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3 Theoretical Perspective

In STS literature, the concept of infrastructure refers to interrelated technical, social and organizational arrangements involving technologies, standards, procedures, practices and policies (Bowker, Baker, Millerand, & Ribes, 2010; Karasti, Baker,

& Millerand, 2010). Superadded to the term information, infrastructure refers to digital facilities and services usually associated with the Internet. Internet is a generative infrastructure able to enact innovation (Monteiro, Pollock, Hanseth, & Williams, 2013). From this viewpoint, generativity is “the essential quality animating the trajectory of information technology innovation” (Zittrain, 2006). I maintain that an infrastructure displays its generativity in so far as it enables the continuous and rapid development of new innovative infrastructures. In this way, infrastructure contributes to the transformation of a set of isolated sociotechnical systems into an ecology of interacting human (people) and nonhuman actors (things such as devices and technological artifacts). A working infrastructure is characterised by openness to number and types of actors and interconnections of a multiplicity of purposes, agendas, strategies. It is a dynamically evolving ecology of people and things that mutually constitute themselves. The co-evolution of social and material factors also characterises the hermeneutic approach to knowledge adopted in this book and, specifically, by Augusto Cusinato's chapter.

Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star (1999), with their famous book Sorting

Things Out. Classification and its Consequences, have notably contributed to shedding light on the (information) infrastructure concept, showing that, first of all, it is the connection between classifications and standards as objects for the cooperation across social worlds (see “The Firm as a Knowledge-Creating Milieu: The Role of the ICT” by Carla Simone's). Classifications and standards are imbricated in everyday life. People classify objects, human beings, and data, and these classifications may or may not become standardized. According to Star and Ruhleder (1996), infrastructure is something that emerges in situ, in relation to organized practices, when it is connected to some particular activities. There are two relevant aspects of infrastructure. First, infrastructure typically exists in the background, it is invisible and taken for granted. People commonly envision infrastructure as a substrate that is something upon which something else “runs” or “operates”. Infrastructure is put in the background where practices and activities sink (Bowker et al., 2010; Star, 1999; Star & Ruhleder, 1996). Second, infrastructure could be defined as a relational property associated to political, ethical and social choices (Clarke & Star, 2008). Such properties can be identified as “going backstage” (Goffman, 1956; Star, 1999) or doing an “infrastructural inversion” (Bowker & Star, 1999). This inversion allows us to recognise the depths of interdependence of social and material components that influence the infrastructural growing [1] (Edwards et al., 2007; Edwards, Jackson, Bowker, & Williams, 2009). Methodologically, the infrastructural inversion leads to inquiry into the conflicting interests of different worlds (e.g., research, business). Studying this type of interaction favours a better understanding of innovation as a controversial process.

  • [1] According to Edwards, Jackson, Bowker, and Knobel (2007) the metaphor of “growing” rather than design or building infrastructure enables to capture, in their words, the “sense of an organic unfolding within an existing (and changing) environment (2007, 369)
 
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