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Geopolitical conflicts are increasingly being articulated as conflicts over infrastructures, whether it is about the SWIFT payment system in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, or economic sanctions against Huawei telecommunications equipment in the context of US-China relations. Communication infrastructure like submarine internet cables and 5G antennas constitute the invisible scaffolding of social life. Largely concealed to their end users, they are nonetheless becoming the main stage of local and global conflict, which will shape our societies in the decades to come. Only rarely do they become an object of public concern.

In the critical infrastructure lab we create space to co-develop alternative infrastructural futures that center people and the planet over profit and capital. We believe that infrastructures are changing the modes of governance and control, and will enable or restrain agency. The critical infrastructure lab will offer research on conflicts over global digital infrastructures through the lenses of (1) geopolitics, (2) standards, and (3) environment.

The topic of geopolitics focuses on the role of governments and multilateral organizations in the reconfiguration of global communication networks, such as the isolation of the internet in Russia through the RUnet-initiative, sanctions and attacks in Ukraine on communication infrastructure, and Digital Sovereignty initiatives in Europe. The topic of standards will focus on how the development and standardization of telecommunication networks, such as 5G, provides a medium in which such conflicts are inscribed. The final topic of environment will explore the relation between infrastructural expansions and the management, distribution, and depletion of natural resources, by looking at the social and environmental values embedded or ignored in data infrastructure in conflicts surrounding the data centers, devices, and connectivity. Jointly, these three angles – of geopolitics, standards, and environment – provide an overarching view on how current and future communication infrastructures are materially shaped through conflict, and can identify venues and opportunities for engagement for civil society and governments alike.

Dr. N. (Niels) ten Oever

Faculty of Humanities

Europese studies