Book Review: “The Promise of Infrastructure” by Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta & Hannah Appel (eds.)

Please find below an excerpt from my review of The Promise of Infrastructure by Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta & Hannah Appel (eds.) for The AAG Review of Books. To read the full review, please follow this link.


book cover

The Promise of Infrastructure. Anand, Nikhil; Gupta, Akhil; Appel, Hannah (eds.). Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. viii and 256 pp.; acknowledgements, contributors, index. $25.95 paper (ISBN 978-1-4780-0018-1); $99.95 cloth (ISBN 978-1-4780-0003-7).

Reviewed by Siddharth Menon, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.

The Promise of Infrastructure contains the latest set of ideas to emanate from the “infrastructure turn” in anthropology and the social sciences and humanities more broadly. This edited volume contains highly generative articles by nine scholars who take the ethnographic study of infrastructural systems into new, exciting realms. For these scholars, ordinary infrastructures like roads, railways, water taps and meters, dams and bridges, electric wires, oil and gas pipelines, buildings, power stations, radio and media technologies are “dense social, material, aesthetics, and political formations” (3) that structure social life and produce experiences of difference and othering. As the editors Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta, and Hannah Appel state, the aim of this volume is to show how infrastructures shape and alter interpersonal relations to “make a variety of social, institutional and materials things (im)possible” (4).

The book addresses two primary questions. First, why has this turn towards an ethnographic study of material infrastructures taken place now? Second, what does an analytical focus on everyday infrastructures allow us (social scientists) to do? The nine authors in this volume have articulated answers to these questions in their own distinct but complementary ways, often drawing on detailed ethnographic research and rich historical analysis. The editors assert that a focus on banal infrastructure can defamiliarize and rethink established social, cultural, and political categories. By doing this, they hope to harness the potential of infrastructures to navigate and bridge pre-given divides such as rural-urban, South-North, society-technology, and nature-culture.

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