Liminal technologies: Exploring the temporalities and struggles in efforts to develop a Belgrade metro
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The sociology of technology needs more nuanced conceptualizations of the temporal aspects of sociotechnical change. In this article, we propose liminality as a useful analytical entry-point to study technologies that seemingly remain in a ‘no man’s land’ – what we call liminal technologies. Drawing on anthropological accounts and technology studies literature, we propose a framework to be used as a sensitizing device that includes four ways of understanding liminal technologies: (1) technologies in shielded transition, (2) technologies under construction through negotiation, (3) technologies that are morphing between worlds, and (4) technologies remaining in an in-between space. We use the Belgrade metro effort – an infrastructure project that has been in development for almost a century – as an extreme case through which to explore the achievements of this framework. The analysis shows that the liminality of the metro was characterized by a combination of spiral, multi-linear and halted temporality. Despite severely dis-aligned expectations, liminality persisted due to a shared belief that a metro would benefit Belgrade. We conclude that using liminal technology as a sensitizing device may in particular be relevant to technologies with prolonged liminality because it highlights temporal patterns that may prevent technological development from being either completed or terminated.