Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities

Alan Liu, Urszula Pawlicka-Deger, and James Smithies, Editors

Deadline for 500-word abstracts: December 15, 2021

Part of the Debates in the Digital Humanities Series
A book series from the University of Minnesota Press
Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, Series Editors

Critical infrastructure studies has emerged as a framework for linking thought on the complex relations between society and its material structures across fields such as science and technology studies, design, ethnography, media infrastructure studies, feminist theory, critical race and ethnicity studies, postcolonial studies, environmental studies, animal studies, literary studies, the creative arts, and others (see the Bibliography ). This growing body of work explores why infrastructure is essential for understanding people’s lives, practices, and identities; how humans and other creatures are embedded in infrastructural systems even as they make or resist such systems; and how the world might be transformed through infrastructural interventions. As an amalgam of things and ideas, infrastructure comes saturated with relations between materials, artifacts, systems, individuals, groups, institutions (including academic ones), governmental bodies, and cultures that at once actively shape experience and seem passively just to be that felt and known experience. Studying critically these relations of heterogeneous entities and agencies requires bringing the perspectives of different disciplines of infrastructure into collision to question what infrastructure is, who it is for, and how to envision better infrastructures—ones more just, caring, and sustainable at both local and global levels. Examined critically, infrastructure surfaces from the status of substrate to reveal a continual clash between forms of power and contestation, freedom and constraint, globalism and localism, design and mess, functionality and sustainability, standardization and difference, and closed and open technologies in the materials of culture.

Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities—a new volume in the Debates in the Digital Humanities seriess—will have a twin, dialectical focus. It will direct the attention of digital humanists to the wider area of infrastructure studies, and deploy perspectives gained from that wider infrastructuralism to better understand the infrastructures of DH. Previous volumes in the Debates in the DH series (and calls for papers for volumes in progress) have already partly witnessed the momentum of critical infrastructure studies in DH by addressing, for example, “institutions [and] infrastructures at the interstices”; DH’s “uneven distributions of [infrastructural] resources—on national, institutional, organizational, and cultural levels”; and the makers’ or builders’ “conceptual matter” of "humanities scholarship as built, assembled, or constructed.”1

Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities will now bring infrastructural approaches front and center as an area where DH is uniquely equipped to lead the humanities in thought and practice, using its own infrastructural legacy as inspiration and mirror. The aim is to understand how infrastructure underpins and influences DH, and how DH in turn can influence infrastructure design, development, and maintenance. The volume will promote understanding of critical infrastructure studies as a field of writing and practice, and open dialogues between DH and cognate infrastructural fields.

Please consider contributing a work for Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities that might fit into one of the following three categories:

  1. Critical Infrastructure Studies from the Perspective of DH: Argumentative essays (preferably in the range of 6,000 words) that explore issues and debates around historical or contemporary infrastructures, or infrastructuralism at large, but with attention to (or through the lens of) their digital platforms, technologies, data, media, and other features of interest to DH. What can a digital perspective—including recent emphases in the DH field such as cultural analytics, the maker or builder movement, critical race and ethnicity studies, data ethics, feminism, environmentalism, postcolonialism, and others—bring to readings of infrastructures large and small? Where do the intersections between material, informational, medial, and platform infrastructures lie? What new methods (e.g., network or text analysis, data visualization, GIS mapping, and so on) can DH offer to investigate infrastructures?
  2. Digital Humanities from the Perspective of Critical Infrastructure Studies: Argumentative essays (preferably in the range of 6,000 words) that explore debates, histories, and theories of the infrastructures of DH itself, and of its institutions and practices, in ways that exceed a narrow disciplinary focus or a “this is my project” mode. Essays would ideally draw DH into wider vistas that will interest humanists in general or scholars in other fields. What is DH infrastructure—what configuration of materials, machines, platforms, networks, code, people, labs, institutions, politics, values, and cultures? How is DH—its identity, boundaries, and capabilities—shaped by the influence of various other infrastructures, including those of communities, cities, universities, governments, and industries? What relation should DH adopt to institutional and global information technology, and what responsibility does it have to open hardware, software, and standards? How can, or should, legacy or heritage infrastructures in DH be curated as part of cultural memory in a way comparable to other heritage? In sum, what does it mean to adopt an infrastructural stance towards DH, and why does it matter?
  3. (Re)Envisioning DH Infrastructure: Briefer textual or multimedia (e.g., digital arts, graphic novel, filmic, musical), interactive, data-modeled, documentary, creative, or other works that help envision or reenvision infrastructures. (Contributions for this category can include materials in digital form to be embedded or linked from the open-access, online version of the volume that will appear on the Manifold platform three months after the publication of the print book. (For an example of an earlier Debates in DH volume published on Manifold, see Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019). But each contribution must have a critical statement and, if appropriate, also visual representation that can be included in the print book.) Possible kinds and formats of such “(Re)Envisioning DH Infrastructure” contributions might include:
    • Critical Anatomies or Archeograms probing existing DH infrastructures (or other infrastructures that would interest digital humanists) in the analytic mode of X-ray visions, exploded diagrams, system and network diagrams, maps, architectures, models, specifications or protocols, or site investigations. (For the idea of an “archaeogram,” see Armelle Skatulski, “Data Archeogram: Mapping the Datafication of Work,” Autonomy, n. d.)
    • Infrastructural Reimaginings proposing hypothetical, fictional, artistic, critical, “deformance(d),” “glitched,” or other alternatives to existing or dominant DH infrastructures (or other infrastructures of interest to digital humanists and humanists).2 For example, an infrastructural reimagining could envisage an alternative social media platform; a different paradigm for a classroom; or a non-Western or -Northern design for “networked,” “mobile,” “open source,” “commons,” “private,” “secure,” or “artificial intelligence” digital information systems. How is, or should, infrastructure be imagined from the point of view of the Global South, Africa, the East, island cultures, and indigenous cultures?

Infrastructure Manifests

A distinctive feature of Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities is that each essay or other contribution will include a brief “infrastructure manifest” (in a template to be created by the volume editors) that declares the principal infrastructures underlying its creation—e.g., natural resources, unceded indigenous land, and major platforms, networks, tools, and institutional or other structures providing sources, storage, processing and workflow (including writing, visualizing, communicating, and collaborating), and labor and expertise—along with any key ethical considerations. Drafts of these manifests will be shared among contributors during the editing and review process so that they can be revised in light of other manifests, thus encouraging bottom-up consensus-building about how DH should acknowledge infrastructure.

Diversity and Inclusion

To ensure that the volume includes diverse viewpoints, the editors encourage contributions from scholars, scholar-activists, practitioners, artists, designers, engineers, and others from different racial, ethnic, and indigenous backgrounds, from the LGBTQ community, from around the world, from different disciplines and kinds of institutions, and from those at all levels and stages in their profession. (Contributions must be in English, though translations in other languages provided by authors may be included in the post-print, open-access version of the volume.) The volume editors will review all abstracts, and authors of selected abstracts will be invited to submit full works. Subsequently—as a signature practice of the Debates in DH series—contributors will be expected to participate in peer-to-peer review of two other contributions to the volume. The volume will be published in print and after three months also in an open-access, online version through the Manifold platform.

Please be aware that at this call-for-papers stage we are soliciting proposals for a volume that will undergo review through the peer-to-peer review process mentioned above, editorial review (by both the volume and series editors), and outside peer review for University of Minnesota Press. As is normal for such a volume, therefore, acceptance of a contribution for inclusion in the book to be proposed to University of Minnesota Press is not a guarantee of publication.


  • Abstracts (500 words) and a short bio due: December 15, 2021 (Include in the abstract a projected length for the final contribution.)
  • Decisions on acceptance of abstracts by February 28, 2022
  • Full submissions (essays or other kinds of contributions) by September 1, 2022
  • Peer-to-peer reviewing and editors’ reviewing September–November, 2022
  • Revised submissions by January 31, 2023
  • Final editors’ review February–March, 2023 (final revisions by authors expected by summer 2023)
  • Submission of volume to U. Minnesota Press: Summer or Fall 2023


Please submit 500-word abstracts and a short bio to,, and (Please address all three editors.)


1. Anne McGrail, Angel David Nieves, and Siobhan Senier, ed., “CFP: Institutions, Infrastructures at the Interstices” (2017); Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, ed., “CFP: Debates in the Digital Humanities 2021” (2019); and Jentery Sayers, ed., “Introduction: ‘I Don’t Know All the Circuitry,’” in Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (2017), and “CFP: Making Things and Drawing Boundaries” (2015). (The volume edited by McGrail, Nieves, and Senier was ultimately retitled People, Practice. Power: DH outside the Center.)

2. On “deformance,” see Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, “Deformance and Interpretation,” New Literary History 30, no. 1 (1999): 25–56. On “glitch,” see Rosa Menkman, The Glitch Moment(um), Network Notebooks 4 (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011).