Lead project

Critical Infrastructures: The Political Construction, Spatiality, and Governance of Criticality


The lead project’s aim is to better understand the political construction and the governance of critical infrastructures in conjunction with their spatial dimension. Infrastructures are increasingly considered regarding their vulnerability to disruption and the security risks resulting from it. Political resources are mobilized to appropriately secure ‘critical infrastructures’ such as communications and energy networks. But which infrastructures are considered critical and why?
Urban climate change adaptation and energy transitions are two fields in which the aspect of infrastructural criticality receives increasing attention. They will serve as fields of analysis. In debates surrounding urban climate change adaptation, the possible damage to and collapse of vital infrastructures, such as traffic, water supply and sewage, due to extreme events such as storms, droughts and floods take centre stage. In recent dynamics of energy transitions or ‘Energiewende’, formerly separate infrastructure grids like traffic and electricity are becoming increasingly integrated with each other. Furthermore, more and more infrastructures are being electrified. Both trends bring about new risks. Additionally, in both fields of study, digitalization plays a central role, both as a resource for better infrastructure network management and as an additional source of uncertainty.
To date there is little research on the political construction of infrastructure criticality. The lead project will address this gap. In the first complex, the questions are raised which infrastructures are considered critical and by whom, which collective socio-technical imaginaries are formulated and institutionalized, and which nexus-relations between formerly separate infrastructure networks contribute to perceptions of criticality. In a second complex, the spatiality of critical infrastructures is addressed: Which spatial dimensions – such as state territories, concrete places, material networks – are constituted in relation to critical infrastructures in both fields of analysis? How does criticality unfold in time and space? In particular, which role does the dichotomy between creeping processes, such as infrastructure decay by lack of maintenance, and singular disruptive events play? The third complex of questions focalizes the governance of critical infrastructures. How does the governance of critical infrastructures change in the studied fields as a result of the time-spatial dynamics of, on the one hand, creeping processes and, on the other hand, disruptive events? Which new actor constellations emerge? Which governance forms were used to develop resilience strategies in dealing with critical infrastructures? In terms of methods, the lead project will mainly draw on institutional analyses, discourse analyses and focus groups.

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