On Half-Built Assemblages: Waiting for a Data Center in Prineville, Oregon

Jenna Burrell


In 2010 the mega-corporation Facebook finalized an agreement to build a massive data center in Prineville, a small town in central Oregon previously known for logging, cattle ranching, and as the headquarters of the Les Schwab tire company. This was a largely unanticipated event that local leaders nonetheless prepared for several decades before when they designated a rural economic zone on the outskirts of town. However, the enterprise zone sat mostly unused, an empty and dusty piece of high desert land dotted with sagebrush and juniper trees. I describe the preparatory efforts that laid the groundwork for the data center as effecting a “half-built assemblage.” Through such anticipatory reconfigurations, local leaders recognized the limits of regional government to overcome the challenges of their peripherality. In the controversy surrounding such data center deals, critics have often cast rural leaders as naive or as pandering to voters. However, I argue that the alliance with Facebook was one of the few courses of action available to local leaders that had any chance of realizing regional economic development goals. In seeking to understand the data center deal from a local perspective, I contribute an alternative notion of temporality to materialist theorizing by looking across much longer durations of time in relation to the political economy, the natural world, and other elements as a way to temper exaggerations of anthropocentric agency and the narrow attribution of blame.


data centers; assemblages; Facebook; temporality; materiality

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2020.447

Copyright (c) 2020 Jenna Burrell

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