by Lisa Parks

About Lisa Parks

Lisa Parks is Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual and co-editor of Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries and Cultures, and Life in the Age of Drones.


The word “infrastructure” surfaced in the early twentieth century as “a collective term for the subordinate parts of an undertaking; substructure, foundation,” and first became associated with permanent military installations (Oxford English Dictionary). Since then, the term’s meanings have expanded to encompass power grids and telecommunication networks, subways and freeways, sewer systems, and oil pipelines. While critical media studies scholars have investigated “networks” for decades, they have only recently begun to think of “infrastructures” as part of their research field. Work on media infrastructures has explored the material conditions in which broadcast, cable, satellite, Internet, and mobile telephony systems are arranged to distribute audiovisual content to sites around the world. While such systems have historically been referred to as “telecommunication networks,” the reconceptualization of them as “media infrastructures” signals a shift toward exploring issues of scale, difference and unevenness, relationality, labor, maintenance and repair, literacy, and affect (Parks and Starosielski 2015). For this reason, research on media infrastructures requires interdisciplinary engagements across fields such as sociology, urban studies, anthropology, history, urban studies, architecture, and science and technology studies.