BEYOND LOCAL AND GLOBAL: UNPACKING THE MISSING MIDDLE IN ENVIRONMENTAL SENSING CYBERINFRASTRUCTURES
Ntabathia, Jude Mwenda
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Today, when our time’s most important issues are framed as either local, global, or some combination of the two, what is the enduring importance of scale? Scholars within environmental humanities and science and technology studies have made calls to move away from local versus global dichotomies. This dissertation explores scale in infrastructures as they occur when resolving tensions between local and global, short- and long-term. Specifically, it addresses the concerns of scalar dichotomies, arguing that infrastructures entail much more than resolving tensions between the aforementioned scalar polarities. Through this dissertation, I employ ethnographic methods to illuminate the role of scale and scaling in the development of a low-power sea level sensing network on the South-Eastern coast of the United States. My research shows how infrastructures work across scalar dimensions of space, time, and human involvement. On the matter of space, I demonstrate spatial embedding as a scaling strategy where the project scales up by connecting to already existing structures, for example, when sensors are affixed to bridges and piers. Along the temporal dimension, I illustrate how linking the short- to the long-term is a form of scaling. I utilize rhythmanalysis to show how long-term rhythms such as climate change become linked to short-term issues, such as emergency response. I end by unpacking what it means to scale a human infrastructure, highlighting the contextual implications of adding another person or institution. I hope this work provides a framework through which researchers within infrastructure studies and related areas can attend to the missing middle, which contains a plurality of scales.