On Half-Built Assemblages: Waiting for a Data Center in Prineville, Oregon
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.
Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Barry, Joseph Patrick. 2017. Bonneville Lock and Dam. Retired Ranger & Associates LLC.
Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Coole, Diana, and Samantha Frost, editors. 2010. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press,.
Danneels, Erwin. 2004. “Disruptive Technology Reconsidered: A Critique and Research Agenda.” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 21(1):246–58.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Edwards, Dustin W. 2020. “Digital Rhetoric on a Damaged Planet: Storying Digital Damage as Inventive Response to the Anthropocene.” Rhetoric Review, 39(1):59–72.
Elish, Madeleine Clare. 2019. “Moral Crumple Zones: Cautionary Tales in Human-Robot Interaction.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 5:40–60.
Farber, Henry S. 2010. “Job Loss and the Decline in Job Security in the United States.” Labor in the New Economy, edited by Katharine G. Abraham et al., 223–262. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Gray, Mary L., and Siddharth Suri. 2019. Ghost Work: How to Stop Sillicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Hardy, Jean, et al. 2019. “Rural HCI Research: Definitions, Distinctions, Methods, and Opportunities.” PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 3:1–34.
Hogan, Mél. 2015. “Facebook Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly.” Television & New Media, 16(1):3–18
Hogan, Mél. 2017. “Sweaty Zuckerberg and Cool Computing.” Zuckerberg Review. Accessed 19
Jun 2020. http://zuckerbergreview.com/hogan.html.
Hogan, Mél. 2018. “Big Data Ecologies.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 18(3):631–657.
Hu, Tung-Hui. 2016. A Prehistory of the Cloud. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ingold, Tim. 2012. “Toward an Ecology of Materials.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 41(1):427–442.
Jensen, Nathan M., and Edmund J. Malesky. 2018. Incentives to Pander: How Politicians Use Corporate Welfare for Political Gain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, Alix. 2019. “Data Centers as Infrastructural In-Betweens: Expanding Connections and Enduring Marginalities in Iceland.” American Ethnologist, 46(1):75–88.
Kalleberg, Arne L. 2009. “2008 Presidential Address - Precarious Work, Insecure Workers: Employment Relations in Transition.” American Sociological Review, 74(1):1–22.
Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Cambridge, UK: Oxford University Press.
Law, John. 2008. “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory.
Levenda, Anthony M. and Dillon Mahmoudi 2019. “Silicon Forest and Server Farms: The (Urban) Nature of Digital Capitalism in the Pacific Northwest.” Culture Machine, 18:1–14. Available https://culturemachine.net/vol-18-the-nature-of-data-centers/silicon-forest-and-server-farms/
MacKenzie, Donald. 2018. “Material Signals: A Historical Sociology of High-Frequency Trading.” American Journal of Sociology, 123(6):1635–1683.
May, Martha. 1982. “The Historical Problem of the Family Wage: The Ford Motor Company and the Five Dollar Day.” Feminist Studies, 8(2):399–424.
Miller, Daniel, editor. 2005. Materiality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Müller, Martin. 2015. “Assemblages and Actor-Networks: Rethinking Socio-Material Power , Politics and Space.” Geography Compass, 9(1):27–41.
Nelson, Margaret K., and Joan Smith. 1999. Working Hard and Making Do: Surviving in Small Town America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Holt, Jennifer, and Patrick Vonderau 2015. “‘Where the Internet Lives’: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure.” Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure, edited by Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Pickren, Graham. 2017. “The Factories of the Past Are Turning into the Data Centers of the Future.” Imaginations, 8(2):22–29.
Schwab, Les. 1986. Les Schwab: Pride in Performance Keep It Going! Bend, OR: Maverick Publications.
Star, Susan Leigh. 1999. “The Ethnography of Infrastructure.” American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3): 377–391.
Stein, Arlene. 2002. The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Tarczynska, Kasia. 2016. Money Lost to the Cloud: How Data Centers Benefit From State and Local Government Subsidies.
Turner, Fred. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Velkova, Julia. 2019. “Data Centers as Impermanent Infrastructures.” Culture Machine, vol. 18. Available https://culturemachine.net/vol-18-the-nature-of-data-centers/data-centers-as-impermanent/
Vonderau, Astra. 2017. “Technologies of Imagination: Locating the Cloud in Sweden’s North.” Imaginations, 8(2)8–21.
Copyright (c) 2020 Jenna Burrell
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors of all content published in ESTS retain the copyright to their work, and agree to license them under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license. Please read our open access policy for more information.