures are always already infrastructured; infrastructure matters by being insinuated in structures. Like Karen Barad's "intra-action" (a necessarily clumsy word), infra- denotes a place usually translated as "below" but also suggests "within" and "further on." Infrastructure is the (non)foundational difference within structure.

All digital infrastructure does more than support research--it turns and transforms that research from within, in almost imperceptible ways. No digital infrastructure is equal to any other; each is specific to a project, style, or locale (irreducible differences that point to the importance of interoperability). For example, although PECE and Mukurtu are both built on Drupal and share numerous infrastructural elements, each transforms their data objects and the relationships between them in subtle but vital ways. In a double binding logic (must be same, can't be same), open source infrastructure for the digital humanities is built to be held in common but always turns the structures in specific ways. What's shared has to be differentiated, is already differentiating the data and analysis produced out of it in anticipated and unanticipated ways. These vicissitudes of infrastructure are the condition for the constant need for specialized or stylized platforms in the digital humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences that can take advantage of these turns and transformations that occur within, below, or beyond (infra)structure. It's why PECE's design logics "travel with" the platform.

The thumbnail image for this substantive logic suggests the forces and logics at work. Jason de Caires Taylor's underwater sculpture "Vicissitudes" 

went up in 2007, and was immediately understood to be a tribute to African slaves thrown overboard during the Middle Passage. This, however, was not Taylor’s intent, and so, after this interpretation gained popularity on the internet, he clarified that “It was never my intention to have any connection to the Middle passage, below is the original text. Although it was not my intention from the outset I am very encouraged how it has resonated differently within various communities and feel it is working as an art piece by questioning our identity, history and stimulating debate.” (

Taylor's original text read:

Vicissitudes depicts a circle of figures, all linked through holding hands. These are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse ethnic background. Circular in structure … the work both withstands strong currents and replicates one of the primary geometric shapes, evoking ideas of unity and continuum. … The sculpture proposes growth, chance, and natural transformation. It shows how time and environment impact on and shape the physical body. Children by nature are adaptive to their surroundings. Their use within the work highlights the importance of creating a sustainable and well-managed environment, a space for future generations.