[I’m in gauntlet mode so more free-form notes.]
- Starosielski teaches at NYU in the MCC program and trained with Lisa Parks; with The Undersea Network, she became one of the major figures in infrastructural media studies.
- This book emerges chiefly from the ethnographic and communications studies focused media studies more so than political and aesthetic media theory (where I would locate Hu’s A Prehistory of the Cloud, from the same year). It bears many of the traces of Lisa Parks’ work: extensive fieldwork (how was it funded?), an emphasis on documentation, an interest in the human stories of communications infrastructure, and an emphasis on questions of transmission over computation. Signal traffic over signal processing.
- The Undersea Network is one of the clearest examples we have of the occluded/submerged paradigm in infrastructural media studies: the basic assumption that it is a scholar’s duty to plumb hidden depths and reveal the real operations underneath smooth surfaces.
- The book’s analytical methods are wide-ranging: there are parts that are ethnographic and some that in their focus on representation reveal Starosielski’s training in film studies.
- “As it traverses the material environments of cable systems, The Undersea Network introduces readers to the structure of cable networks, the geographies from which they have emerged and remain sedimented, and the actors responsible for their construction. In the process, the book develops a view of global cable infrastructure that is counterintuitive yet complementary to the popular understanding of networking. It is wired rather than wireless; semicentralized rather than distributed; territorially entrenched rather than deterritorialized; precarious rather than resilient; and rural and aquatic rather than urban” (10).
- Some of the points are similar between Starosielski and Hu: in particular, the idea that contemporary networking technologies reproduce old forms of political oppression. They are quite different in terms of what access they imagine we really have to the subjects of our analysis. Starosielski has an unspoken debt to Innis’ “dirt research,” getting out there into the field, interviewing members of the cable industry (often in a strangely parasitic way); Hu operates from the presumption that we can never have real access to the “thing” of the cloud, partially because of corporate and governmental secrecy and partially because the cloud is better understood as a cultural formation, and as such must be articulated and analyzed indirectly through cultural representations.
- She describes her method as a “network archaeology,” an elaboration of media archaeology that seems to deploy more archival and historical narrative research but is otherwise a bit vague (15).
These notes are a bit sparse and I’m sure I’ll return to this book plus I’ve read it before so, priorities.