Deconstructing a Grand Vision: Dismantling Infrastructure on the Ocean Floor
Stephanie B. Steinhardt
Annual Meeting of the Social Studies of Science (4S) | November 10-12, 2015 | Denver, CO
Where there is innovation there also is resistance, where there are plans there is also uncertainty, and where there is construction there is also destruction. This paper will focus on the breaking down of infrastructure, drawing from years of fieldwork around the planning and construction into the descoping of the largest US investment in ocean science, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The OOI’s narrative does not contain a clear recognizable break point but instead a gradual breaking down with very material and personal implications for those working within and around it. While much STS work has followed the development of infrastructure, I offer this perspective to trace the multiple temporalities at play in the converse scenario: as the buoys, sensors, satellites and seafloor-walking robots of the OOI are dismantled. The discussion will focus on the immortality of data and the mortality of infrastructure, and the temporal work of redistributing ownership to avoid detritus both on the ocean floor and in our federal spending.