Africa-as-a-service: Digital Health and the Rise of Drone Infrastructures

Marian Burchardt (SFB 1199, Leipzig U), Rene Umlauf (Leipzig U)

Publication Date

January 2022


Leipziger Universitätsverlag




Working Paper


Working paper Series des SFB 1199




In this working paper, we draw on the case of experimental drone uses in African healthcare systems in order to explore how digital innovation stimulates critical changes in infrastructural provision and the ways in which the global role of places such as Silicon Valley, Rwanda, and Ghana, as well as their connections, are configured in processes of spatial formatting. Developing the idea of “infrastruc- ture-as-service” as a sociological concept, we suggest that data extractivism and fantasies of infra- structural leap-frogging are major forces behind emergent fields of infrastructural experimentality and their spatial embeddedness. Revisiting dominant theories of infrastructure, the working paper scruti- nizes the promises of digital infrastructures, sheds light on the specific ways in which regions in the Global South participate in, and offer indispensable services for, infrastructural changes, and theorizes the nexus of infrastructures and spatial formats.

Biographical Note

Marian Burchardt (SFB 1199, Leipzig University, Germany)

Marian Burchardt is Professor of Sociology at Leipzig University. As a cultural sociologist, he is interested in how diversity shapes institutions and everyday life. His research engages with the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, urban sociology, and theories of modernity, and draws on qualitative and ethnographic methods. He is especially interested in how notions of diversity influence social life and public space through nation-state regulations, law, and urban policy. He is the author of Regulating Difference: Religious Diversity and Nationhood in the Secular West (Rutgers UP, 2020) and Faith in the Time of AIDS: Religion, Biopolitics and Modernity in South Africa (Palgrave Macmillan 2015)

Rene Umlauf (Leipzig University, Germany)

René Umlaufs research focuses on conceptual and methodological implications of technological change. He is particularly interested in the question of what role tests and testing procedures – of different scale and scope and beyond medical testing – play for the production of multiple forms of evidence and how they shape both macro- and micro-levels of technological and infrastructural integration. In his work on health-, laboratory- and humanitarian-infrastructures he connects this line of inquiry to broader political, cultural as well as historical encounters between ‚old‘ and ‚new‘ modes of knowing and doing things.