Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis
This is an extract from The Public and Their Platforms, published by University of Bristol Press in June 2021.
It is striking how widespread ignorance of academic publishing remains among (some) academics given its centrality to their occupation. This is symptomatic of a broader ignorance of the role of the technical systems in scholarly practice, punctuated by outbursts of irritation when routines are interrupted by their sporadic failure. As Judith Butler has put it, ‘The dependency of human creatures on sustaining and supporting infrastructural life shows that the organization of infrastructure is intimately tied with an enduring sense of individual life: how life is endured, and with what degree of suffering, livability, or hope.’ It might seem like a category error to describe the technological infrastructure of the university in these terms but if we take the aspiration towards what Sennett calls ‘craft’ seriously, recognizing the aspirations towards vocation which can linger on in even the most mundane work – which in fact can only be constituted through such work – the subdued intimacy marking our dependency on this infrastructure becomes more obvious. There is a profound mundanity to matters like working email, reliable Wi-Fi, the capacity to print or access to journals. But this mundanity is the ground on which the achievements, realized or otherwise, anchoring our life as a whole begin to take shape. This has opened up new forms of inequality during the pandemic, as a shift towards remote working has left university staff with wildly different working conditions, ranging from luxurious home offices with superfast broadband through to shared rooms with unreliable internet access unable to cope with multiple video meetings at the same time. This makes it more urgent than ever for us to recover infrastructure as a crucial factor in the nature of academic labour.