infrapolitical in Thylstrup 2019

he initiative of the Internet Archive’s mass digitization project and its
attendant infrastructural alliance, OCA, should be read as both a technical
infrastructure responding to the question of _how_ to mass digitize in
technical terms, and as an infrapolitical reaction in response to the forces
of the commercial world that were beginning to gather around mass
digitization, such as Amazon 25 and Google. The Internet Archive thus
positioned itself as a transparent open source alternative to the closed doors

hile the OCA was often foregrounded as
more transparent than Google, their technical infrastructural components and
practices were in fact often just as shrouded in secrecy.26 As such, the
Internet Archive and the OCA draw attention to the important infrapolitical
question in mass digitization, namely how, why, and when to manage
visibilities in mass digitization projects.

Although the media sometimes picked up stories on mass digitization projects
already outlined, it wasn’t until Google entered the scene

ors have been at work
building new digital cultural memory assemblages, including projects such as
Monoskop and These actors, referred to in this book as shadow library
projects (see chapter 4), at once both challenge and confirm the broader
infrapolitical dimensions of mass digitization, including its logics of
digital capitalism, network power, and territorial reconfigurations of
cultural memory between universalizing and glocalizing discourses. Within this
new “ecosystem of access,” unauthorized

hing like mass
digitization to cohere as an assemblage.64 This book is, among other things,
about those communities and practices, and the politics they produce and are
produced by. In particular, it addresses the politics of mass digitization as
an infrapolitical activity that retreats into, and emanates from, digital
infrastructures and the network effects they produce.

## Politics in Mass Digitization: Infrastructure and Infrapolitics

If the concept of “assemblage” allows us to see the relational set-

frequency that lies _below_ and beyond formal sovereign state apparatus,
organized, as they are, around glocal—and often private or privatized—material
and social infrastructures.

While distinct from the formalized sovereign political system, infrapolitical
assemblages nevertheless often perform as late-sovereign actors by engaging in
various forms of “sovereignty games.”82 Take Google, for instance, a private
corporation that often defines itself as at odds with state practice, yet also
often more or less informally meets with state leaders, engages in diplomatic
discussions, and enters into agreements with state agencies and local
political councils. The infrapolitical forces of Google in these sovereignty
games can on the one hand exert political pressure on states—for instance in
the name of civic freedom—but in Google’s embrace of politics, its
infrapolitical forces can on the other hand also squeeze the life out of
existing parliamentary ways, promoting instead various forms of apolitical or
libertarian modes of life. The infrapolitical apparatus thus stands apart from
more formalized politics, not only in terms of political arena, but also the
constraints that are placed upon them in the form, for instance, of public
accountability.83 What is described here can in general terms be called the
infrapolitics of neoliberalism, whose scenery consists of lobby rooms, policy-
making headquarters, financial zones, public-private spheres, and is populated
by lobbyists, bureaucrats, lawyers, and CEOs.

But the infrapolitical dynamics of mass digitization also operate in more
mundane and less obvious settings, such as software design offices and
standardization agencies, and are enacted by engineers, statisticians,
designers, and even users. Infrastructures are—increasi

ives, not only in mass digitization contexts, but in all walks
of life, from file formats and software programs to converging transportation
systems, payment systems, and knowledge infrastructures. Yet, what is most
significant about the majority of infrapolitical institutions is that they are
so mundane; if we notice them at all, they appear to us as boring “lists of
numbers and technical specifications.”84 And their maintenance and
construction often occurs “behind the scenes.”85 There is a politics to these
naturalizing processes, since they influence and frame our moral, scientific,
and aesthetic choices. This is to say that these kinds of infrapolitical
activities often retire or withdraw into a kind of self-evidence in which the
values, choices, and influences of infrastructures are taken for granted and
accorded a kind of obviousness, which is universally accepted. It is therefore
all the more “

rucial”86 to recognize the
infrapolitics of mass digitization, not only as contestation and privatized
power games, but also as a mode of existence that values professionalized
standardization measures and mundane routines, not least because these
infrapolitical modes of existence often outlast their material circumstances
(“software outlasts hardware” as John Durham Peters notes).87 In sum,
infrastructures and the infrapolitics they produce yield subtle but
significant world-making powers.

## Power in

appears as a relatively straightforward story about new technical
inventions, at a closer look emerges as complex entanglements of human and
nonhuman actors, with implications not only for how we approach it as a legal-
technical entity but also an infrapolitical phenomenon. As the following
section shows, attending to the complex cultural techniques of mass
digitization (its “how”) enables us to see that its “minor” techniques are not
excluded from or irrelevant to, but rather are endemic to, larger

d to remember what we saw in Google. Why did we
think we’d make good partners?”45

The evaluative discourse around Google Books dispels the idea of contracts as
dispassionate transactions for services and labor, showing rather that
contracts are infrapolitical apparatuses that give rise to emotions and
affect; and that, moreover, they are systems of doctrines, relations, and
social artifacts that organize around specific ideologies, temporalities,
materialities, and techniques.46 First and foremost, contra

rs, and
algorithms. Moreover, they forge ever closer connections to data-driven market
logics, where computational rather than representational power counts. Mass
digitization PPPs such as Google Books are thus also symptoms of a much more
pervasive infrapolitical situation, in which cultural memory institutions are
increasingly forced to alter their identities from public caretakers of
cultural heritage to economic actors in the EU internal market, controlled by
the framework of competition law, time-limited

process that is less than harmonious, namely bringing
stakeholders to the table and committing. As the EC interviewee confirms,
harmonization requires not only technical but also political cooperation.

The question of harmonization illustrates the infrapolitical dimensions of
Europeana’s copyright systems, showing that they are not just technical
standards or “direct mirrors of reality” but also “co-produced responses to
technoscientific and political uncertainty.”39 The European attempts to

ies within Europe.41 Hence, Barroso’s vision of Europeana as a
collective _European_ cultural memory is faced with the fragmented patterns of
national copyright regimes, producing if not overtly political borders in the
collections, then certainly infrapolitical manifestations of the cultural
barriers that still exist between European countries.

## The Infrapolitics of Interoperability

Copyright is not the only infrastructural regime that upholds borders in
Europeana’s collections; technical standards al

t also to the field of mass
digitization. Political and popular discourses often reduce the complexity of
these questions to “right” and “wrong” and Hollywood narratives of pirates and
avengers. Yet, this chapter wishes to explore the deeper infrapolitical
implications of shadow libraries, setting out the argument that shadow
libraries offer us a productive framework for examining the highly complex
legal landscape of mass digitization. Rather than writing a chapter that
either supports or counters sha

ning its milieu.” In the following
sections, the lens of the parasite will help us explore the murky waters of
shadow libraries, not (only) as entities, but also as relational phenomena.
The point is to show how shadow libraries belong to the same infrapolitical
ecosystem as Google Books and Europeana, sometimes threatening them, but often
also strengthening them. Moreover, it seeks to show how visitors’ interactions
with shadow libraries are also marked by parasitical relations with Google,
which often me

into a massive and distributed file-
sharing project. It is primarily run by individuals, but it has also received
public funding, which shows that what at first glance appears as a simple case
of piracy simultaneously serves as a much more complex infrapolitical
structure. The second case, Monoskop, distinguishes itself by its boutique
approach to digitization. Monoskop too is characterized by its territorial
trajectory, rooted in Bratislava’s digital scene as an attempt to establish an
intellectual platfo

y without a
center, instead operating infrastructurally along communication channels in
social media; for example, the use of the Twitter hashtag #ICanHazPDF to help
pirate scientific papers.

Today, shadow libraries exist as timely reminders of the infrapolitical nature
of mass digitization. They appear as hypertrophied versions of the access
provided by Google Books and Europeana. More fundamentally, they also exist as
political symptoms of the ideologies of the digital, characterized by ideals
of velocity a

might say that although shadow
libraries often position themselves as subversives, in many ways they also
belong to the same storyline as other mass digitization projects such as
Google Books and Europeana. Significantly, then, shadow libraries are
infrapolitical in two senses: first, they have become central infrastructural
elements in what James C. Scott calls the “infrapolitics of subordinate
groups,” providing everyday resistance by creating entrance points to
hitherto-excluded knowledge zones.7 Secon

story of illustrates the complex and
contingent historical trajectory of shadow libraries. Second, as the next
section shows, it offers us the possibility of approaching shadow libraries
from an infrastructural perspective, and exploring the infrapolitical
dimensions of shadow libraries in the area of tension between resistance and

### The Infrapolitics of Infrastructures of Culture and Dissent

While global in reach, is first and foremost a profoundly
territorialized p

ternet users at home and abroad.22

The infrapolitics of also carry the traits of the media politics of
Russia, which has historically been split into two: a political and visible
level of access to cultural works (through propaganda), and an infrapolitical
invisible level of contestation and resistance, enabling Russian media
consumers to act independently from official institutionalized media channels.
Indeed, some scholars tie the practice of shadow libraries to the Soviet
Union’s analog shadow act

ries such as illustrate the
difficulties in labeling shadow libraries in political terms, since they are
driven neither by pure globalized dissent nor by pure globalized and
commodified infrastructures. Rather, they straddle these binaries as
infrapolitical entities, the political dynamics of which align both with
standardization and dissent. Revisiting once more the theoretical debate, the
case of shows that shadow libraries may certainly be global phenomena,
yet one should be careful with disre

and name, for-profit, all-rights-reserving, print-
on-paper-only publishing houses will also circulate a copy of their work on a
free text-sharing network such as Monoskop. 38

How might we understand Monoskop’s legal situation and maneuverings in
infrapolitical terms? Shadow libraries such as Monoskop draw their
infrapolitical strength not only from the content they offer but also from
their mode of engagement with the gray zones of new information
infrastructures. Indeed, the infrapolitics of shadow libraries such as
Monoskop can perhaps best be characterized as a stratag

also referring to things in the far West. Not that the
West should feel foreign, but it is against intuition that an East-East
geographical proximity does not translate into a cultural one.”47 From this
perspective, Monoskop appears not only as an infrapolitical project of global
knowledge, but also one of situated sovereignty. Yet, even this territorial
focus holds a strategic dimension. As Barok notes, Monoskop’s ambition was not
only to gain new knowledge about media art in the region, but also to cash

’s more dynamic infrastructures. Yet, a
closer look reveals that UbuWeb offers a wealth of content, ranging from high
art collections to much more rudimentary objects. Moreover, and more
fundamentally, its critical archival practice raises broader infrapolitical
questions of cultural hierarchies, infrastructures, and domination.

### Shadow Libraries between Gift Economies and Marginalized Forms of

UbuWeb was founded by poet Kenneth Goldsmith in response to the marginal
distribution of crucial

condition of most shadow
libraries, most of which exist only as ghostly reminders with nonfunctional
download links or simply as 404 pages, once they pull the plug. Rather than
lamenting this volatile existence, however, Goldsmith embraces it as an
infrapolitical stance. As Cornelia Solfrank points out, UbuWeb was—and still
is—as much an “archival critical practice that highlights the legal and social
ramifications of its self-created distribution and archiving system as it is
about the content hosted o

lexity of shadow libraries cannot be reduced to the contrastive
codes of “right” and “wrong” and global-local binaries, the question remains
how to theorize the cultural politics of shadow libraries. This final section
outlines three central infrapolitical aspects of shadow libraries: access,
speed, and gift.

Mass digitization poses two important questions to knowledge infrastructures:
a logistical question of access and a strategic question of to whom to
allocate that access. Copyright poses a signif

should therefore not only offer the user the potential
to navigate collections freely, but also to build new products and services on
top of them.12 Yet, as this chapter argues, the ethos of potentially unlimited
expansion also prompts a new set of infrapolitical questions about agency and
control. While these questions are inherently related to the larger questions
of territory and power explored in the previous chapters, they occur on a
different register, closer to the individual user and within the spatia

want to
go today?”—assumes, wrongly, that everyone is at liberty to move about
unhindered.13 And the fantasy of empowerment through platforming is often also
shot through with neoliberal ideals that not only fail to take into account
the complex infrapolitical realities of social interaction, but also rely on
an entrepreneurial epistemology that evokes “a flat, two-dimensional stage on
which resources are laid out for users to do stuff with” and which we are not
“inclined to look underneath or behind it, or to question its structure.”14

This chapter unfolds these central infrapolitical problematics of the spatial
imaginaries of knowledge in relation to a set of prevalent cultural spatial
tropes that have gained new life in digital theory and that have informed the
construction and development of mass digitization projects: the flan

ymity and
opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking—is under
assault.”45 These two death sentences, separated by a century, link the
environment of the flaneur to significant questions about the commodification
of space and its infrapolitical implications.

Exploring the implications of this topography, the following section suggests,
will help us understand the infrapolitics of the spatial imaginaries of mass
digitization, not only in relation to questions of globalization and late

the infrastructural space of the
labyrinth, to show that this spatial imaginary, much like the flaneur, is
loaded with cultural ambivalence, and to explore the ways in which the
labyrinthine infrastructural imaginary emphasizes and crystallizes the
infrapolitical tension in mass digitization projects between power and
perspective, agency and environment, playful innovation and digital labor.

The labyrinth is a prevalent literary trope, found in authors from Ovid,
Virgil, and Dante to Dickens and Nietzsche, a

on of the web has become a central
discussion in software and communication studies, little interest has been
paid to the implications of platforms for the politics of cultural memory.
Yet, Europeana’s business strategy illustrates the significant infrapolitical
role that platforms are given in mass digitization literature. Citing digital
historian Tim Sherratt’s claim that “portals are for visiting, platforms for
building on,”97 Europeana’s strategy argues that if cultural memory sites free

00 Fehn’s statement conceals a more fundamental
insight about platforms, however: in the establishment of a low horizontal
platform, one also establishes a social infrastructure. Platforms are thus not
only material constructions, they also harbor infrapolitical affordances. The
etymology of the notion of “platform” evidences this infrapolitical dimension.
Originally a spatial concept, the notion of platform appeared in
architectural, figurative, and military formations in the sixteenth century,
soon developing into specialized discourses of party programs and military and
building construct

platforms of the digital, where “nearly every surge of research and investment
pursued by the digital industry—e-commerce, web services, online advertising,
mobile devices and digital media sales—has seen the term migrate to it.”108

What infrapolitical logic can we glean from Silicon Valley’s adoption of the
vernacular notion of the platform? Firstly, it is an infrapolitics of
temporality. As Tarleton Gillespie points out, the semantic aspects of
platforms “point to a common set of connotations

and empowering tools of connectivity, passive until picked up by the user.
Yet, as Lisa Nakamura notes, “reading’s economies, cultures of sharing, and
circuits of travel have never been passive.”113 One of digital platforms’ most
important infrapolitical traits is their dependence on network effects and a
winner-takes-all logic, where the platform owner is not only conferred
enormous power vis-à-vis other less successful platforms but also vis-à-vis
the platform user.114 Within this game, the platf

ew of who collects one’s data and how becomes more nebulous.

Europeana’s reminder illustrates the assemblatic infrastructural set-up of
mass digitization projects and how they operate with multiple entry points,
each of which may attach its own infrapolitical dynamics. It also illustrates
the labyrinthine infrastructures of privacy settings, over which a mapping is
increasingly difficult to attain because of constant changes and
reconfigurations. It furthermore illustrates the changing legal order from th

the platform
increasingly replacing the more passive gaze of the spectator, they coexist in
that larger complex of spatial digital thinking. While often used to elicit
uncomplicated visions of empowerment, desire, curiosity, and productivity,
these infrapolitical imaginaries in fact show the complexity of mass
digitization projects in their reinscription of users and cultural memory
institutions in new constellations of power and politics.

## Notes

1. Kelly 1994, p. 263. 2. Connection Machines were deve

, insofar as the political work of mass digitization
often happens at the level of infrastructure, in the form of standardization,
dissent, or both. While mass digitization entwines the cultural politics of
analog artifacts and institutions with the infrapolitical logics of the new
digital economies and technologies, there is no clear-cut distinction between
between the analog and digital realms in this process. Rather, paraphrasing N.
Katherine Hayles, I suggest that mass digitization, like a Janus-figure,


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