Integrating Critical Disability Studies into the Historiography of Infrastructures

Vasilis Galis, Aristotle Tympas, Spyros Tzokas

Research output: Contribution to conference - NOT published in proceeding or journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


Infrastructures are habitually associated with enabling, with facilitating mobility. Attention to accidents and related failures of infrastructures, due to accidental or endemic reasons, has substantially enriched the historiography of infrastructures while, at the same time, pointing to limits to mobility. What we still lack is an adequate number of studies that link infrastructures to structural immobility, to systematic disabling. As we see it, the history of the co-construction of infrastructures and disability can help us to raise critical questions regarding both infrastructures and disability. We expect this to be beneficial to both historians of technology (and other historians of infrastructures) and scholars who specialize in critical disability studies.
The paper will present ongoing research on a whole range of infrastructures (from ICT to biotechnology) that are embedded in transport and related infrastructures. For the purpose of the ‘New Directions in the History of Infrastructures’ conference, we will focus on two representative case studies:
(1) Attempts to construct migration control transport-related infrastructures at the EU borders. The emphasis here is on infrastructures as shaped by the clash of the technologies used by those who have tried to block access to Europe and those who have tried to enter Europe. We will pay special attention to the infrastructures tried at the Greek borders over the last 25 years, when attempts to block mass migration flows from Eastern Europe and Asia came to challenge the rhetoric of globalization.
(2) Plans to introduce and operate urban transport infrastructures that produced new versions of disability and/or reconfigured versions of existing disability. We aim to show the gradual defeat and dis/abling of the ‘undesired urban subject’ through the implementation and configuration of control, surveillance and policing infrastructures. While our first case traces attempts at infrastructure-crossing in the land and sea borders of Greece (e.g. in the Evros area in north-east Greece and in the Aegean sea), our second follows the history of surveillance and policing infrastructures of so-called ‘internal border control’, that is control in urban settings (e.g. the Athens and the Stockholm metro).
As our argument goes, transportation infrastructures (and the other technological infrastructures connected to them) have tended to constitute boundaries of protected identities and privileges, an institutionalized filter for ‘undesirable’ bodies. Similarly, transport infrastructures were sites of contestations and struggles over “who belongs and who doesn’t” - who is allowed to move freely in national or urban spaces and who isn’t. Transport infrastructures became sites for regulating and controlling certain groups. Seen like this, transport technologies, at remote national borders and in the heart of a national metropolis, were a key field for sociotechnical battles that produced dis/abled-displaced bodies, that is, a new corporeal subject. Dis/abled-displaced human bodies were the other side of enabling border/urban transport technologies. Through studying the history of the formation of specific border and urban transport infrastructures we aim to study the deformation of citizenship and the displacement of the clandestine, that is, the amputation of identity (cultural-national, corporeal). Our theoretical argument is that citizenship and/or dis/ability do not reside solely in the body or in society. They are an effect that comes into being when certain embodiments “are irreducibly caught up in a web of constitutive connections that disturb the very idea of the human being “(Shildrick, 2010).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventNew Directions in the History of Infrastructure: Interdisciplinary Conference, Danish Post & Tele Museum - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 26 Sept 201428 Sept 2014


ConferenceNew Directions in the History of Infrastructure
Internet address


  • infrastructure studies
  • disability
  • critical disability studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Integrating Critical Disability Studies into the Historiography of Infrastructures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this