RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


28 State, Territory, Urbanism: Exploring the Nexus Between Government and Infrastructure (1)
Convenor(s) Rhys Jones (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Ingrid Medby (Durham University, UK)
Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Session abstract This session will consider how research on the techno-political nexus between sovereignty and the ‘stuff’ of public services, namely large technological systems, infrastructural capacity and logistical centres, can provide original insights into traditional issues of statehood, nation-building, governance and socio-economic restructuring. The logistical matrix and everyday infrastructural workings of the state have become a ‘matter of concern’ (Barry 2013) not only for civil engineers but increasingly for scholars in the humanities and social sciences (Mukerji 2009; Guldi 2012; Jones and Merriman 2012; Joyce 2013; Harvey and Knox 2015; Swyngedouw 2015). Here, what Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari called ‘collective equipment’- canals, roads, railways, dams, utilities and telecommunications systems inter alia – have been conceptualised as a networked technological medium through which administrative control over territory and population has been consolidated, organised and urbanised (McFarlane and Rutherford 2008; Bennett and Joyce 2010). This session will seek to further our understanding of the nexus between infrastructure, territory and the state through empirical and theoretical analysis. In particular, how are nation-states assembled and endowed with ontological solidity as technological networks emerge, consolidate and integrate (Mitchell 2002), and indeed, what happens to our understanding and experience of government when these systems fragment and disperse? Can we think of infrastructure as a strategic medium between cities and the nation-state? How can a topological and ‘volumetric’ (Elden 2013) understanding of infrastructural space advance existing theories of the state?
Linked Sessions State, Territory, Urbanism: Exploring the Nexus Between Government and Infrastructure (2)
State, Territory, Urbanism: Exploring the Nexus Between Government and Infrastructure (3)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Governing Gas: The Ontological Project of Security Governance
Peter Forman (Durham University, UK)
Energy security has primarily been understood at the macro level, as a product of energy transactions between nation states. This paper seeks to draw attention to performances of energy security that take place at other scales, involving socio-technical assemblages of material actors, state actors, industrial organizations, and various technologies and knowledges. Taking as its empirical focus the case of the 1975 Newnham House gas explosion, an event that killed 8 people and which provoked a nation-wide program of infrastructure replacement (HSE 1985), this paper traces a series of changes in practices of governing domestic gas circulations. In the process, I bring Foucault's (2007) discussion of the secure circulation of grain into conversation with Latour's (1991) notion of the 'program' to suggest that, rather than seeing security governance as simply a matter of circulatory filtration or maintenance, we can better understand it as consisting of multiple practices of relational organization through which a circulating entity's ontological configuration is deliberately engineered and mutated in different ways and at different times to strategically enable and inhibit particular forms of actual and potential agency. These mutations, I argue, are facilitated by a range of heterogeneous actors, each of which are motivated by their own individual interests. I draw out a variety of such interests within this example, including public concerns for individual safety, state concerns for the public acceptance of the role of gas in the UK's energy budget, and industry concerns over the costs of infrastructural replacement.
One line, two nations: nation-building through high-speed rail infrastructure development in Spain
Diego Garcia Mejuto (University College London, UK)
The remarkable development of high-speed rail networks in the European Union over the last three decades has led to significant academic attention to its relationship with European integration, through either particular projects or the Trans-European Networks policy initiative. Nevertheless, this focus risks downplaying the importance of such a development for the constitution of sub-European territories. By focusing on a particular line in the Spanish region of the Basque Country, this paper provides an insight into the territorial struggles that have accompanied high-speed rail infrastructure development in Spain. The analysis of the particular spatial imaginaries that underlie the discourses mobilized by political actors reveals a clear link between infrastructure development and nationbuilding. While Spanish central state actors have regarded the line as contributing to the territorial consolidation and balanced development of the nation-state, Basque nationalist actors have seen the line, first, as a vehicle to their integration in a 'Europe of the Peoples' and, second, as configuring a single Basque city by providing a fast and comfortable link between its three main urban areas. Coupled with a disagreement over the timeline of the project, these different imaginaries led to a conflict of competences whereby the two parties struggled to assert their authority over the high-speed rail line. The paper thus argues that the understanding of transport infrastructure development in Spain cannot be dissociated from the territorial struggles that characterize this nation-state, and calls for indepth empirical attention to the relationship between large technological systems and nation-building.
The Manure Wagon and the Flag: Waste Work, Logistical Power and the 'Purification' of Civic Employment in Toronto, 1890-1920
Christopher Hurl (Durham University, UK)
In confronting the filth and decay of the early twentieth century city, civic reformers often undertook ambitious programs that sought to not only eliminate the sources of disease from the urban environment but also to civilize urban dwellers, teaching them to live in pure and morally hygienic ways. Historical studies have tended to focus on the consumption side of this process, looking at how sanitary reformers and public health officials worked to establish fundamentally new understandings of household waste and its disposal, laying the foundation for the 'throwaway' society of the 1950s and 1960s (Strasser, 1999; Melosi, 2000; Melosi, 2005). However, they have tended to neglect the parallel efforts to fashion a new kind of city worker. Drawing on Toronto as a case study, this paper examines how the rise of a modern, scientifically managed waste regime in the early twentieth century contributed to fundamentally new conceptions of civic employment, premised on the 'purification' of the worker from the contaminating influence of neighbourhood-based patronage networks and an informal waste economy. Drawing from the labour geographies literature, I explore how efforts to expunge filth from urban space were paralleled by struggles to disentangle class from community based solidarities in the labour process. Moreover, drawing from Mitchell's (1991) notion of the 'state effect,' I explore how this contributed to the view that public workers somehow stood apart from the community as an anonymous and uniform service. I conclude by discussing the implications in how we think about city workers and their struggles today.
Beyond banal nationalism: language and the automatic production of national space
Rhys Jones (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Hywel Griffiths (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Peter Merriman (Aberystwyth University, UK)
The study of banal nationalism has become an important area of research in the social sciences. We maintain that recent developments in the automatic production of space or of code/space - in which computer codes and Big Data are increasingly being used to shape the spatial contours of human existence - is further entrenching unnoticed forms of national socio-spatial consciousness that, arguably, lie beyond banality. Drawing on documentary research and interviews conducted with those concerned with the production of spatial data in the UK – specifically in relation to the linguistic forms and place names used in textual and graphical data bases – we explore how the increased automation and standardisation of spatial data is furthering an almost wholly imperceptible form of nationalism. We conclude by discussing the opportunities that might exist to contest forms of techno-nationalism that lie beyond banality.
The Rise of Supranational Organisations and Logistics: Mapping Imperialism in the Post-WW2 Period
Megan Archer (University of Brighton, UK)
This paper historically and conceptually locates the development of a global system of logistics, in which the entanglement of logistics, the military, and geo-economics have restructured the world in the image of a global supply chain. It proceeds by showing how the reconfiguration of Europe after the Second World War through programs like the Marshall Plan, and the creation of supranational organisations like the World Bank (1944), the International Standards Organization (1947) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949) helped to format the world logistically as the basis for global trade and as a means of ensuring economic compliance. Drawing on Callinicos (2009), who traces the rise of the US as a neo-imperial superpower following the Second World War, I develop a short history of the emergence of these institutional powers and mechanisms. Considering this history alongside the so-called 'revolution in logistics' of the 50's and 60's, I argue that logistics is a form of quasi-territorial, neo-imperialist economic expansionism that has served to bolster US hegemony from the post-war period to date. Logistics, is then a mediator of globalization—but a globalization that serves particular (read: Western) interests above and at the expense of other, less 'developed' nations. From this perspective we can argue, as does Cowen (2014), that logistics represents the contemporary form of imperialism, undermining sovereignty in part through the reconstitution of the border as an exceptional space of government. Considering the interrelation between the author's projects and their approaches to the problem of power in a global context, this paper raises the following questions: How does the rise of supra-national organisations map onto the rise of logistics? What are the traces of imperial power present in these developments? Can we develop this into a framework for understanding techniques of global governance today?