POSTPONED | Infrastructure Breakdowns and Organization: Exploring the Sociomateriality and ‘Becoming’ of Infrastructure across Contexts by Dr Thijs Willems
Date : 23 Apr 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Meeting Room
AS8 Level 7, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC

This seminar has been postponed till further notice.


Dr Connor Graham, Asia Research Institute, and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore


Breakdowns in infrastructures are usually thought of as disrupting an organized order: when the train refuses to start, the railroads do not deliver their services; when the servers are down the Internet cannot be used. In academic literature as well as in the media, much attention is given to these breakdowns. This seminar challenges a core assumption about breakdowns by questioning whether they indeed disrupt the orderly nature of infrastructures. Perhaps infrastructures are better thought of as not being opposed to breakdowns but, more fundamentally, as emerging from and resulting in breakdowns: small ruptures and cracks are always already occurring and, likewise, the system is always already in a state of repair. The question then becomes how infrastructures are sociomaterial phenomena that are in a state of ‘becoming’. Such a processual approach illuminates the complexity of infrastructures: they are at once organizing a social order while simultaneously being organized as they are shaped by imaginations of modernity, speed, and efficiency. This seminar explores these ideas by drawing on an ethnographic study of the Dutch railways. The study investigated various kinds of breakdowns and their consequences, ranging from a simple delayed train to railroad suicides and complete system disruptions. It then proceeds to explore the sociomateriality and ‘becoming’ of infrastructures in the context of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. Analyzing the smart city through an infrastructural lens reveals how becoming ‘smart’ is dependent and deeply constituted in the organization and construction of digital and non-digital infrastructures. Moreover, this lens shows how these infrastructures in turn organize and shape citizens and organizations in the production of what is imagined to be ‘smart’.


Thijs Willems is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He is an organizational ethnographer who is broadly interested in the meaning of work in sociotechnical organizations. His dissertation ‘Monsters’ and ‘Mess’ on the Railways shows the paradoxical nature of organizing sociotechnical systems: reducing complexity creates complexity. Currently, Thijs Willems studies how digital technologies that are part of the 4th Industrial Revolution change the nature of work in the context of Singapore.


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY