Panel 3

Sociotechnical assemblages and practices of crisis planning and preparation: Imaginaries of infrastructure breakdown and its governance

Organizers: Silvia Rief

University of Innsbruck, Austria

Topics: Technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations; Everyday life and design of the mundane; Sociotechnologies of (in)secure worlds to come

Keywords: imaginaries of crisis, preparedness, critical infrastructures

The multiple and compound crises the world has been facing in recent years have nourished growing concerns about possible and serious breakdown of large-scale critical infrastructures due to natural disasters, shortage of energy, droughts and water scarcity, war or terrorism. While states and public authorities are propping up the protection of critical infrastructures, individuals too are increasingly called upon to ‘be prepared’ for interruptions of energy, communication services or water provision, to name a few. This panel invites papers that explore how social actors at various levels and in different contexts imagine and gauge possible crisis scenarios and what measures they adopt to control such imagined possible futures. In line with the theme of the conference, contributors are invited to reflect on how the notion of “interest” is framed within imagined crisis scenarios and within the practices of ‘preparation’ by individuals or groups as well as within techno-scientific programs and policies for crisis-management. Possible themes and questions to be addressed are suggested below, but other subtopics are equally welcome:

1) Citizens, state and civil society

How do citizens and private households respond to narratives of crises and their imagined sociotechnical consequences? How do their practices of planning and preparation relate to public provisions for controlling possible crisis situations? Are the former expressions of trust or mistrust in the state’s and public authorities’ capacity to prepare for possible crises? Are the latter expressions of trust or mistrust in citizen’s willingness to cooperate? How do ‘prepping’ practices at different levels evoke an orientation towards autarky vs. dependency? How are individual interests and needs for security related to, balanced with, or exclusive of, collective solidarity and collective interest? Comparative analyses of crisis management policies and governance might also focus on the representation of interest and solidarity.

2) Sociomaterialities of preparing

What visions and tools for technological governance of crisis situations are developed? What notions of interest are implicitly inscribed into communication and planning tools (e.g. the role of data and algorithms, simulation and forecasting, social media, apps, websites)? Papers might address the commercialization of ‘preparedness’ along with DIY and learning processes geared towards ‘prepping’: what markets and commodities have emerged that cater for ‘prepping’ needs and desires for autarky and security? What assemblages between markets, media, expert cultures and citizen cooperation have been created and how is “interest” configured in these networks?

3) Popular culture

Of interest would be (comparative) cultural analyses of how crisis scenarios due to infrastructure breakdown and their governance are depicted and discussed in films, documentaries, literature, magazines, podcasts and social media. What designs for securing or repairing the socio-technical normality of everyday life are presented in popular culture?

4) Social structure

A recent paper asked ‘Is preparedness a discourse for the privileged?’ (Blake Marlowe, Johnston 2017)? Which social groups are addressed by preparedness discourses and how are interests and needs of vulnerable groups identified and considered? How does social structure influence who prepares for crisis and who doesn’t, and what practices of preparation social groups engage in?