In/visible Infrastructure: Thinking (along) with Martin Heidegger about Infrastructural Breakdowns in South Africa

  • Laurin Baumgardt University of Florida
Keywords: breakdown, infrastructure, in/visibility, Martin Heidegger, South Africa


In this paper I will argue against the idea that infrastructures are normally invisible and only become visible in certain moments. This notion is problematic because it is based on the idea that in the Western world things work smoothly and normally, while in the rest of the world breakdown is assumed to be a normal state of affairs and makes infrastructures visible. Rather, I will instead focus on the more individual, less visible–although not invisible–micro-modes of infrastructural breakdowns. The approach envisaged will be theoretically grounded by thinking (along) with the work of Martin Heidegger with particular regard to his widely interpreted § 16 of Being and Time on tools and “tool-being.” In this text, Heidegger outlines three existential modes of concern, namely conspicuousness, obtrusiveness and obstinacy, which will be helpful for understanding infrastructures as conflictual terrains as well as for thinking through people’s reconfigurations of aspirations in general. In other words, Heidegger describes three different modes of possible breakdowns that interrupt the course of everyday life in such a way that one is compelled to reflect upon one’s subjectivities and, equally important, upon the things themselves. The article will thus focus on how these in/visibilities are mobilized and situated within ethnographic accounts which I am drawing from readings and fieldwork experiences in South Africa.

Author Biography

Laurin Baumgardt, University of Florida

University of Florida, Graduate Student in Anthropology

Born on August 6, 1989, in Berlin; M.A. in Cultural Anthropology at Leipzig University, 2017; Fieldwork and Studies Abroad at Stellenbosch University, South Africa in 2015/16; B.A. in Philosophy and African Studies at Humboldt-University, Berlin, 2013. Main areas of research and teaching: Southern Africa, Urban Anthropology, Development Anthropology, Infrastructure, Design, Space and Temporality, Body, Methodology and Theory

How to Cite
Baumgardt, L. “In/Visible Infrastructure: Thinking (along) With Martin Heidegger about Infrastructural Breakdowns in South Africa”. Middle East - Topics & Arguments, Vol. 10, June 2018, pp. 40-51, doi:10.17192/meta.2018.10.7586.