Category Archives: Infrastructure

Enclosure of the protocols – a work in progress*

* just like the internet itself


There was once a declaration of intent, to claim the internet, which was a new frontier in human intellectual space, as separate from the politics, capital and culture of the rest of human experience.

In this declaration existing governments were not welcome, existing systems of governance and control were not welcome, only the inquisitive mind.

This though was all a fiction.

The internet had grown out of the Military / Industrial complex and whilst a number of those who had access to it initially were taken by the science fiction of future societies at no point was this new ‘space’ separate from capital and ownership and therefore control.

Whilst the declaration and other statements that came after it espoused the disembodiment of participation in this new space, it ignored the simple fact that it all ran on complex and expensive infrastructure. Power and telecommunications networks, as well as computation hardware that was already incredibly environmentally destructive and also the source of great wealth for a small number of individuals.

Whilst individuals and groups created a story about the internet that told a story of intellectual egalitarianism the space itself was being created in the crucible of capitalism and political control.

At some point every component in this new space had a monetary cost attached to it, this was not the free space of the mind that had been defined in that original declaration document.

What is more, instead of trying to design out or manage these costs of access and running those designing the internet instead attempted to commoditise all activity that took place in the space.

we’re physical

The internet is tied inextricably into the physicality that is the earth. Even the network nodes that exist beyond this planets atmosphere have been constructed from the materials pulled from the ground below our feet.

Whilst many will now take their power from the sun, the very fact that they are there and are able to collect, transmit and receive data is dependant on the raw materials that this planet provided.

Roy Batty proclaimed that ‘We’re not computers Sebastien, we’re physical’ what we have done is built the paths and tools for computation onto a physical layer.

Our infinite virtual exists in the imagined space conjured up by this computation and our interaction with it.

At some level, at some point we have to step off the virtual levels of the stack and examine the physical parts that make this machine work and tally the cost of each component and each joule of energy it consumes.

Physical costs but so do bits.


The Individual In the Infrastructure

I submitted a paper to this conference back in 2005.

The conference call and details are below, for reference as most of the information on the conference are no longer online.

(I dug this information out from this mailing list archive :;7446326d.0305)

Subject: FW: Call for Papers – Urban Vulnerability and Network Failure
Date: Sun, 25 May 2003 13:51:02 +0100

Urban Vulnerability and Network Failure:
Constructions and Experiences of Emergencies, Crises and Collapse


An ESRC-Sponsored International Seminar jointly hosted by SURF, University of Salford and GURU, University of Newcastle Manchester, United Kingdom, 29-30 April 2004


In these times of ‘globalisation’ cities are being powerfully shaped
by their relationships with socio-technical networks and infrastructures.
These organise, and mediate, the distribution of people, goods,
services, information, wastes, capital, and energy between multiple scales
within and between urban regions. The contemporary urban process, and
contemporary social power, thus, more than ever, involve complex ‘cyborg’ liaisons and multiple, distanciated connections. These straddle many scales and link bodies, places, and institutions continuously with more or less distant
elsewheres. By making possible a myriad of mobilities such infrastructures
remake the spaces and times of urban life in the process.

On the one hand, the everyday life and ideology of the modern city is
dependent on the seamless and continuous functioning, together, of a
vast array of functioning technical systems(although, for vast numbers of
urbanites in the global South, the reality is often of little
connectivity and worse reliability). On the other hand, large swathes of contemporary corporate, state, and military power centres on the construction,
maintenance, legitimation and protection of vast arrays of extended
technological systems. Strung out across the world, and configured
carefully to support the ‘glocal’ geographies of power and connectivity
of contemporary capitalism, these network spaces – fibre optic networks,
airport and airline spaces, Just-in-Time logistics systems, E-commerce
and transactional flows, transnational energy systems, and so on — are
critical strategic supports to neoliberal globalisation. Linking up,
and mediating, key spaces and divisions of labour reliably, quickly and
seamlessly, the physical, energy, water and informational infrastructures
that sustain contemporary capitalism are perhaps the most critical
strategic supports of contemporary global capitalism.

A widening range of iconic infrastructure collapses serve as
opportunities to learn about the cultural, political, social and material dimensions of the importance of infrastructural connection in contemporary urban, and geopolitical, life. Since the early 1990s, to name but a few, iconic
collapsese and failures have included the Montreal ice storm, the
Auckland power blackout, the gas attack on the Tokyo underground, the Sydney
drought, the California energy crisis, the Chicago heat wave, the
failure of Hong Kong airport’s freight system, the September 11th attacks, and
the ‘Lovebug’ virus. The infrastructural devastation of countless urban wars
also needs to be considered here.

As seamless and 24 hour flows and connections become ever-more critical
for capitalist urbanism, however, so massive political, discursive and
material resources are being devoted to try and reduce the supposed
vulnerabilities that these systems exhibit to collapse, malfunctioning,
or attack. This is especially so when the September 11th and Anthrax
attacks, in particular, demonstrated that mobility systems, themselves, can be
appropriated as ‘terrorist’ weapons. ‘Resilience’, and ‘critical
infrastructure protection’, are ubiquitous buzz words in these times of
politically constructed moral panic, continuous states of emergency,
and the ongoing Bush-led ‘war on terror’. Huge resources and efforts are now
being devoted by States, infrastructure corporations, the military,
urban infrastructure agencies, and corporate capital to reducing the supposed
vulnerability of telecommunications, transport, logistics, transaction,
electricity, and utilities systems to technical failure, sabotage,
natural disasters or the failures caused by the reduced built in back-up that
often comes with liberalised markets. The glaring fragility, and low
reliability, of many computer-mediated communications and infrastructure systems is a particular focus of concern here. Examples include government programmes
to protect critical infrastructure, commercial services for network back
up, and military (and terrorist groups’) interest in the disrupting of
adversaries’ infrastructure networks. Civil defence programmes designed
to increase cities’ resilience to attack and targeting, and so on, are also
reaching unprecedented levels.

As Tim Luke has observed, networked connections and collapses also form
a critical focus of cultural politics. Narratives and discourses of failed
flow and connection stalk many underground and dystopian scenes and
genres of culture. Contemporary urban culture is full of accounts which reveal
a fascination with such moments of what he calls ‘decyborganisation’.
This is because they reveal, however fleetingly, the utter reliance of
modern urban life on distanciated flow and interaction. The cultural narratives
and representations that surround the failure and collapse of networked
infrastructures are a key aspect of their social importance.

Conference Aim and Objective

The core aim of this conference is to explore the ways in which
reactions to, and experiences of, the collapse of technical and networked
infrastructures within and between cities are constructed, experienced,
imagined, represented, and contested. We seek in particular to explore
these themes under conditions of growing infrastructural stress,
re-regulation, globalisation, increasing concerns with failure, the
changing geopolitical situation surrounding the ‘war on terror’, and the
strong fascination for infrastructural collapse within contemporary
culture. By bringing together researchers representing a range of
disciplines, including geography, history, sociology, critical theory,
development studies, political economy, geopolitics, surveillance and
defence studies, the objective is to stimulate interdisciplinary
discussion and collaboration that examines the meaning of connectivity and collapse in contemporary urban life, politics, governance, and culture.

Seminar Themes

(1) Conceptualising ‘Cyborg’ Urbanisation: How can urban, social and
critical theory conceptualise the socio-technologies of connection,
resilience, mobility, and collapse in contemporary cities ?

(2) Urban Vulnerability and Network Failures: Constructions and
Experiences of Emergencies, Crises and Collapse How do different disciplines
construct concepts of urban vulnerability and network failure ? How does network
stress and failure operate materially and how is it represented
politically and culturally ? Why, how and where do technical networks
collapse? What can be learnt about the discursive, economic or material
role of technical connections in a globalised context by studying what
happens when connections fail ? How does the governance of cities,
spaces and networked infrastructure intersect in various contexts to address
(and exploit ?) perceptions of stress and risk. How are such politics shaped
by broader political economies of globalisation, mobility, flow and
re-regulation ? How are corporate and popular fears of, and vulnerabilities
to, the failure of connectivity addressed in such processes of governance ?

(3) Networked Collapses as States of Emergency : What can be learnt from
in-depth case studies of instances of network failures or collapse ?
What happens when the normalisation of flow, mobility and connection breaks
down? What social, economic, and cultural coping mechanisms and innovations
are developed to deal with the collapse ? How do political and
governance coalitions at various scales, in states, cities and network spaces,
respond to failure ? What are the longer term political, economic or cultural
consequences of network failure ? How are crises and collapse in
infrastructures, and wider processes of ‘de-cyborgisation,’ represented
in contemporary culture ?

(4) Networked Collape, Security, and Organised Violence How do various
state and non-state militaries and target and destroy adversaries’
infrastructure networks? In what ways are national, homeland and urban
‘security’ strategies, and critical infrastructure protection policies,
being reforged to address, or exploit, fears of networked collapse ?
What political economic transitions do such strategies support? What
discursive, and linguistic constructions do such political strategies
rely on ? Beyond the hype what is the real scope of ‘cyberwar’ ? What
strategies and techniques are used? How effective, or widespread, is such
‘network-based’ warfare ? How does it relate to the current geopolitical
position (dominated by a single ‘hyperpower’ pursuing a ‘war on terror’
without apparent end to further its geopolitical interests in the Middle
East and Central Asia)?

Abstract Submission

Please submit a 250 words abstract to Steve Graham and Simon Marvin before September 1st 2003.
Papers will be required for pre-circulation before the seminar that will be
hosted in central Manchester, United Kingdom in April 2004.

My paper, which was accepted was quite simple and probably naive but if you want to see it, its available here.

Academic Online Publishing – Arts & Humanities

I am doing a small project looking at getting online spaces set up for art/design/cultural/humanities academic publishing. Basically using weblogs but making citation easier and making it easier for the authors to cite other documents.

Most material on this kind of space is focused on Scientific publishing, especially Bioinformatics. So I was wondering if people know of existing examples, tools that can be used or projects and calls for this type of tool?

If you know of anything can you either tweet me (@marksimpkins) or email me



I wrote this for Mute Magazine, back in April 1999. It was my first attempt at getting down my thoughts on what is happening, and has not really stopped happening. It is simplistic and please do crit in the comments.

The current war inn the Balkans is being called the first Internet war. Previously, the Gulf war was hailed as the first information war. That is, information war in the terms set out by Bruce Sterling, Alvin Toffler, Jean Baudrillard et al – fought by a war machine using the latest information technology to strike at the enemy accurately, quickly and, notionally, ‘without risk to human life’.
Of course, the main front in this information conflict was back at home, packaging and selling the war to the general public. The information war was fought in our living rooms – by each side against it’s own populace. In information conflict, missiles and bombs go on destroying; civilians and soldiers go on being killed, but politicians require at least the illusion of a public mandate to sanction military attacks.
Now, eight years later, we have a similar situation, although this time part of the conflict is taking place online: both war machines involved in the conflict are using websites and newsgroups to spin their media hype.
At the same time, the NATO website was supposedly hit by a denial of service attack, a flood of pings requesting a response from the server and reducing it’s response time to a crawl. In America at least one person took it upon himself to do the same to a pro-Serbian website, using an off-the-shelf spam package.
All of these actions fit wonderfully into the new-speak of military action: ‘SYN Flooding’, ‘Denial of Service Attack’, etc – technical terms that generals would love to be able to use to describe aspects of their bombing campaigns.
Information war has to be constructive, not destructive. Instead of flooding the Net with SYN packets, we should be listening to it’s flood of voices. Away from the electronic toys of crackers and wannabe hackers, the information war is being fought with dialogue, conversation and the broadcast of ideas.
In media terms, the Internet is not quite up there with the televisions, but it’s getting closer to the living room corner. When it does, will we visit the site of consent, as we did before, or will we search out genuinely alternative sources of information? Instead of listening to the news about government sites being brought down by hackers, will we instead find sites built and emails sent by those on both sides of the conflict?

Emotional Infrastructure

I am working on this small project, its called Emotional Infrastructure and lives over at the Friendly Crowds site.

A set of paper diaries, produced using Bookleteer.

Record your thoughts on that piece of infrastructure as you interact with it in your everyday life and when you have finished a diary send it back to join the archive.

The first was called ‘The Surveillance Diaries’ but I have added ones on power, water and communications.

A few people are currently filling in some of these early prototypes, including me.

It is whilst I am at the Lighthouse as a part of their beta residency studio project that I am working on evolving these diaries into something more formed.

Please do make and complete a diary and feedback your ideas on the structure of the diaries and concept as well.

The Open Journal of Critical Infrastructure Studies

An awful lot of us live lives wrapped in infrastructure, its what keeps many parts of the world functioning in a modern way.

A number of people have started writing, producing work that attempts to examine this infrastructure with the same critical eye that we cast over other components of our lives and the development of such a critical thinking framework is rapidly and increasingly becoming vital as the new infrastructure of the digital, communications network increasingly affects so many aspect of our lives.

Yet this infrastructure is increasingly invisible, from the fact that it uses electromagnetic radiation to transmit information through to the strategic agendas of corporations who wish to mask the underlying operational methods behind their productised solutions to modern life.

‘It Just Works’ being the mantra from Apple and you as the user of the apple product, do not have to understand how it works, just know that it does. Except that often it doesn’t or doesn’t quite and you won’t know why.

@thejaymo is concept curator at @stacktivism and Paul Graham Raven has created ‘Infrastructure Fiction‘.

Vinay Gupta (@leashless) has created Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps and written extensively on the infrastructure that keeps us alive.

We want to create an open access journal to disseminate the new ideas and thinking in this space. This is a blog post on starting the process and I will keep these going until we have one up and running or have decided that the area is already well served.

To this end we need to:

1. Check the landscape, what are the existing journals on infrastructure (critical or otherwise) and what is their approach? Are they papers on the latest implementation techniques for X technology or are they discussions on the implication of installing such a technology with such and environment and what could be the impact on the population of that environment.
2. Decide a domain to cover, is it about critical infrastructure, or is is critical thinking about infrastructure? Is it urban in scope? What does it encompass and what is outside of its remit?
3. Find a name.
4. Define an editorial process. Who will edit, how will review take place, how often will it publish, will it be online only or print and online?
5. Then launch journal.

(Somewhere in there we will attempt to find funding as well).

Since these discussions are already collaborative, if you have any thoughts on scope or ideas or name or anything, then please take part.