The governance of the large sociotechnical systems that invisibly power and support the social world has long been a focus of STS scholars. One may recall the work of Hughes (1983) on the electrification of America, Star and Bowker (1996) on classifications and standards, or Latour (1993) on the Berlin Key. When we speak of infrastructure, and as Bowker and colleagues (2010) note, we often think of large collections of materials necessary for human organization and activity, such as buildings, roads, bridges, and physical networks of communication. But beyond bricks, mortar, pipes, or wires, infrastructure also includes entities such as protocols, standards, or system architectures. These more abstract entities are part of infrastructure because they perform an infrastructural function. That is, they help to shape, enable or constrain our common life.
Starting from the classical studies of infrastructure, STS has developed a rich inquiry between computer and social scientists, charting the development of information infrastructures in various social contexts (Monteiro, Pollock and Williams, 2014). This research is complemented by at least two other research fields interested in infrastructure in its functional sense: platform studies and Internet studies. The first has been primarily concerned with large platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb or Wikipedia, sometimes with more localized cooperative platforms (Scholz, 2014; Plantin et al., 2018). The second has been mainly interested in the Internet itself of course, but also in Internet-based services, sometimes built in a technically distributed mode (Musiani and Dulong de Rosnay, 2016).
These different fields have opened question of governance and infrastructure. While some scholars explore the governance of platforms and infrastructures via institutions and regulation, others have engaged in a questioning of governance, where governance is understood as a set of dynamics of “social ordering” (Law, 1992) that does not take place exclusively, or even primarily, in politically designed institutions, but is also enacted through the ordinary practices of people engaged in maintaining or challenging the social order (Musiani, 2016). Branches of government, stakeholders and advocacy groups, policy makers, technology designers, platform companies or contractors, and users, all participate in governance. By focusing on governance by infrastructure, this workshop aims to interrogate how technologies, infrastructures, platforms, devices, algorithms, reflect and influence, meditate and translate ordering processes. The starting point is the technical object and the way in which it, in its design or in its uses, acts on the social order. We wish to understand how infrastructures lead to transformations of society, by bringing changes in governance, possibly embedded in their design.