Surfacing the arctic: politics of participation in infrastructuring
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The ongoing adoption of sensor networks, algorithms, and digital data comes with the promise of opening up participation in knowledge production. However, the dynamics of the participatory design (PD) processes in these infrastructuring endeavors remain underspecified. This short paper draws on a study of an oil company’s project to design an open digital platform to produce knowledge about the Arctic marine environment. Fraught with political controversies, this effort encompasses several stakeholders with contrasting agendas. Leveraging the relational quality of infrastructure, we propose to revitalize the political roots of PD by problematizing simultaneously the roles of human and non-human participants, foregrounding both digital technology and the monitored natural ecosystems. We discuss how infrastructuring aimed at letting humans visualize the inaccessible, also shapes participation by creating spaces of (in)visibility and concentrating control over knowledge creation in the hands of the most powerful stakeholders.