Designing and domesticating an interstructure: Exploring the practices and the politics of an elevator for cyclists
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Technologies called infrastructures are often considered to be inherently and opaquely political, but how they exert their politics has been both empirically and conceptually debated. Infrastructure studies have largely focused on (in)visibility or ‘infra’ qualities as central criteria for assessing who and what is included and excluded, and when. In this paper we argue that this binary is unproductive and propose the concept of interstructure to highlight the connective and aesthetic qualities of technologies as well as their political features. These features may be quite transparent but also ambivalent, which we demonstrate by analysing an elevator for cyclists in Belgrade, Serbia. We draw on material semiotics to unpack the practices, the sense-making and the political work of this elevator in relation to its design and use. The analysis is based on interviews and an observation study. It shows that the elevator elicited substantial articulation work among most users as well as the operators who ran it. The elevator’s politics were produced through continuous negotiations among actors with partial views. Unpredictable connections captured a clearly ambivalent politics. We conclude by arguing that similar political dynamics may be present in transport and urban technologies more generally and that the concept of interstructure offers a fruitful avenue to study them and their politics.