RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


97 State, Territory, Urbanism: Exploring the Nexus Between Government and Infrastructure (3)
Convenor(s) Rhys Jones (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Ingrid Medby (Durham University, UK)
Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Ingrid Medby (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
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 (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Spheres of dispersed urbanism: infrastructures and social acceleration
Tarmo Pikner (Tallinn University, Estonia)
The accessibility to meaningful places and to affinities is enacted along various registers of (virtual) movement. The current paper analysis critically ʻacceleration of social life' (Rosa 2003) and how this tendency is embedded within enacted infrastructure assemblages. The paper elaborates the theoretical framework by integrating ʻvolumetric approach' (Elden 2012, also Sloterdjik 2004) and the concept of ʻboundary-object' (Star 1999, Star and Griesemer 1989) in understanding nexus between governmentality, subjectivity and infrastructure. The challenge is to understand with what does each culture surrounds itself to attain some communion and to distribute dispositions (Amin and Thrift 2013). The case study approaches the role of telecommunication technologies and high-speed railway links in spatio-temporal formation of Estonian territory. The national development strategy of Estonia formulates good infrastructure links as one priority to enable for people ʻurban style living' all over the compact territory. The State puts much effort for covering the State terrain with fast Internet and more recently to provide e-Residency for extended group of entrepreneurs. Simultaneously there are generated rationalities and expert knowledge for building high-speed train connection to Berlin and to core-Europe. This planning initiative is contested by several local interest groups. All these mentioned tendencies indicate that new aspect of speed and political subjectivity are imprinted over social life and territory.
Sustainable infrastructure and fluid states: a nexus produced in friction
Niranjana Ramesh (University College London, UK)
Lifecycle analysis is a popular method used by engineers to determine sustainability of materials and technologies. Each resource that goes into their production and comes out as emission is evaluated to compute environmental impact. But, the lifecycle of urban infrastructural technologies, engineers in Chennai and London will tell you, are tied to political and regulatory cycles. Chennai, India and London, UK were two cities, among many others in the world, which built large scale seawater desalination plants in 2010 as augmentation for their water supply networks. The narratives of sustainability that emerged around these plants, I argue, are produced in the tensions between the political, ecological, governmental and technological temporalities that determine the water supply network. Drawing from Anna Tsing's (2005) concept of 'friction', I posit that this is a productive tension, which diversifies the practice of urban infrastructure building. The negotiation of this friction becomes a legitimate site of political activity and rearticulation of the state and its relationship with society at the urban scale. The bureaucracies and private companies involved in the process reproduce themselves as expert performers of a social role, in effect contributing to a multi-dimensional and fluid state that builds its own sustainability and resilience into the material form of infrastructure.
The material dimension of state restructuring. An inquiry on the urban redevelopment projects of railway sites in France and Italy
Felix Adisson (École des ponts ParisTech, France)
Barracks, ports, hospitals, prisons, railway sites are earmarked for many urban redevelopment projects in European cities. A substantial part of urban regeneration therefore occurs on state places: the material base through which states are constructed and maintained and from which they exercise their logistical power over a territory (i.e. the capacity to order the flows of things and people, Mukerji, 2010). While the infrastructural workings of the state have mainly been studied for the formation of modern states in European cities (e.g. Carroll 2006, Molnar 2013), my interest is the ongoing transformation of their logistical power. This paper questions the reasons for and the modalities of this reorganisation, focusing on a large-technical system, the railway network, in urban areas. A comparative enquiry of urban redevelopment projects of railway sites carried out in two countries (Italy and France) and four cities (Milan, Bolzano Paris and Nantes) allows distinguishing three main factors. Firstly, since the 1970s urban governments have problematized the presence of the railway network in central and peri-central urban areas, in relation to their increasing strategic power in urban development. Secondly, railway firms have implemented Weberian organizational processes of modernization and rationalization of their sites. Thirdly, since the beginning of the 1990s real estate logics and skills have expanded within these publicly-owned firms, due to their greater accounting autonomy and their indebtedness. The shift from conventional approaches toward the material base of the State sheds light on new relationships between State restructuring and urban restructuring.
Large scale and small scale projects: waste water treatment plants in Sacaba (Bolivia)
Francesca Minelli (University of Glasgow, UK)
This paper will analyse the interweaving implications and consequences of two projects implemented in the peri-urban area of the municipality of Sacaba (Bolivia). The first project, funded by an NGO, built a small scale waste water treatment plant for a communitarian water and sewage provider. The second project, co-funded by the CAF (Caja Andina de Fomento), consists in the construction of a large-scale plant, to be managed by the municipal water company. During the implementation of the first project I was able to observe the relationships that the communitarian provider and the NGO created with other communitarian organisations operating in the territory and with various levels of the state structure (municipal, regional and central). Differences emerged among state institutions in relation to their approach to the project itself and to the understanding of the role that a communitarian water provider can assume. Furthermore I will discuss the way in which the municipal water company's role is presented by municipal authorities and officials, and how this conception is influenced both by being part of the state structure and by their own technical and organisational capabilities. I will look at how the construction of a large scale plant fit into and influence this conception, and how it changed the relationship with the communitarian organisations operating within the territory. I will argue that the consequences of these two projects can be better understood by looking at the network of relationships that the municipality, communitarian organisations, state organisations, and even international organisations establish between each other.
Why disciplines, images and levels of analysis should coexist in the study of transboundary water politics
Filippo Menga (University of Manchester)
While a considerable amount of research in the field of International Relations (IR) has acknowledged the interplay between domestic politics and foreign policy, few studies have investigated this phenomenon in the narrower field of transboundary water politics. Furthermore, there is a general lack of research exploring how the formation of a national identity can overlap with the construction of a large hydraulic infrastructure, and how this can in turn have repercussions at the international level. This paper draws on Robert Putnam’s (1988) two-level game theory to illustrate how the interrelation between the domestic and the international dimension matters in transboundary water politics. Insights from IR, political geography and water politics will form a conceptual framework that will then be linked to nationalism studies. This will serve to highlight the analytical relevance of such a perspective to understand the issue of large dams, with references to the cases of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia and of the Rogun Dam in Tajikistan.