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Institute of Advanced Study

Crossing the Threshold of Concern: How Infrastructure Emerges as an Object of Security

Abstract

In this article I examine the way in which representations of the vulnerability of infrastructure reveal a particular understanding of the distinctive characteristics of contemporary, urban life. Infrastructure refers to the physical systems that provide power, remove waste, transport goods and bodies as well as facilitate the exchange of information and money: roads, rails, pipes, cables, and so on. While infrastructures often go unnoticed on a day-to-day basis, their interruption or absence threatens urbanised life. Infrastructure protection has thus become central to many states’ security agendas. This article thus examines the way in which infrastructures are made the object of security. Broadly speaking – in the UK at least – infrastructure can be designated either national or critical. While the former refers to an infrastructure that underpins a spatially-located community, the latter indicates the connectivity that makes communication, data transfer and markets possible. In this article I ask how particular infrastructures become objects of such security concerns. I argue that we have affective relations with infrastructures such as roads or wires in which conceptions of spatial extent, community or connectivity are implicit. It is through these affective relations that we come to understand the potential loss of particular infrastructural objects as a vulnerability and thus make efforts to give them greater protection and security.

Insights Paper