Infrastructures of Education

Helene Ratner and Katja Brøgger

Education is increasingly shaped by highly complex infrastructures of governance (Ozga, Segerholm, & Simola, 2011) Defined in contrast to government, governance can be considered a system of rule that uses mobilizing techniques and recruit agents other than those of the state. Governance ischaracterized by the development of persuasive incentive structures, monitoring tools, and a growth in data production and international policy networks. Where the latter enacts Europe as a policy space that needs to be geared to a globalized and competitive future, monitoring tools, increased data and new big data technologies facilitate new types of circulations, comparisons, predictive calculations, and international rankings.

We might think of these developments through the concept ‘infrastructure’. While we tend to take infrastructure for granted in everyday life, the premise of this stream is that infrastructure will allow us new insights into the production of educational governance. The term encompasses humans, processes, procedures, tools, and technologies used to produce, use, transport, store and even destruct information (Pironti, 2006). This is useful as it is important not to reduce these developments to the study of a simple dataset or policy text. Infrastructure allows us to track and investigate the ways in which the productions of policy and data are entangled in the make-up of classifications and standards ((Bowker & Star, 2000). As Brian Larkin argues (2013), infrastructures are things in themselves and bring things into relationship, hence changing and constituting new objects of governance. Infrastructures are both local and global, a response to situated legal, technical and institutional demands, yet they extend and adapt to new sites as they branch out. They entail a politics and poetics, they produce technical objects and desires of movement and progress and thus they contribute the possibility of studying an expanded perception of (non)-human agency in modern educational governance.

This stream takes up the question of how ethnography might address and explore educational infrastructures. Infrastructures challenge traditional ethnography associated with thick description and a single site study (Geertz 1973). Given their temporal and spatial extensions, information infrastructures challenge the idea of the educational organization as a bounded and local site. Taking inspiration in ‘multisited ethnography’ may be a way to handle and address phenomena that extend across time and space (Marcus, 1995). The multisited approach indicates that field and site are no longer coterminous (Wright, 2011). This approach may allow us to attend to how matters of size and importance are relational effects of information infrastructures rather than pre-existing realities onto which information infrastructures are implemented. Infrastructures generate spaces of educational governance. We invite papers that address:

  • The exploration of data infrastructures
  • Examinations of the infrastructures of education reforms
  • The accomplishment of infrastructure
  • The hybrid, (non)human agency of infrastructures
  • Methodological challenges related to the examination of infrastructures
  • How infrastructures build and transform standards and classifications
  • How infrastructures fabricate new spaces of educational governance
  • The performative effects of specific infrastructures, ranging from teaching over management to data visuals

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal to by Tuesday 28th February 2017.


Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (2000). Sorting Things Out. Classification and Its Consequences. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Busch, L. (2011). Standards. Recipes for Realities. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Larkin, Brian. 2013. The politics and poetics of infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology 42 : 327-73.

Marcus, G. E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual review of Anthropology, 24, 95-117.

Ozga, J., Segerholm, C., & Simola, H. (2011). The governance turn. In J. Ozga, P. Dahler-Larsen, C. Segerholm, & H. Simola (Eds.), Fabricating Quality in Education. Data and governance in Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

Pironti, John. 2006. Key elements of a threat and vulnerability management program. Information Systems, Audit and Control Association Journal (ISACA) 3 : 52-6.

Star, S. L., & Bowker, G. C. (2006). How to Infrastructure? In L. A. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (Eds.), Handbook of New Media. Social Shaping and Social Consequences of ICTs. London: SAGE.

Wright, S. (2011). Studying Policy: Methods, Paradigms, Perspectives. In C. Shore, S. Wright, & D. Però (Eds.), Policy Worlds. Anthropology and the Analysis of Contemporary Power (Vol. 14). New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.

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