Transformations of Infrastructure Systems

Virtual Conference on 4.-5. November 2021

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The organizational team

At first glance, infrastructures appear to be solid, stable, and immovable. But is that really the case? Research in recent years has shown the opposite: Infrastructures are dynamic and malleable, characterised by continuous development, interruptions, breakdowns, as well as reconstruction, and repair. So, if infrastructures are characterised as changeable to a greater extent, then we might ask: At what point do changes to or within an infrastructural system go beyond “normal” adaptation? At what point can we call such processes “transformation”? Is transformation more than a descriptive category or normative demand on infrastructures? In short, what do we mean when we talk about transformation, and how can it be defined as something distinct from incremental change?

The Research Training Group KRITIS, Kritische Infrastrukturen: Konstruktion, Funktionskrisen und Schutz in Städten, invites you to a two day virtual conference to be held from 4th to 5th November 2021. The conference will serve to enter into a dialogue on the topic of transformation on infrastructure systems with experts from academia and relevant stakeholders or practitioners outside academia.

Current debates surrounding digitalisation, the decarbonisation of energy systems, and the rapid rate of global urbanisation, as well as the challenges each of these issues pose to technologies, actors, and societies, illustrate the degree to which transformation is at stake in the near future. These processes represent a main challenge both to technological innovation and to (urban) societies that both support and are supported by infrastructures. Transformation is not, however, specific to our time; rather, complex infrastructure systems have undergone processes of change since their inceptions.

The dynamic and changing nature of infrastructure systems is one of the central themes of the Research Training Group KRITIS. Our aim is to describe, understand, and explain transformation processes of infrastructures. What triggers these transformations, under what conditions do they take place, and what consequences do they have? We understand infrastructures as socio-technical systems that include physical-technical elements, actors, practices, institutions, and organizations. We also take into account the spatial and temporal dimensions in which infrastructures are embedded. The scope of our research on transformations, their causes, conditions, and consequences, includes technical components and modes of operation, socio-political aspects, as well as spatio-temporal embeddings.

The aim of the conference is to elucidate different perspectives on transformation of infrastructure systems. These perspectives are represented by the four subtopics:

  • Cultures of Transformation: Transformation processes must be conceived as multidirectional phenomena that influence and are influenced by societies and cultures: Changes to infrastructures can be a reaction to modified social needs and practices, for example. Conversely, changes to infrastructures can also influence society. In this section we seek to understand the relationship between society and infrastructure via the concept of "culture".
  • Governance: The governance of transformation processes focuses on the coordination of collective and individual actors, e.g., policymakers, enterprises, and intermediaries. The main question revolves around: How are transformation processes guided and how do different (groups of) actors influence transformation processes?
  • Temporality and Spatiality: Any transformation of (critical) infrastructure is inherently shaped by its distinct temporality and spatiality. Since transformation is a process of change, temporality is one of its main elements. At the same time, infrastructures are always embedded in space and connect places and people across distances. Transformations thus take place within complex spatio-temporal relationships.
  • Safe Transformation: Given the dynamic nature of infrastructure, transformations can also occur as rapid and comprehensive change in one or multiple, interconnected systems. But compared to incremental changes that represent the “daily business” of adaption and repair, profound transformations seem riskier to an infrastructure system, changing fundamental parameters of operation. Therefore, transformation may increase the risk of instabilities, failures, or breakdowns and that safe operation and function of a given system is fundamentally important to transformation processes.

The panels will consist of invited speakers from the Research Training Group as well as from abroad. Additionally, there will be three keynote lectures by internationally renowned scholars and practitioners, namely

The conference will be held in English.

This website is updated continuously. Status: 2021-11-06

The conference program is subject to change.
Time (UTC+1) Event Speaker
10:30–11:00 Opening Remarks Prof. Dr. Jens Ivo Engels
Keynote 1: Navigating Messy Histories of Urban Technology: Berlin, 1920-2020

In my talk I will draw on findings from my recent book Remaking Berlin. A History of the City through Infrastructure, 1920-2020 to reveal shortcomings of path dependence and transitions concepts in interpreting a city’s infrastructure history across a 100-year period. Whilst each concept can explain some phenomena, neither is well suited to capturing the complex dynamics, non-linear developments, alternative trajectories and hybrid configurations that become apparent when taking a long-term perspective on sociotechnical change and continuity. The paper explains these limitations and develops a more nuanced understanding of sociotechnical trajectories based on a research method I term “historicizing assemblages”. Appreciating how urban infrastructure unfolds in messy ways, I will conclude, is essential for unlocking its transformative potential.

Hon.-Prof. Dr. Timothy Moss
Panel 1: Safe Transformation

Given the dynamic nature of infrastructure, transformations can also occur as rapid and comprehensive change in one or multiple, interconnected systems. But compared to incremental changes that represent the “daily business” of adaption and repair, profound transformations seem riskier to an infrastructure system, changing fundamental parameters of operation. Therefore, one could assume, transformation may increase the risk of instabilities, failures, or breakdowns and that safe operation and function of a given system is fundamentally important to transformation processes.

With regard to the possible threats that transformation proposes, it should be noted that concepts and strategies for safety and protection of infrastructures must be as dynamic and adaptable as the infrastructures themselves. In this context, the question arises if infrastructure systems become more vulnerable through transformation, or if, and under what circumstances, transformation can lead to more resilient infrastructure systems.

We equally welcome theoretical contributions and empirical studies on this topic. Central questions that could be discussed are:

  • What is the relationship between crises (functional crises of the infrastructure like breakdowns, systemic crises like political or economic crises, etc.) and transformation?
  • Under what conditions do transformation processes lead to safety problems or functional crises?
  • What is the relationship between vulnerability and transformation: Is transformation the result of identified vulnerabilities and does it cause new vulnerabilities?
  • How can the safety during transformation processes be guaranteed?

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Florian Steinke, TU Darmstadt

How to Govern the Transformation to Resilient Digitalized Energy Systems

The decarbonisation of the energy system not only leads to the replacement of large, central conventional power plants with small, distributed and intermittent renewable energy resources but also shows itself in rising demand and changing consumption patterns from new actors and business models. At the same time, the digitalization is affecting almost every area of our economy and society at rapid speed.

Integrating these new ICT technologies into the energy system is the key to ensure a reliable and safe decarbonization and to manage the increased complexity. However, this digitized energy system also results in new vulnerabilities: By creating (stronger) interdependencies between the ICT and energy system, ICT failures and especially cyber-attacks can result in major threads for the energy system. Future hackers not only have a larger attack area but also new ways of creating instabilities in the system. Additionally, the autonomous control of system components makes it harder to predict system behaviour and increases the complexity for system operators. Finally, the rapid development in the ICT sector results in an uncertainty about future developments, which contrasts with the usually long-term design of energy system infrastructure.

As part of the ESYS (“Energiesysteme der Zukunft”) project, an interdisciplinary working group has identified various fields of action where political intervention is necessary to guarantee a secure energy system in the future. These political measures aim at handling the new vulnerabilities and include:

  • - Managing the interactions between ICT and energy system
  • - Developing systematic cybersecurity taking into account new actors
  • - Promoting the ICT integration of small devices in a way that supports grid stability and
  • - Institutionalising long-term risk and resilience assessment.

Sanja Stark
Resilient Transformations of Critical Infrastructures in Crisis

The advance of information and communication technology (ICT) accelerates the exchange of information and corresponding actions inside critical infrastructures. Operators (private- or public-sector) and regulatory institutions (state or multi-organizational) are pushed to cope with this dynamic. Increasing uncertainties in the environment of critical infrastructure systems, like climate change, terrorism and the potential for criminal or state-sponsored cyberattacks add to the complexity of those systems. To guarantee a safe operation of critical infrastructures responsible actors increasingly resort to strategically fostering resilience in the sociotechnical systems they manage and are part of themselves. Resilience is commonly understood as “bouncing back” to a state of equilibrium. Ecologically informed resilience concepts think of multiple equilibria and recent theories make “bouncing forward” i.e. transformative aspects an integral part of resilience. Yet, a transformative aspect begs the question of which essential core is made resilient? And what remains of this essential core after transformation? In the end, the fabric of critical infrastructures and their resiliency are the product of a social construction by multiple stakeholders. Based on contemporary sociological theories i present a way to rethink the resilience of critical infrastructures. Resilience guarantees continuity for a socially constructed fabric by maintaining transformability and being transformed, in the event of a crisis and despite of adverse circumstances. Every crisis introduces new elements into the sociotechnical system of critical infrastructures that previously weren’t part of it and thereby co-constitutes the fabric multiple stakeholders have mutually constructed. The genealogy of a critical infrastructures’ fabric before and its transformation during a crisis need to be assessed in order to adequately conceive the discursive and material aftereffects.

Alexandros Gazos
12:45–13:45 Lunch Break
An Infinite Loop - How Transformation and Digitalization Create New Fragilities in Critical Infrastructures

In this talk we will show how achieving resilience in critical infrastructures is a continuous process constantly challenged by external and internal influences of critical infrastructure operators. Due to digitalization and transformation an equilibrium of vulnerabilities and countermeasures for resilience can only ever be achieved for a short time – leading to an infinite loop of resilience and fragility.

The talk describes the infinite loop in the energy sector, which has undergone multiple transformations in the past decades. Each of these transformations had follow-on effects on infrastructure resilience that needed to be countered to maintain safety and security.

We will begin by examining the status quo in the energy sector and how we see fragility as a result of insufficient resilience considerations and ineffective risk management by operators.

We will then demonstrate how change is constant in critical infrastructures and cluster the reasons for this change into four areas. This includes technological and societal progress that has so far always introduced new points of fragility to resilient environments. If an environment has not yet reached an appropriate level of resilience, an already fragile status-quo will remain.

Finally, fragility can thus be seen as a result of intra-sector transformation that poses a constant challenge to technology and society which needs to be addressed. By analyzing and anticipating the loop of changes and necessary countermeasures, the impact of transformation on resilience can be reduced by retrofitting security controls or security-by-design on transformation.

We will show how this infinite loop also applies to other sectors with cycles observed in the energy domain also visible in other critical infrastructures – with a time shift.

  • Jan Hoff
  • Paul Weissmann
Dan Geer on Critical Infrastructure: Learning about the Transformation and Digitalization of Infrastructure from a Cybersecurity Pioneer

Dan Geer is a notable practitioner and thinker in the worlds of computing and cybersecurity. His early work developing technologies, and implementing them in various business sectors, have made him a well-respected cybersecurity “guru” and also informed his more recent analysis of cyber threats, digital vulnerabilities, and the risk of digitalization of critical infrastructure. Digitalization represents one of the most important transformations of critical infrastructure in the past half century. The growth of operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS), as well as the explosion of embedded computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), have vastly increased the digital attack surface of modern critical infrastructure, as well as the potential for accidental failures in hardware and software engineering. The proliferation of cyber-physical systems has taken information security and cybersecurity and moved them from a subset of information technology (IT), to a much more important problem – an important subset of reliability and safety in modern infrastructure systems. Few people have thought more broadly and expansively about this transition than Dan Geer has. This presentation will attempt to collect, collate, organize, and present Geer’s thoughts and writings on this important transition in modern infrastructure.

Dr. Brian Nussbaum
14:45–15:00 Coffee Break
Panel 2: Cultures of Transformation

In academia, the socio-technical character of infrastructures has long been recognized: Social life is embedded into technical systems, and vice versa. For example, infrastructure that supports the water system in an area can be a reflection of the cultural relation of a society to water. Hence, this infrastructure can vary greatly between a dry landscape, where people value water highly, and a water-rich territory, where people have a different relationship to water.

Consequently, transformation processes must be conceived as multidirectional phenomena that influence and are influenced by societies and cultures: Changes to infrastructures can be a reaction to modified social needs and practices, for example. Conversely, changes to infrastructures can also influence society. In this section we seek to understand the relationship between society and infrastructure via the concept of ‘culture’. By culture we understand the dynamic system of signs and meanings inherent in societies, which manifests itself in their different practices, for example the reaction to technological innovation. The question of “culture” is thus vital to the explanation and understanding of transformation of technical systems.

We are looking for theoretical or empirical contributions addressing the following questions:

  • What cultural drivers can lead to transformations of critical infrastructures? Are there cultural factors that favour transformation?
  • What narratives are linked to the transformation (of infrastructures), what impact do they have?
  • How does transformation of infrastructures affect cultures?
  • What notions of transformation exist in different epochs or cultures and how do they differ?
  • What is the relationship between social or cultural transformation and the transformation of infrastructures? What interactions exist?

  • Panel Chair: Prof. Martina Heßler, TU Darmstadt

The Role of Wayfinding Systems for Pedestrians in the Functional Transformation of Urban Mobility Infrastructure

Recently, cities around the world have been developing wayfinding systems in an attempt to encourage pedestrian mobilisation. Strategies to promote pedestrian flows in a city are seen as part of a mobility turnaround and are often encouraged.

Wayfinding systems appear as microarchitectural elements that relate to and interpret the existing urban landscape. They are based on and follow the existing infrastructure and the fabric of a city's streets and public spaces, and aim to change its use through changing the composition of.

Wayfinding and its role in urban mobility infrastructure still receive little attention in the literature, although some evaluation findings have pointed out its potential influence on increasing interest in walking. I propose to examine wayfinding as a spatial element that triggers change in urban mobility infrastructure, using the example of the citywide wayfinding system for London—the Legible London Pedestrian Wayfinding System, operated by Transport for London since 2007.

The small physical size of the elements of the pedestrian guidance system and the limitation to relatively near destinations change the scale of reference in the urban mobility infrastructure. At the same time, the limitations of the physical scale of reference open up a wide range of sociocultural meanings created by the representation and redefinition of the urban landscape promoted by wayfinding systems. A deep interconnection between the functional transformation of an infrastructure and its cultural content emerges in the course of the transformation and influences it in turn.

The question arises whether the functional transformation of mobility infrastructure can be thought of as a consequence of the change in scale.

Anna Yukelson
Smart City Strategies as Transformation Campaigns: Cases of Singapore and India

The Smart City concept has attracted world interest over the last two decades with 153 cities worldwide having an official Smart City strategy (Roland Berger, 2019), the number is growing rapidly. They constitute a cornerstone strategy for current and future transformations of both, technical infrastructure and cities as a whole. When the Smart City movement began, the focus was on technological infrastructure. However, as it progressed the focus shifted from infrastructure to people as the original model experienced failure from time to time. Having said this, ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is still a key infrastructure in these initiatives and in crises situations. ICT becomes a critical infrastructure as it not only links other infrastructures to each other but also links technology to people. Thus, it becomes necessary to evaluate the relationship between technological infrastructures and social dimensions and Smart City strategies can be a medium to evaluate the (digital) transformation of our city societies.

By using the case studies of Singapore and India, this presentation aims to present initial findings of the ongoing doctorate thesis - ‘Evaluating the relationship between Smart City strategies and social dimensions’. Selected Smart City strategies of Singapore and India are evaluated with respect to social dimensions – Access & Literacy, Awareness & Engagement, Readiness & Acceptability, Privacy & Security, Empowerment & Capacity Building in order to monitor the transformation of city societies in these two countries. The initial findings suggest that in order for a wholesome transformation of our city societies, the above social dimensions at the minimum have to be taken into consideration while introducing and planning any digital infrastructure. The absence of these leads to increased vulnerability of certain sections of the society which in turn leads to decreased resilience of our city societies.


Roland Berger. (2019). The Smart City Breakaway. How a small group of leading digital cities is outpacing the rest. Munich: Roland Berger GmBH.

Chaitali Dighe
No More Night Pots: Migrants’ Perception of Appropriate Sanitation and the Changing Public Toilets in Central Shanghai

Sustainable transformation of sanitation is addressed as the foundation of multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG6 (safe water and sanitation for all), SDG5 (gender equality), SDG10 (reducing inequalities) and SDG11 (sustainable communities). While academic and policy attention have been widely put on the materialised infrastructural transformations, the cultural dimension of sanitation transformation remains overlooked.

How is ‘appropriate sanitation’ defined among the migrants? How it effects on sanitation infrastructures, and vice versa? Taking Shanghai, China as a paradigm of urban transformation in the global south, my empirical case study is centred around the interaction between migrants’ everyday sanitation practice and public urban sanitation infrastructure. Old neighbourhoods in central Shanghai have long relied on local service-based sanitation system that consists of night pot and community excrement station. In areas where urban regeneration is yet to proceed, the residing migrants have become disconnected to the remaining service-based sanitation system, thus leading to the increasing use of public sanitation infrastructures. This reflects migrants’ perception of appropriateness in sanitation that differs from the natives. My discussion relates the transformation of central Shanghai’s public sanitation infrastructures to this changing sanitation practice among migrant residents. I will first address the mutual effect between the condition of public sanitation infrastructures and migrants’ sanitation practice. In-depth ethnographic evidence then reveals the knowledge, experience, and life patterns that constitutes migrants’ sanitation perception. I argue that Shanghai’s transforming sanitation norm from ‘using night pot’ to ‘using public sanitation facilities’ appears an organic outcome of infrastructural transformation but is driven by entangling socio and cultural factors. As such the maintaining and improvement of this norm continues to require the joint effort of policy makers, planners and designers, and local communities.

Dr. Youcao Ren
Open Ditches, Closed Pipes, and the Making of Social Order in Los Angeles, 1860–1900

This paper proposal explores the relationship between infrastructure and society with regard to Los Angeles between 1860 and 1900. In particular, it examines the mutual evolution of social order and “old” and “new” systems of infrastructure. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, Los Angeles appeared as a hemispheric space, with large Mexican, Chinese, and Indigenous populations. Connected to this multiethnicity, two major water systems developed in parallel: the Zanja system composed of open ditches, which dated from the Mexican era before 1850, and the underground system laid by American engineers after 1864. The case of Los Angeles is particularly revealing because the Zanja system continued to grow even after closed pipes were installed. The underground network also underwent several waves of transformation in the 1880s and 1890s, with different temporalities built into the system (e.g., materials used for pipe construction).

In this paper, I argue that the coexistence of the two networks (i.e., the simultaneity of transformation and persistence) must be interpreted in connection with the struggles for social order in semi-arid Los Angeles. By the end of the century, it was by no means decided whether Euro-American migrants would prevail with their understanding of infrastructure or whether Mexican inhabitants would be able to assert their specific water practices. While Euro-Americans sought to enforce “modern” corporeal hygiene and commodify water as a resource (closely related to this was the narrative of modernization), Mexican inhabitants desperately sought to maintain free access to water at the ditches. The proposed paper considers these social negotiation processes through an investigation into the conflicting simultaneity of ditches and pipes, focusing on spaces of dense interaction between Euro-American and Mexican inhabitants.

Dr. Jan Hansen
17:00–17:10 Break
Keynote 2: Infrastructural Responses to Crises: The Role of Temporary Infrastructure in the Attempts at Permanent Urban Transformation

This lecture is not so much about the impact of infrastructure breakdown on society but on how infrastructures respond to a breakdown in society. During the corona pandemic in 2020 and 2021, many cities were in lock-down for a at least a number of months. Due to high population densities, cities are often considered as hotspots of COVID-19 infections and mobility of people in particular, is seen as a major factor contributing to the spread of the virus. As crises have often had a major influence on choices made in infrastructure governance (see Högselius, Hommels, Kaijser and van der Vleuten, 2013), this lecture discusses how (infrastructural) transformations and adaptations emerged in cities in response to the COVID crisis. Building on STS, social practice theory (Shove, Pantzar & Watson, 2012), and infrastructure research, this lecture analyses how the values, policy ideals, materialities and competencies embedded in urban infrastructure before the COVID crisis, became re-negotiated, challenged and (provisionally) changed during the crisis. Hence, it aims to make a critical contribution to the often-made claim that “the COVID crisis entails an excellent opportunity for planners and policy makers to take transformative actions towards creating cities that are more just, resilient and sustainable.” (Sharifi & Khavarian-Garmsir, 2020). Can these temporary infrastructures indeed develop into obdurate urban elements that can be permanently integrated into the urban fabric?


Högselius, P., Hommels, A., Kaijser, A., Vleuten, E. van der (Eds.) (2013). The Making of Europe’s Critical Infrastructure. Common Connections and Shared Vulnerabilities. Palgrave.

Sharifi, A. & Khavarian-Garmsir, A. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts on cities and major lessons for urban planning, design, and management. Science of the Total Environment, 749, 142391.

Shove, E., Pantzar, M. & Watson, M. (2012). The dynamics of social practice. Everyday life and how it changes. Sage.

Dr. Anique Hommels
Time (UTC+1) Event Speaker
10:00–10:10 Opening
Keynote 3: Assessing Critical Infrastructure: A Regulatory Perspective on the Power and Gas Sector

The power and gas sector is one of the essential industries, as its failure on a large scale may endanger the life and health of people and causes a significant disruption of social and economic activities. Consequently, numerous entities in the power and gas sector, such as network or large-scale power plant operators, are classified as critical infrastructure. Implementing an efficient regulation, e.g., the definition of security requirements, for the actual critical infrastructure necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the respective sector. However, owing to (i) efforts on avoiding climate change and (ii) the rapid progress in the information and communication technologies, we observe a fundamental restructuring of the power and gas sector. During this transition, a key challenge will be to ensure that the critical infrastructure will remain in any case sufficiently secured against external disruptions. To this end, this Keynote talk discusses, how the Bundesnetzagentur as the national regulatory authority continuously evaluates and develops the regulatory framework, ensuring the secure operation of the power and gas sector today and in future.

Niklas Vespermann
Panel 3: Governance of Transformation

The governance of transformation processes focuses on the coordination of collective and individual actors, e.g., policymakers, enterprises, and intermediaries. Regardless of the character of the transformation process – whether it is far-reaching and prevalent throughout several levels of infrastructure systems or it is related only to partial or incremental adaptations, there are some one main questions to be asked: How are transformation processes guided and how do different (groups of) actors influence transformation processes?

We assume that transformation involves diverse (groups of) actors and that it affects different levels and elements of infrastructure systems. For example, the liberalisation of the energy sector in conjunction with the surge of renewable energy required the cooperation of electricity producers, suppliers, network operators, and policymakers, and its effects affected local, regional, and national levels and were determined, inter alia, by EU law.

The governance of transformation could be analysed with regard to questions of its legitimacy and/or effectiveness. Legitimate and effective governance helps in avoiding destabilisation of the system or causing functional crises. In this panel, we therefore welcome empirical and theoretical contributions that deal with different modes of governance for the transformation of infrastructures, explain the conditions under which different modes could be considered to be legitimate and effective, and analyse possible consequences of transformative change.

We will discuss questions such as:

  • Which modes of governance of transformation processes can we detect and how can their emergence be explained? What are the key triggers, processes, and patterns of such transformation?
  • What preconditions and frameworks for transformation are created by different governance arrangements?
  • How does multi-level governance of infrastructural system transformation work?
  • What are the consequences of (different) modes of governance on transformation processes?
  • What role do intermediaries and non-state actors play in transformation processes? What challenges does this pose for the governance of transformation processes?

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Michèle Knodt, TU Darmstadt

Repoliticising Infrastructure? Intermediary Power and Everyday Governance Practices in Transforming Neighbourhood Water Provisioning: The Case of a Small Town in India

This article presents the contested, negotiated and situated nature of everyday governance in smalltown contexts as practices of intermediaries and social relations produce and mediate between nonnetworked and networked infrastructure artefacts to shape access to water and uses in daily life. I situate the analysis in Baruipur Municipality, a peripheral and rapidly urbanising small town in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, India. Plagued by groundwater arsenic, Baruipur’s municipal administration and the state government has declared the urgency to expand and consolidate its pipeline network that supplies treated surface water. However, the local and state government’s push in this process threatens to reconfigure the town’s existing configurations of heterogeneous, fragmented and incrementally-built infrastructure. I argue that the shifts in infrastructure, has led to new forms of power coalitions, tensions and contradictions around the diverse infrastructure configurations. The article presents empirical cases based on in-depth qualitative fieldwork highlighting the intermediary role of Councillors and non-state actors, viz. party ‘boys’ and members of neighbourhood youth clubs regulating formal hydraulics and the fragile, unstable relations of private water provisioning. I analyse and conceptualise “everyday governance” and engage it with the Urban Political Ecology (UPE) framework in this study to respond to the call for more attention to research on governance within UPE (Cornea, Véron and Zimmer 2017). This article attempts to make a broader case by showing that shifts in infrastructure, can at times, produce, impose and reinforce the differentiated socio-political positions and power of local actors vis-à-vis others through an intermediary role.

Suchismita Chatterjee
Digital Transformation: Rethinking the Governance of Cyber Risks at the Port of Rotterdam

The process of digital transformation provides many new opportunities to enhance the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of seaports (Heilig et al. 2017). However, this process together with the role of seaports as critical infrastructures also increases the vulnerability for emerging cyberthreat. Ports constitute likely targets for cyberattacks given the level of integration of different devices, agents and activities, together with an increasing connectivity between different ports and with other critical infrastructure systems (Ahokas et al. 2017). This raises the question how the vulnerability of ports against cyber-attacks can be reduced. Since 2017 the port of Rotterdam has adopted a collaborative governance approach of cyber resilience (van Erp 2017), which resulted in the launch of a Port Cyber Resilience Program meant to raise awareness among port users and strengthen public-private partnerships. However, this approach is not without its challenges such as a lack of a governmental regulatory framework, unaligned cybersecurity standards, or uncoordinated response to incidents in a complex institutional environment (van Erp 2017). Drawing upon crisis management studies, organizational and institutional theory (Christensen et al. 2016; Ostrom 2011; Young 2010), this contribution examines the coordination arrangements for cyber resilience within and across vertical, horizontal and territorial dimensions to elucidate the strengths and ongoing challenges of governing cyber risks through collaborative governance in seaports. Based on a case study analysis of the port of Rotterdam, we outline the main characteristics of the collaborative governance of cyber risks, before illustrating the factors that contribute to opportunities and challenges for the effective governance of cyber risks. Lastly, we discuss some comparative features of this collaborative governance approach and the theoretical and policy implications of our results.

Keywords: critical infrastructure; governance; transformation; digitalization; seaports


  • Ahokas, Jenna; Kiiski, Tuomas; Malmsten, Jarmo; Ojala, Lauri (2017): Cybersecurity in ports : a conceptual approach. With assistance of TUHH Universitätsbibliothek.
  • Christensen, Tom; Danielsen, Ole Andreas; Laegreid, Per; Rykkja, Lise H. (2016): Comparing coordination structures for crisis management in six countries. In Public Admin 94 (2), pp. 316–332. DOI: 10.1111/padm.12186.
  • Heilig, Leonard; Lalla-Ruiz, Eduardo; Voß, Stefan (2017): Digital transformation in maritime ports: analysis and a game theoretic framework. In Netnomics 18 (2-3), pp. 227–254. DOI: 10.1007/s11066-017- 9122-x.
  • Ostrom, Elinor (2011): Background on the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework. In Policy Studies Journal 39 (1), pp. 7–27. DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2010.00394.x.
  • van Erp, Judith (2017): New governance of corporate cybersecurity: a case study of the petrochemical industry in the Port of Rotterdam. In Crime Law Soc Change 68 (1-2), pp. 75–93. DOI: 10.1007/s10611- 017-9691-5.
  • Young, Oran R. (2010): Institutional dynamics: Resilience, vulnerability and adaptation in environmental and resource regimes. In Global Environmental Change 20 (3), pp. 378–385. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.10.001.

Eline Punt
12:00–13:00 Lunch Break
Commoning Infrastructures: Governing the Maintenance of Civic Roads in Sweden

While the modern road networks together constitute the largest ever human-built infrastructure to underwrite the consumption of fossil fuels, these networks are essential in everyday life and the maintenance of these are significant to modern societies (Graham & Thrift, 2007). In Sweden, public and private road infrastructures are owned and maintained by the state, municipalities, corporations or individual land-owners, though there is also a vast civic road network that is governed by a myriad of small associations. The civic road network constitutes about half of the total road network in Sweden (Blomkvist, 2010).

Drawing upon the literature on social studies of infrastructure maintenance and commoning (cf. Ostrom, 1990; Graham & Thrift, 2007; Heinmiller 2009) this paper investigates how and in what ways civic road associations in Sweden self-govern the maintenance of civic roads against the backdrop of climate change, expanding urban sprawl, broadband infrastructures, and (new) knowledge about road maintenance.

Our study suggests that, due to financial constraints, civic road infrastructures have in places been under-maintained or allowed to decline, which has raised concerns over equal access to the road networks. Both climate change and urban sprawl have also put a pressure on the associations’ ability to maintain the roads. Heinmiller (2009) suggest that collective action among resource-users is a basic element for successful common pool governance. While civic road associations engage in commoning, the maintenance and repair of civic roads also means that the associations have to grapple with new national and municipal demands on broadband infrastructure and water drainage. Our study concludes by discussing how and in what ways the civic road associations engage in transforming infrastructure.


  • Blomkvist, P. (2010). Managing common pool resources: road keeping and the dilemma of the commons in Swedish history, 1200-2010. Stockholm: Division of Industrial Dynamics, Royal Institute of Technology
  • Graham, S., & Thrift, N. (2007). Out of order. Understanding repair and maintenance. Theory, Culture & Society, 24:3, 1-25
  • Heinmiller, R.T. (2009). Path dependency and collective action in common pool governance, International Journal of the Commons, 3:1, 121-147
  • Ostrom, E. (1990). The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: University Press

  • Jens Alm, PhD
  • Alexander Paulsson, PhD
Polyphony Without Power: The Case Study of River das Velhas Committee

What has been the role of participatory governance institutions in transforming infrastructure systems? Can they transform infrastructure or not? This paper draws on the findings of research on the Rio das Velhas Basin Committees, Minas Gerais. It is part of the Tossib Project Towards Sustainable Sanitation in India and Brazil (

During the period of Brazilian re-democratisation in 1980, many instances of governance were created in the country, encouraged by international organisations, but also by the demand of social movements, professional sectors, academics and State sectors themselves. Channels were created involving public and private sectors in many areas of public policy such as: health, education, social assistance, environment. Related to sanitation and electricity infrastructure systems, the river basin committees were created, with the participation of the State, civil society and public and private users.

Based on literature review and data collections, our argument is a critical perspective, that shows how news actors have been incorporated into these committees, new voices have been recognised and amplified (like civil society organizations, sectors of States, small cities etc.), but the capacity of the committees to actually play a transformative role in infrastructure is still low. They are somewhat routine and bureaucratic spaces. Public resources are lacking, but there also seems to be a lack of a more effective involvement of civil society sectors in the identification of sanitation problems and possible solutions. Sectors of the state concentrate too much power and are not very open to innovations.

Ana Claudia Teixeira
Panel 4: Temporality and Spatiality of Transformation

Any transformation of (critical) infrastructure is inherently shaped by its distinct temporality and spatiality. Since transformation is a process of change, temporality is one of its main elements. At the same time, infrastructures are always embedded in space and connect places and people across distances. Transformations thus take place within complex spatio-temporal relationships. Here, we are interested in both spatial and temporal characteristics of transformation, as well as impacts of transformations from a temporal or spatial perspective.

Transformation does not only imply short-term developments, but rather includes a broader “timescape” in the past and present, as changes to infrastructures are usually embedded in long- term processes – even if they might be triggered by a sudden event. As such, temporality is of utmost importance to transformation as it allows for a holistic investigation of processes, rather than focusing on selective events.

Equally important is the notion of spatiality of infrastructure transformations, since such transformations may restructure spatial relations within an infrastructure network. To what extent is spatial reorganisation an indicator for transformation in spite of readjustments? Does, for example, the shift of data storage to a centralized location with decentralized access (“the cloud”) represent a transformation of information and communication infrastructure?

In this panel, we welcome theoretical or empirical contributions that investigate the implications and consequences of how the factors space and time can be conceptualized within the context of infrastructure transformation.

We will discuss questions like:

  • How and in which context is temporality relevant for transformation?
  • Continuity and Change: What is their meaning or function in regards to temporality?
  • What is the relationship between transformation and permanence here?
  • Is the transformation of an infrastructure also reflected in a change of space, its use, its appropriation, its experience, its nature?

Panel Chair: Prof. Dr. Jochen Monstadt, Utrecht University

Towards a Heterotemporal Understanding of ‘Unmaking’ High-Carbon Infrastructures

Time plays a central role in (re)imagining low-carbon energy futures. Whether through apocalyptic visions or deadlines for action-taking, characteristic for these imaginaries is an often unspoken, assumption of linear time with neatly identified interim targets and future endpoints. In this paper, we propose studying low-carbon transitions through the lens of heterotemporalities helps us problematise the ‘unmaking’ of high-carbon materialities by examining heterogeneous temporalities underpinning various processes of unmaking. More specifically, we explore these heterotemporalities from two distinct, but interrelated scholarly vantage points associated with unmaking: one concerned with ruination, namely how future expectations of decarbonised societies turn material life-worlds of today into tomorrow’s ruins; and the other focused on lingering, bringing to the fore the multiple ways in which these high-carbon materialities of the past/present are folded into the future. By doing so, we argue that imaginaries of low-carbon futures are not constrained to unitary and linear timescales concerned with bringing things into being or phasing them out. Rather, low-carbon (energy) futures necessitate processes of both making and unmaking that entail heterogeneous experiences of time suspended between memory and abandonment, nostalgia and neglect, finality and regeneration.

  • Dr. Bregje van Veelen
  • Dr. Magdalena Kuchler
Changing the System, Changing the City? Infrastructural Transformation in Leipzig and its Spatial Implications after the “Wende”

The infrastructures in the city and region of Leipzig have undergone a profound change since the 1980s: Formerly critical sub-sectors of infrastructure systems became superfluous (like the lignite sector in the field of energy infrastructures), while others gained in importance (e.g. transport infrastructures, especially supra-regional ones). These developments had far-reaching effects – on the material and immaterial components of these socio-technical systems as well as on the city and its spatial order or urban everyday practices that are shaped by infrastructures, such as mobility behaviour.

It seems likely to see the cause of these profound changes in the epochal break of 1989/90 and the economic and political restart of Eastern Germany that came with it after the sudden end of the GDR and the socialist system. But this is only partly the case: many of the changes that started in 1989/90 can be traced back further in time. The foundations of some trajectories go back to the 1980s and beyond – but at the same time parts of the infrastructure systems also resisted change during that time, or it was limited to small, continuous adjustments in the system. Thus, the transformation processes did not suddenly start in 1989/90, but they accelerated. This raises the question of the temporality of transformations - when do they begin and from when can they be considered complete?

The case study of Leipzig thus shows that infrastructures are characterised by path dependencies, inertia and obduracy as well as by changeability and dynamic. By drawing on this case study, the presentation wants to explore the question under which circumstances one or the other becomes the dominant feature of an infrastructure, which spatial changes result in infrastructural transformations and how the aspect of temporality can help delineate transformation from continuous incremental change.

Laura Höss
15:00–15:15 Break
Infrastructuring: The Agency of Infrastructural Formations in the Transformation of Spatial Patterns and Rhythms of Everyday Life

This paper suggests the notion of infrastructuring as the transformative agency of complex infrastructural formations that shape urban form, everyday life and longer-term development trajectories. Infrastructural formations are here understood as intentionally or unintentionally created to sustain or ameliorate human life. They comprise humans and their agency, technology, various kinds of resources, material objects and ecological systems at and across different scales.

Infrastructural formations act through everyday human-infrastructure interactions to structure spatial patterns and rhythms of everyday life. For instance, the (non-) availability of functional infrastructure within the home or neighbourhood determines how, when and where people access infrastructure outside the home or neighbourhood. Interactions with infrastructure take place according to the availability or accessibility of infrastructure at certain times of the day, week, month or year. They structure where and when other activities, such as eating, socialising or shopping, take place, thus acting to structure rhythms of everyday life.

Interventions into technical infrastructures, necessarily lead to changes in spatial patterns and rhythms of everyday life. For instance, transformations in built form, such as the replacement of older low-rise neighbourhoods with high-rise compounds, suggest the replacement of shared community sanitation with access to private toilets inside the home. Older low-rise neighbourhoods may rely on shared infrastructure outside individual homes and human-infrastructure interactions may be linked with other activities, such as participating in and fostering relationships with people, nature and the built environment. In high-rise compounds, however, the spatiality of human-infrastructure interactions is confined to private toilets within the boundaries of home. The replacement of one technical infrastructure with another thus works to alter, possibly even truncate, existing relationships with people, nature and the built environment.

In addition to altering social relations, infrastructuring as the agency of infrastructural formations at larger scales transforms the built and natural environment in the short and long term. The expansion of networked infrastructures to provide wider or universal coverage or ‘modernisation’ of technical infrastructures considered out of date is often associated with increased extraction of resources, such as energy or water, from remote locations and at scales which cannot be considered sustainable. This carries implications for the health and wellbeing of humans and environments removed spatially (located in remote locations) and in time (future generations). In this way, infrastructuring may re-institute social, spatial and environmental injustices over time.

Dr. Deljana Iossifova
Infrastructure’s Temporal Modalities: A Framework for Analysis

Work on the ‘politics of infrastructure’ has done much to unsettle the notion that urban infrastructures are staid or neutral physical artefacts and networks. As adaptive spatial fixes and contested political objects, infrastructure systems are always in a state of becoming. In this paper, I foreground the temporal dimensions of urban infrastructure to problematize how we conceptualize urban space, politics, and social practice. My analysis centers on three core temporal modalities over which infrastructure unfolds. First, urban infrastructures can be theorized through periodization strategies that establish epochs grounded in dominant material and governance technologies. Periods are never simply given or free from political assumptions but achieve analytical significance through the exploration of change over complex narratives over multiple timescales. Second, urban infrastructures are planned, governed, and lived through often conflicting cycles, including those relating to electoral politics, policy formation, financial innovations, and the properties of construction materials and ecological systems. Infrastructures have their own life cycles: they are conceived, planned, constructed, decline, decay, and reach obsolescence – each of which raises distinct questions about funding, maintenance, societal values, and development lock-ins. Third, urban infrastructures are animated through the rhythms of the 24-hour city. Here, urban difference is produced through repetition. Minimal differences of everyday life can serve as the foundation for realizing maximal difference that illuminate divergent experiences of gender, class, race, sexuality – and the possibilities of transcending their inherent inequalities. With this, the paper highlights the importance of incorporating temporal analyses in the on-going ‘infrastructure turn’ in urban studies.

  • Jean-Paul D. Addie, PhD
16:15-16:45 Closing Remarks

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Anique Hommels

Associate Professor Science, Technology and Society Studies
Department of Technology & Society Studies, Maastricht University

Hon.-Prof. Dr. Timothy Moss

Senior Researcher Urban Infrastructures and human-environment relations
IRI THESys, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Niklas Vespermann

Krisenvorsorge, Resilienz, Cybersicherheit
Bundesnetzagentur für Elektrizität, Gas, Telekommunikation, Post und Eisenbahnen


Sanja Stark M.Sc.

Researcher, Department of Computer Science Energy Informatics Group
University of Oldenburg, Germany

Alexandros Gazos

Member of Scientific Staff, The Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany

Chaitali Dighe M.Sc.

Doctoral Candidate, Research Training Group KRITIS
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Dr. Youcao Ren

School of Environment, Education and Development
University of Manchester, UK

Dr. Jan Hansen

Assistant Professor, Department of History
Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

Eline Punt M.Sc.

Doctoral Candidate, Research Training Group KRITIS
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Jean Paul D. Addie PhD

Associate professor, Urban Studies Institute
Georgia State University

Laura Marie Höss M.A.

Doctoral Candidate, Research Training Group KRITIS
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Suchismita Chatterjee

Doctoral Candidate, School of Habitat Studies
Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, India

Ana Claudia Teixeira

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Political Science
Federal University of São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil

Dr. Bregje van Veelen

Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development
University of Uppsala, Sweden

Dr. Deljana Iossifova

Senior Lecturer, Manchester Urban Institute
University of Manchester, GB

Panel Chairs

Prof. Dr. Florian Steinke

Professor of Energy Information Networks and Systems
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Prof. Dr. Martina Heßler

Professor of History of Technology
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Prof. Dr. Michèle Knodt

Professor of Comparative politics and European Integration
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Prof. Dr. Jochen Monstadt

Professor of Governance of Urban Transitions
Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands