The term “infrastructure” evokes vast sets of collective equipment necessary to human activities, such as buildings, roads, bridges, rail tracks, channels, ports, and communications networks. Beyond bricks, mortar, pipes or wires, infrastructure also encompasses more abstract entities, such as protocols (human and computer), standards, and memory.
“information,” infrastructure refers loosely to digital facilities and services usually associated with the internet: computational services, help desks, and data repositories to name a few.
Here we take infrastructure as a broad category referring to pervasive enabling resources in network form, and we argue that a theoretical understanding of infrastructure is crucial to its design, use, and maintenance. This understanding plays a critical role in associated fields such as informatics, library science, and new media – all fields that underpin communication in large-scale and long-term collaborative science. In our analysis we extend conventional understandings of infrastructure as “tubes and wires” to the technologies and organizations which enable knowledge work:
As Leigh Star has noted, infrastructure is relational: the daily work of one person is the infrastructure of another (Star & Ruhleder, 1996). Finally, we further open the conceptual umbrella of infrastructure to include the individuals – designers and developers, users and mediators, managers and administrators – in existing and emergent roles associated with information infrastructure.
An alternative vision of infrastructure may better take into account the social and organizational dimensions of infrastructure.
It involves changing common views and metaphors on infrastructure: from transparency to vis- ibility, from substrate to substance, from short term to long term (Karasti, Baker, & Halkola, 2006; Star & Ruhleder, 1996).