Call for Papers: Special Issue "Across the Layers: How Data Infrastructures Link Knowledge Practices and Planetary Matter"


Guest editors

Leman Çelik, Stefan Laser, Estrid Sørensen (Ruhr-University Bochum, contact: <>)


Knowledge has weight; it is often measured in loads of data. The comparison between the amount of energy spent to cook a cup of tea and to make a Google search has popularised the question of the link between knowledge practices and planetary matter. Notably, data infrastructures mediate the link. However, the rough estimate of online searches and tea cooking is problematic, as it grants individual users the responsibility for sustainable data practices and diverts attention away from data infrastructures (cf. Pasek, Vaughan et al., 2023). Equating less data with a better planetary condition ignores the entire hinterland of actors, practices, alliances, and power regimes that support data infrastructures and enable knowledge practices (cf. Kocksch & Sørensen, 2023; Sørensen & Laser, 2023).


Many practices of knowing are based on networks and infrastructures that support computing. They comprise fibre optic cables, base stations, data centres and internet exchange points that have a territorial basis (Pickren, 2018; Starosielski 2015). Still, it is far from common sense to recognise the planetary foundation of knowledge practices, the planetary components of knowledge, or even the planetary quality of knowledge. Many analyses have pointed to the very material CO2 emissions of seemingly immaterial digital practices and knowledge production (e.g. Gabrys, 2011; Hogan et al., 2022; Hu 2015; Laser et al., 2023; Pasek, Lin et al., 2023; Velkova & Plantin, 2023). With a point of departure in these studies, we seek with the Special Issue to study the interrelation between planetary matter and knowledge practices by attending to data infrastructures: how are data infrastructures on the one hand dependent on planetary matter and also shaping planetary landscapes, and how are these same data infrastructures on the other hand both shaping and shaped by knowledge practices? How do data infrastructures mediate between knowledge and planetary matter? The Special Issue aims to contribute STS vocabulary and methodologies to a) better understand the link between knowledge practices and planetary matter, as they are mediated through data infrastructures, and b) to make this link publicly debatable.


Crawford and Joler (2018; Crawford, 2021) analyse the interlinkage between planetary resources and knowledge production by mapping an AI system. They envision the relationship as a chain of extractions and exploitations in which the knowledge practices of quantifying nature are a necessary component for the continuous – and increased – exploitation of the planet. From a neo-Marxist approach, Pasquinelli (2017) has argued that planetary extraction is firmly intertwined with a particular order of intellectual labour in capitalist societies (cf. Hecht, 2023; Papadopoulos et al., 2023). Importantly, it is data infrastructures that in both Pasquinelli’s approach and in Crawford and Joler’s analysis drive the theorising of the relationship between knowledge practices and planetary matter. STS sensitivities offer many other conceptualisations of relations, entanglements, and processes, which the Special Issue invites colleagues to engage and experiment with to understand how data infrastructures mediate between knowledge practices and planetary matter. This Special Issue seeks to take stock of the planetary effects of data infrastructures and the planetary character of data infrastructures in knowledge practices.


We invite contributions that focus on the mediation of knowledge practices and planetary matter through data infrastructures. Contributions can be empirical and/or conceptual.


  • can explore empirical encounters, intertwinements, and contradictions across the layers of knowledge practices, data, and planetary matter, by engaging with different empirical cases related to this focus: territorial conflicts, data (in)justice, infrastructure governance and democratic access to data (Maak, 2002), industry interventions, the challenges of measuring and calculating the relation between knowledge production and planetary matter, everyday (scientific) data practices, and many more;
  • can develop methodologies and concepts that facilitate more elaborate discussions of how data infrastructures shape planetary matter and knowledge practices;
  • should offer vocabulary or methodologies that suggest new engagements with how data infrastructures mediate between knowledge practices and planetary matter.


No later than 24.04.2024 submit an extended abstract for research or discussion papers of max 500 words (not including references) that details (a) the paper’s line of argument; the (b) empirical object of analysis; and (c) the methods and analytical apparatus employed to

No later than 14.05.2024 authors will be invited or rejected for manuscript submission to inclusion in the special issue after passing the journal’s standard double-blind peer review process.

No later than 30.09.2024 authors are asked to submit manuscripts for the special issue via the S&TS journal’s webpage. Before submitting, be sure that your manuscript corresponds to the requirements of the journal’s authors’ guidelines:

Please remember to select the Section "Special Issue: Across the Layers" when submitting the paper. 

Questions may be addressed at any time to the guest editors:; or


Crawford K (2021) Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Crawford K and Joler V (2018) Anatomy of an AI System: The Amazon Echo As An Anatomical Map of Human Labor, Data and Planetary Resources. Available at: (Accessed 24 July 2023).

Gabrys J (2011) Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. New. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Hecht G (2023) Residual Governance: How South Africa Foretells Planetary Futures. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hogan M, Edwards D and Cooper ZGT (2022) 5 Things about Critical Data Center Studies. Commonplace.

Hu, TH (2015) A Prehistory of the Cloud. Massachusetts: MIT-Press.

Kocksch L and Sørensen E (2023) Investigating the Sustainability-Cybersecurity Nexus as a Practical Problem. In: HCI for Climate Change: Imagining Sustainable Futures, Hamburg 28 April 2023. Bochum: Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Laser S, Pasek A, Sørensen E, et al. (2023) The environmental footprint of social media hosting: Tinkering with Mastodon. EASST Review 41(3).

Maak N (2022) Server Manifesto: Data Center Architecture and the Future of Democracy. Hatje Cantz Verlag.

Munn L (2022) Thinking through silicon: Cables and servers as epistemic infrastructures. New Media and Society 24(6): 1399-1416.

Papadopoulos D, Puig De La Bellacasa M and Tacchetti M (2023) Ecological Reparation: Repair, Remediation and Resurgence in Social and Environmental Conflict. Bristol: University Press.

Pasek A, Vaughan H and Starosielski N (2023) The World Wide Web of Carbon: Toward a Relational Footprinting of Information and Communications Technology’s Climate Impacts. Big Data & Society 10(1).

Pasek A, Lin CK, Cooper ZGT, and Kinder JB (2023) Digital Energetics. Minnesota: Minnesota University Press.

Pasquinelli M (2017) The Automaton of the Anthropocene: On Carbosilicon Machines and Cyberfossil Capital. South Atlantic Quarterly 116(2): 311-326.

Pickren G (2018) The global assemblage of digital flow: Critical data studies and the infrastructures of computing. Progress in Human Geography 42(2).

Sørensen E and Laser S (2023) Towards Artful Sustainable Integration of IT Infrastructures. In: Jankowski P, Höfner A, Hoffmann ML, et al. (eds) Shaping Digital Transformation for a Sustainable Society. Contributions from Bits & Bäume. Berlin: Technische Universität Berlin, pp.87-90.

Starosielski N (2015) The Undersea Network. Durham: Duke University Press.

Velkova J and Plantin JC (2023) Data centers and the infrastructural temporalities of digital media: An introduction. New Media & Society 25(2): 273-286.