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Compromising Connections: Imperial Legacies, Intimate Encounters, and Intermediary Politics in Icelandic Information Infrastructure

  • Author(s): Johnson, Alix Barrie
  • Advisor(s): Rofel, Lisa
  • et al.

This dissertation investigates the expansion of digital infrastructure in Iceland as a vector, site, and problem of power. In recent years, the island has been declared an emerging “hot spot” for international data center development. However, as such infrastructures are constructed, they reprise the effects of older, more ambivalent connections: specifically, Iceland’s history as a Danish colony and an American military base. Drawing on twenty months of ethnographic and archival research, this dissertation argues that Iceland has long occupied the position of an “infrastructural intermediary,” or a technical node in the networks of others. This position is an appealing one for international developers, but in Reykjanes, Iceland, where data center development is concentrated, its imperial roots render its consequences mixed. By attending to concrete points of technical connection, their material histories, and the everyday encounters that take place around them, this dissertation examines Icelanders’ experiences in the middle position, and some of their strategies for making the most of being in between. In doing so, this work brings enduring questions of sovereignty, identity, and imperial power into conversation with pressing debates on digital data.

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