RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


61 State, Territory, Urbanism: Exploring the Nexus Between Government and Infrastructure (2)
Convenor(s) Rhys Jones (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Ingrid Medby (Durham University, UK)
Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Rhys Jones (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
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 (1)
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
Silk Road 2.0, Manchester city region and the new infrastructure space
Jonathan Silver (Durham University / The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
The announcement of Chinese investment from Xinjiang, China into the Middlewood Locks development site is part of recent wave of international finance into Manchester city-region's built environment that has aligned with its emergence as the centre of the so-called 'Northern Powerhouse'. This paper examines how this investment is more that surplus capital from China finding speculative investment opportunities in Manchester. It also reshapes new infrastructure space (Easterling, 2015) between the city-region and China that attempts to create a new architecture of trade, investment and connections predicated on the ambitious state-building One Road, One Belt initiative and wider globalization 2.0 dynamics. The making of this new infrastructure space generates important questions about historical and future shifts in world-ecological regimes (Moore, 2015), new global, urban territorializations, socio-environmental (in)justices and the political economic futures of UK cities during ongoing austerity and neoliberal restructuring.
Engineering the urban in Brazil: assembling citizenship from hazards interventions
Robert Coates (King's College London, UK)
Critical hazards geography has traditionally dealt with physicalist approaches to flood and landslide risk in terms of the externalisation of nature and the reproduction of marginalisation and vulnerability at the local scale. This paper instead locates the widespread engineering of 'risk-free' urban spaces—retaining walls and river canalisations—throughout Brazil's long coastal mountain range in terms of (re)productions of state coloniality and the formation of citizen-subjects. Drawing on ethnographic research in a smaller, landslide-prone, urban area, the paper critiques visions of citizenship as existing inevitably alongside an a priori state. Moving toward the idea of citizenship assemblages, the concern here is with citizenship 'acts' that operate in conjunction with the capacity of engineering infrastructure to achieve its purported outcomes. The weaknesses and inconsistencies in project delivery create contexts of arbitrariness, uncertainty and the delegitimisation of state authority. Ultimately, the vulnerability of specific populations, instigated through the state-modernist paradigm, calls forth subtle disruptions and contestations of technocratic governance via non-compliance, delay, and discursive subversion.
Materialising territory: Internal colonisation through urban catchment management in Singapore
Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, UK)
Increasingly, in geography and other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, territory is being conceived in a significantly more dynamic, catholic and sophisticated register (Painter 2010; Jones and Merriman 2012). Cartographic depictions that portray national terrain in neatly geometric terms, as either diagrammatic or as a homogenous bounded 'container' (Giddens 1985), are being challenged more frequently as they offer a static, impoverished representation of territorialising processes (Harvey 2012). Drawing on and rehabilitating the notion of internal colonisation, this paper will delineate the swarming of disciplinary mechanisms throughout Singapore as the country urbanised and industrialised. The paper advances a materialist, process-oriented interpretation of territory through a case study of catchment management, emphasising the political efficacy of reservoir infrastructure for administrative centralisation and nation-building. It will be ventured that the expansion of reservoir infrastructure provided a strategic medium through which an otherwise contentious process of internal colonisation could be orchestrated and naturalized, enabling a process of urban economic restructuring and state aggrandisement. Infrastructural development, under the longstanding spectre of water scarcity, provided a conveniently technical rationale for the phasing out of squats and casual, small-scale industries, and the expansion of surveillance measures. Overall, the paper intends to challenge orthodox theories of territory and contribute to the growing debate regarding the material politics and infrastructural constitution of the state, shifting attention from a 'strategics' to 'logistics' of power (Mukerji 2009).
Infra-State Discourses of Identity: Peopling the Arctic State
Ingrid Medby (Durham University, UK)
Through everyday practices and materialities, the state presents itself as an agent that order relations of power, peoples, and territories. Yet, upon closer scrutiny, the state proves elusive and difficult to define. Increasingly, it is recognised that the state is an abstract idea(l), coming into being as an effect of practices, techniques, and materials (see e.g. Abrams 1988; Mitchell 2006). Rather than granting agency to the abstraction itself, these operations must be understood as the combined, often contradictory, efforts of a range of actors. Among these, state representatives play a key role in the articulation and performance of statehood; but, despite this, their role is often left unquestioned. Focusing on three states with the formal title of Arctic statehood, Norway, Iceland, and Canada, this paper seeks to shed light on the often overlooked people of the state. Through interviews with a range of state officials, it questions their conceptualisations of the states' 'identities', and what this may mean for political practice – the practices through which the 'Arctic state' materialises in the world. In so doing, the paper contributes to a 'peopled' understanding of the state (Jones 2007; Kuus 2014), arguing the importance of acknowledging the relative agency of the myriad of personnel within the state apparatus. It is upon their policies, decisions, statements, and plans that the state is assembled.
State infrastructural power, the growing capacity gap and the narratives of corruption
Elena Trubina (Ural Federal University, Russia)
In this presentation, I draw upon recent work in urban studies of post-socialist cities, comparative urbanism, and state infrastructural power (Mann 1986, Soifer and Vom Hau 2008) to focus on the ways in which narratives of corruption intersect with road infrastructural agendas, especially the difficulty of dealing with the crumbling infrastructural legacy of the socialist modernity. While entrepreneurial character of city governance prevents many municipalities from investing into the maintenance of infrastructure, the resources the central state actually distributes across subnational territories are also diminishing. I wIll consider two cases which are symptomatic for a link between infrastructure and corruption (Torsello 2012, Wells and Beynon, 2012). One case refers to a situation which occurred on a highway in Russia's Urals region of Orenburg where nearly one hundred people were trapped in snowdrift on 2 January 2016 (Baryshnikov and Bigg, 2016) and the other has to do with the Moscow sidewalks which became impassable due to icing because of poorly laid cobblestones. Although uneven development contributes to the varieties of the capacity gap (Call 2010) so that in the provinces it is more pronounced, the big cities are affected too. I consider how the narratives of corruption appearing on-line are combined with critical judgments of citizens about the failing infrastructure and the threat it poses to people's safety.