Scrapping the Workshop of the World: Civic Infrastructuring and the Politics of Late Industrial Governance

Alison Kenner


To understand harm in breathing spaces requires analysis of the ways in which structural violence is built into technologies of environmental governance; a script that cannot recognize the dynamic relationships between bodies, atmospheres, and the industrial practices that condition both. In this paper, I show how community members in a small, Philadelphia neighborhood came to understand that toxic air is made permissible through late industrial political techniques. One of these techniques is a civic engagement platform, designed to more efficiently and transparently connect the public with municipal agencies, and recommended to community members as a means to address atmospheric hazards. Despite initial public optimism, the City’s civic engagement platform failed to address environmental hazards. Rather than abandon the platform, however, community members appropriated the City’s digital infrastructure to run an environmental reporting project. Drawing on the work of STS scholars, I describe the community’s work as civic infrastructuring, a sociotechnical process that utilized public infrastructure to better understand government failure and build community capacity to engage the administration, even if on late industrial terms.


infrastructuring; late industrialism; digital infrastructure; air pollution; environmental health; urban governance

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Copyright (c) 2020 Alison Kenner

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