Sociotechnical Change: Tracing Flows, Languages, and Stakes Across Diverse Cases| Disautomated Realities in South Africa: Loadshedding, Poultry Death, and the Promises of Failure

Ziyaad Bhorat


In an increasingly automated world, what does it looks like when sociotechnical change occurs as infrastructural failure? Since 2007, South Africa’s ability to provide energy for its people has dramatically deteriorated. Scheduled power cuts, or “loadshedding,” has become a norm in daily life. Because of loadshedding, systemic failures of automated systems used in the poultry industry have resulted in moral and socioeconomic disaster as producers lose millions of livestock and prices rise above affordable levels. Recent reactions to these mass chicken deaths and the resultant political activism provide an illustrative case study of how longer term infrastructural failure in a critical sector like energy can suddenly heighten popular awareness of the unspoken life and death funerary economy that governs people’s lives and thus foment the potential to revitalize the democratic space. The South African experience is therefore not a purely negative one—rather it shows how failure as a species of sociotechnical change can generate technopolitical promise. 


sociotechnical change, failure, South Africa, infrastructure, disautomation

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