RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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272 Producing Urban Life: Fragility and Socio-Cultural Infrastructures (3) Radical Infrastructures
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Robert Shaw (Newcastle University, UK)
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Jonathan Silver (Durham University / The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Chair(s) Jonathan Silver (Durham University / The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Timetable Friday 04 September 2015, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Peter Chalk - Room 2.5
Session abstract These sessions consider how the fragility of infrastructures frames contemporary cities. The papers explore how the application of the concept of infrastructure that enables and/or demands ways of understanding a variety of uncertain urbanisms, and how people and institutions cope with these uncertainties. How do infrastructures persist in face of financial or other threats to their existence, and how do people continue to use infrastructure despite attempts to cut them off? In exploring this, the papers contribute to work that has extended the concept of infrastructure beyond processes of service provision to other socio-material practices that produce everyday life in cities of both the Global North and the Global South. The papers focus on the core questions that emerge when we study ‘infrastructure’: what particular urban orders are exposed by focusing on infrastructure; how can successes and failures bring to light and sometimes challenge the regulation of cities; how does infrastructure invite contestation and adaptation ; what alternative ways of living in the city can experiments with infrastructure encourage; and what is the labour behind the production and governance of infrastructure? Central to this session is the potential of ‘infrastructure’ to help understand practices of improvisation and collective participation.
Linked Sessions Producing Urban Life: Fragility and Socio-Cultural Infrastructures (1) Fluid Infrastructures
Producing Urban Life: Fragility and Socio-Cultural Infrastructures (2) Energies, Ecologies and Infrastructure
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
The Fragile City: Precarious Living and Radical Infrastructure in Contemporary Europe
Alex Vasudevan (The University of Nottingham, UK)
In this paper, I seek to develop a critical programme for exploring the relationship between the multiple precarities of contemporary urban life and the material promise of a radical politics of infrastructure. The paper builds on research conducted with squatters, tenant groups and other housing activists across Europe. It examines, in particular, how an increasingly permanent sense of insecurity has become a central feature of the contemporary urban experience for a growing number of Europeans. While recent social scientific scholarship has defined the expansion of labour and life insecurity as a form of "precarity", public and academic understanding of the geographical dimensions of precarious living and its impact on how we think about, inhabit and re-animate cities remains limited. In response, the paper focuses, on the one hand, on how cities have become key laboratories for new social and economic practices associated with the production of precarious insecure lives. On the other hand, it also draws attention to the practices of care, endurance and inhabitation and the various attachments and alliances that have emerged in respond to the uncertainty and fragility of precarious living. It is in these practices, the paper ultimately argues, that one may detect the making of an alternative infrastructure and the possibilities for radical urban change.
The Artworks: Maintaining Uncertain Urbanisms
Ella Harris (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
This paper explores the infrastructural functions of temporary places in contemporary London, focusing specifically on the case of “The Artworks”, a retail, work and leisure complex made from shipping containers which is temporarily occupying the site of the now demolished Heygate housing estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. The Artworks is run by Lend Lease who are also the company undertaking the redevelopment of the site into a high end housing complex called ‘One The Elephant.” Although commonly conceptualised as interstitial spaces which appropriate the gaps of urban infrastructures, I use The ArtWorks to explore how temporary places can also be mobilized to maintain and progress dominant urban orders. I take up two points of consideration. Firstly, I consider the ways in which The Artworks, as a “meanwhile space” works to facilitate transition between ‘old’ infrastructures, of social housing in Elephant and Castle and new infrastructures which enable the area’s gentrification. Secondly, I consider how temporary places such as The Artworks contribute to a structure of feeling in London characterised by flux and temporariness which can be interpreted as infrastructural, in that it has a normative force within the post-recession city. I argue that this structure of feeling serves to normalise and enforce uncertainty for some, while using that uncertainty to enable the trajectories of urban change desired by others.
Occupy the waves: Political subjectification, institutions of commoning and the politics of urban infrastructure
Lazaros Karaliotas (University of Glasgow, UK)
This paper seeks to explore some of the possibilities and challenges for an emancipatory politics of urban infrastructure through a reading of the occupation of the Public Broadcasting Service (ERT) in Greece. On June 2013, ERT employees together with a broad solidarity network of activists and social movements occupied the buildings of ERT across the country to stage their disagreement with the government’s decision to shut down the service. Up until today, the occupied ERT broadcasts a self-organized and self-managed TV and Radio programme that gives voice to people affected by the crisis and social movements fighting against austerity. Focusing on the trajectory of ERT’s experiment, the paper seeks to analyze the process of political subjectification that unfolds through ERT’s occupation and explore the implications of mobilizing urban infrastructure as a key site in re-imagining the common. To this end, it brings into dialogue Jacques Rancière’s conceptualization of politics with the literature on (urban) commons. Viewed through this lens, ERT’s occupation emerges as the construction of a conflicting world; a world that reconfigures the common of a given world and experiments with new ways of being and doing in-common. The paper highlights that this construction is ambivalent; a process that together with producing connectivity, political collectivity and openness runs the risk of leading to new forms of enclosure evolving around fixed political identities. Building on this reading, the paper argues that imagining, practicing and (re-)negotiating “institutions of commoning” (Roggero, 2010: 369) that recognize difference and promote openness is of pivotal importance for an emancipatory politics of urban infrastructure.
Redeveloping the market: infrastructural preservation and reproduction in urban Uganda
Will Monteith (University of East Anglia, UK)
In 2012, the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) took over the management of Nakasero Market from a group of vendors, amidst violent confrontations. The market is the oldest in the Ugandan capital and had developed its own institutions for dispute resolution, sports competitions and burial. The Council is currently pursuing plans for its demolition and redevelopment, bringing together actors from government, the private sector and the market itself. Drawing upon 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper presents an analysis of how a diverse group of people continue to defend and reproduce the infrastructure of the market in the face of the imminent threat of redevelopment. I argue that people in Nakasero draw upon a range of ideas and practices in order to preserve the market - from shared experiences of the Ugandan state (e.g. through protest) to common notions of patronage and responsibility, derived from Ganda cultural idioms (Hanson 2003). Rather than discrete phenomena, these ideas and practices form part of the enduring infrastructure of the market, insofar as they organise and unite it in the face of external threats. The paper’s findings contribute to expanded understandings of infrastructure in urban African settings (Simone 2004, 2014).
Paul Simpson (University of Plymouth, UK)