Infrastructural Texts, Textual Infrastructures

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
NEMLA 2019 (Washington DC)
contact email: 

What is the relationship of infrastructure to the social, the historical, and the literary, and how might different methodological approaches help us understand this relationship? In the introduction to their book Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski have described "critical infrastructure studies" as a way to consider and historicize "infrastructures as large technical systems, urbanization campaigns, and sites of material culture...from bridges to power grids, from railways to sewer systems." When dreams of development, of globalization, of prosperity, or of imperial power take physical shape, they often take the form of large-scale construction projects. Prosperity requires the exchange of goods; political power requires the ability to quickly project force. People build bridges, canals, roads, and tunnels to make these dreams realities. At the same time, these projects have often led literary lives. Writers have helped dream them up, advanced arguments for their completion, reflected on their importance, and made visible their complicated enmeshments with regimes of power and violence.

This panel invites work from across disciplines, periods, and linguistic traditions that considers the relationship of literature to development projects, especially infrastructural ones. From the capitalist core to the economic peripheries, infrastructure projects have served as crucial sites of investment and political contestation. Such projects have also facilitated the movement of people and things as well as the exchange of ideas and cultural knowledge. How have infrastructural projects and their attendant economic and political effects been reflected in literary texts? How has literature been shaped by the exchanges made possible by infrastructure? Taken another way: to what extent can formal analysis of texts reveal properly literary infrastructures, and what relationship might these have to their brick-and-mortar cousins?

This panel invites work from across disciplines, periods, and linguistic traditions that considers the relationship of literature to development projects, especially infrastructural ones. How have infrastructural projects and their attendant economic and political effects been reflected in literary texts? How has literature been shaped by the exchanges made possible by infrastructure? Taken another way: to what extent can formal analysis of texts reveal properly literary infrastructures, and what relationship might these have to their brick-and-mortar cousins?