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


  • Laurin Baumgardt University of Florida



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.


Laurin Baumgardt, University of Florida

currently studies as a PhD Student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida. He is a student assistant in the Center for African Studies and a teaching assistant in the Languages, Literatures, and Cultures faculty.
Born on August 6, 1989 in Berlin; he received an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Leipzig University, 2017, and a B.A. in Philosophy and African Studies from Humboldt-University in 2013. In 2015 and 2016, he was awarded with a DAAD scholarship for Studies Abroad at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. His research revolves around issues of urban infrastructure, development and design in light of the spatial and political unfoldings in South Africa. He has also strong interests in anthropological theory and methods.





Baumgardt, L. „In/Visible Infrastructure: Thinking (along) With Martin Heidegger about Infrastructural Breakdowns in South Africa“. Middle East - Topics & Arguments, Bd. 10, Juni 2018, S. 40-51, doi:10.17192/meta.2018.10.7586.