"Efforts to study critical infrastructure and its conditioning of politics can be found moving in and out of labels like critical infrastructure studies, extrastatecraft, and stacktivism (Larkin, 2013; Springett, 2013; Amin, 2014; Easterling, 2014; Anand, 2017), but have remained mostly outside the remit of political theory, despite a turn to infrastructure in fields like geography and urban studies (Dodson, 2017; Addie et al., 2020). These labels connote different varieties of interest in political action centered on the infrastructural supports that make possible specific political, social, and material realities. One common term of art is that of a ‘stack’, which denotes the interlocking pillar of technologies upon which a person’s lifestyle is built. When Bratton, for example, writes about ‘the Stack’, he describes the levels of technology that make global computing possible as a vertically-arranged, ‘modular, interdependent… multilayered structure’ that includes ‘infrastructure at the continental scale, pervasive computing at the urban scale, and ambient interfaces at the perceptual scale’ (Bratton, 2015) (Figure 2).
Terms like ‘assemblage’ or ‘technosocial system’ are of course related to the notion of stacks. I primarily use the language of technology stacks because the term is specific and spatial: it connotes verticality, the importance of different interacting layers, the way that technical and social systems supervene on other, less-visible structures, and the way that risks, vulnerabilities, and changes can propagate up and down a chain of intergrown systems. A first task for anyone interested in intervening in or building alternatives to present infrastructure systems is to describe how critical services like food, water, energy, shelter, medical care, and communication emerge from technology stacks, to map how the components of these stacks are arranged vertically (how much of the Salar de Atacama salt flats reside inside your house in the form of lithium-ion batteries?) and how these stacks are interleaved with one another (delivering heat and desalinating water may both rely on the same power delivery system). The answers to these questions illuminate where infrastructure stacks’ interdependencies lead to shared points of failure and how existing systems for life support can be reformatted or made redundant."